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The Külliye of Sultan Bayezid II – Psychiatry in history

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 November 2021

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Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Royal College of Psychiatrists

In medieval times under the Ottoman Empire the mentally ill were treated with dignity and humanity. Restraints were minimal and might consist of a thin silver cord. One of the examples left today is in the Turkish city of Edirne, second capital of the Ottoman Empire and principal centre of Thrace, where there stands the Külliye (‘Complex’) of Sultan Bayezid II. Built in 1488, during a period when the mentally ill were generally treated badly, the hospital within the Külliye used an approach that was ahead of its time. There were three parts to treatment: music, the sound of running water and a variety of different scents. This approach was widespread throughout the empire in what were known as bimaristan or darussyifa. Examples can still be seen in Damascus, Aleppo and Cairo as well as in Bursa and Istanbul. The complex comprised a medical school (madrasah), a hospital (darussyifa) for both physical disorders and the insane, an imaret (the social aid unit that served free food to the poor and the staff in the Külliye), a mosque, guesthouses, a muvakkithane (a unit that was concerned with the calendar and the time of the day), Turkish baths, a watermill and a bridge. Today only some parts of the complex survive: the small mosque, the madrasah and the darussyifa.

There were three sections in the darussyifa. The first was for out-patient services, the second was for the staff and the third served as an in-patient ward. Its architectural design was based on a central system positioned so as to use relatively few staff. This section consisted of a big hall covered by a high dome, with six winter rooms and four summer rooms around it and a stage for the musicians. In the middle of the hall a fountain ran water over the sloping floor to a gutter designed to collect the overflow. It also provided a source for washing the patients. The tranquillising sound of the running water from the fountain, combined with the scents of various herbs and flowers such as jasmine, carnation, tulip and hyacinth, was used to alleviate patients’ anxiety. The musicians played three times a week, and different modes of Turkish classical music were used for each illness. The dome of the hall provided a particularly good acoustic.

Although we do not know how successful these methods were, we can assume that they were at least relatively humane and ahead of their time. The Külliye in Edirne was fully restored and reopened its doors to visitors as a museum in 1997. It was awarded the Council of Europe Museum Prize for the year 2004.

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