Asfourieh hospital was founded in 1900, and received its first psychiatric patient on August the sixth of that year. The last patient was discharged from Asfourieh in April 1982.
During those 82 years thousands of patients were hospitalized and treated at Asfourieh, and they received multiple modalities of treatment depending on the time frame they were in.
First known postcard written by someone from the staff of the asylum to its opening. We have only the initials of the sender on the back of the card. Probably a woman. Note the use of the cross-writing. This writing was mainly used on postcards, early 20th Century, to avoid the indiscretion of the postman. Some types of writing were more suitable than others for this kind of exercise. While it is fairly easy to compose, reading it was a different story. It needed some practice and to be used to the handwriting of the sender. Incidentally, this approach also allowed writing more on the part of the card, often very small, reserved for the correspondence.
Dr Theophilus Waldmeir (1832-1915), a Swiss Quaker missionary, founded « The Lebanon Hospital for the insane » at Asfouriyeh, near Beirut in 1898 to provide care for the mentally afflicted of the Lebanon, Syria and the Middle East.
Postcard written by Dr Waldmeier in 1904 adressed to Emily Howland, american philanthropist and educator:
The text says: «The above picture presents the first asylum in Bible lands & was opened in 1900. It has already donevery good work. With our best wishes for a blessed Xmas and happy new year» Signed WALDMEIER.
On this panoramic view we can see Dr Waldmeier his wife and a porter. On background of the view different blocks of the hospital.
From left to right: The men’s hospital, the administration block and the women’s hospital.
The Asfouriyeh estate was purchased in April 1898, six miles from the centre of Beirut and shortly fourteen buildings were built, bearing the names of the groups donors.
In 1912 the property became a ‘Wakf’ , i.e. it was dedicated as a religious foundation under the code of law prevailing in the Lebanon. It is to be used: « For works of mercy to those who are afflicted with mental and nervous disease of all kindsfrom among the people of Lebanon and Syria as far as the acommodation will allow, according to the judgment of the overseer of the wakf. And the physician will treat without any distinction by reason of sect or religion untill God heals »
(Extract from the translation of the Arabic Title Deed – Lebanon Hospital for Mental Disease)
Asfourieh Hospital will promote the introduction of humane treatment for the insane so opposed to to established customs and beliefs.
The following interesting particulars are from the pen of Dr Wolff, medical superintendent: « The treatment of the insane in this Country savors of the Middle Ages, inhuman and extremely cruel, and according to the system of the Oriental Churches, which claim that mental diseases are the symptoms of demoniacal possession, a belief resulting from superstition and ignorance. Consequently no cruelty is spared or is too »
« The most noted of the monasteries used for exorcising evil spirits is at Kuzheya, and it has a famous cave used for casting out devils and dedicated to St Anthony of Padua, who lived there, it is said, for 40 years as a hermit, and has imparted healing power to the monks in charge of it. Kuzheya is situated in a lonely valley between two large villages, Thedia and Besherreh, near the cedars of Lebanon, (the only real cedars now extant being a group of about 300 situated 5 days’ journey north from Beirut and 6000 feet above sea level.) It is a very old place (see illustration.) Towards the entrance of the valley there are two hug rocks standing near one another, which the monks have arched over, and on the arch they have fixed a crucifix. Under this the Insane have to pass on their way to the cave. The test by which they judge whether the poor sufferer IS possessed by one or more evil spirits is the fear and struggle he or she was forced to pass the crucifix. After passing the patient IS put into the cave, where the attending monks begin the cruel and inhuman torture, which they call treatment, and which defies description »
Relation with the ottoman authorities:
Outgoing mail from The Lebanon Hospital for Mental Disease addressed to Asa Wing,President of Provident life and trust company of Philadelphia, sent in 1916 before postal interruption between USA and Ottoman Empire. The cover is triple Censored: Beirut, Istanbul and upon arrival in the States.
“The Governor·General, his Excellency Nahum Pasha, has lately paid us a visit. He was very pleased and thankful that such a philanthropic work was started. ‘It is quit unique,’ he said, ‘you have done a great deal for the welfar for Mount Lebanon in establishing an asylum for the forsaken people for whom nothing was done.’ He shuddered when mention was made of the cave at Kuzhaya. ‘You could not have crowned the evening of your life with a more blessed work than this. You have my full sympathy and I am ready to further it a far as it lies in my power. He has already done so, for he gave order for the closing of the old Damascus road, which went through the property, and which had been causing us a great deal of annoyance. We have gained by this some additional land…”
The Lebanon Hospital for the Insane gradually expanded, and there was reportedly accommodation for 150 people by 1924; 350 by 1935; and 410 by 1936.
In addition to clinical work, the Hospital contributed to training in the field of psychiatry. In 1922 it was affiliated with the American University of Beirut and became the Psychiatric Division of the University Hospital.
In 1939 it was recognized by the Royal Medical/Psychological Association as a Training Center for the Mental Nursing Certificate. In 1948, it opened a School of Psychiatric Nursing, the first of its kind in the Middle East, and which was subsequently used by the World Health Organisation for the training of specialized personnel
Subscription and donation for the Hospital
Outgoing and incoming censored mail to Asfourieh during WWII :
After the syrian campaign, between 1941 and 1946, a large part of the Hospital had to be handed over to the British Military Authorities, then in occupation of Lebanon, to become a casualty clearing station. Note the prominent Red Cross painted on the roof
Lebanese Civil war or when Lebanon went nuts:
The war which started on 13th April 1975 did not spare the Asylum and the hospital found itself on the front line of battle from that date. Shellings caused considerable damage to the infrastructure. The patients and staff went under a lot of inconvenience and lived several anxious days.
In the absence of regular postal service the Asylum, took advantage of the Kataeb Postal Service (Annual report of Dr Manugian, Medical director -1976).
In the post-war climate, the Hospital’s financial status never fully recovered, and by 1972 the Hospital was experiencing real financial difficulties. It was decided to sell the existing site and buildings and to re-build the Hospital on a more modern plan. A new site was chosen at Aramoun, near Beirut Airport. Asfuriyeh was sold in April 1973. The building program was brought to a halt by the Lebanese Civil War (April 1975 -November 1976), and construction did not resume until summer 1977. The need for replacement materials and inflated prices meant that by the end of 1977, the Hospital was on the point of bankruptcy.
Despite appeals for funds, by early 1981 negotiations had commenced between the London General Committee and the Beirut Executive Committee to close the Hospital and to dispose of the property in accordance with the legal terms of the ‘Wakf’. The Hospital at Asfuriyeh was officially closed on 10 April 1982. Aramoun continued to operate, although extensively damaged during the Civil War and occupied by the Israeli Army until 17 October 1982.
Asfourieh closed down 25 years ago!
But regarding the pattern of psychiatric disorders that is prevalent within this election period
Lebanon seems to be more than ever in need to its reopening.