Author: Rutes científiques de Barcelona
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Source: Above: Plan of the Reial Col·legi de Cirurgia de Barcelona (1761). Above: Frontispicium of the De h
This building of neoclassic style, planned by Ventura Rodríguez Tizón and integrated inside the core of the Hospital de Santa Creu, was the old Reial Col·legi de Cirurgians (Royal College of Surgeons). It was built between 1761 and 1764 under the direction of surgeon Pere Virgili. It included an anatomical amphitheater with the aim of understanding the human body. After the Col·legi de Cirurgians it became the Facultat de Medicina, when the University returned to the city, up until the beginning of the XXth century when it moved to Casanova Street. Currently, it holds the headquarters of the Reial Acadèmia de Medicina de Catalunya.
During the XVIIIth century, the college of surgeons of Barcelona acquired prestige and relevance thanks to the fact that the Medical school of the Spanish army was located in Barcelona and also thanks to the presence of the outstanding surgeon Pere Virgili. This stimulated the construction of a new building in the enclosure of the Hospital General de Santa Creu: the anatomical amphitheater. The existence of a unique place like this in proximity to the hospital was a common occurrence in all Europe during the XV, XVI and XVII centuries.
The primary mission was that students from Estudis Generals (equivalent to today's University) would attend anatomical dissections as part of their training. The hospital had a department of anatomy since it was first founded that already practiced anatomical dissections. But in those early times, there was a clear distinction between physicians, surgeons and barbers, and they did not receive the same academic training. (The barbers had a lower ranking than surgeons and they practiced simple surgical operations; they were the most available to the majority of the population).
Since the XIVth century, the prestige of a new medicine supported by Aristotelian natural philosophy attracted the attention of surgeons and barbers. The existence of a growing audience for the anatomical dissections pressured the institution to create a building specifically designed for that purpose. All across Europe, the first anatomical theaters began to be built. The most primitive anatomical theater in Barcelona was constructed in 1573, as a classroom of anatomy for the Estudis Generals. It was made of wood and without a ceiling at a location close to the XVIIIth century one.
In the amphitheater, anatomical dissections were practiced on cadavers. From the XIII to the XVIII centuries, the main purpose of these dissections was to admire and gain knowledge of the work of the Creator through the contemplation of his instrument, the body. During the Renaissance, the Vesalius reform, illustrated in the work "De humanis corporis fabrica" (1543), introduced the use of cadavers in the anatomical drawings, which allowed for a more 'reliable' knowledge of the human body. Until then this information had been obtained from the dissection of animals. In the XVIII century, the knowledge of the body had a more utilitarian purpose and was considered indispensable for anyone who aspired to practice surgical operations.
The dissections used to be performed during winter (from January to March) and they lasted no more than three days in order to avoid decomposition. The first dissections were practiced on the bodies of convicts after receiving the death penalty. Later on, with the growing demand for material for the surgeons' training, the bodies of those who died in the Hospital were used. The anatomizations were performed on a table with a pedestal. A pivot point in the center of the table, made of iron, permitted the table to rotate so as to show the audience the proceedings. The fluids and organic matter were evacuated through a hole in the middle of the table and channeled outside to an underground deposit.
Reial Acadèmia de Medicina de Catalunya: www.ramc.cat
Martínez-Vidal, A. and Pardo-Tomás, J. Anatomical Theatres and the Teaching of Anatomy in Early Modern Spain. Medical History, 2005, 49: 251–280
Pérez, N. Anatomia, química i física experimental al Reial Col·legi de Cirurgia de Barcelona (1760-1808). Tesi doctoral. Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. Barcelona, 2007: http://hdl.handle.net/10803/5174
Zarzoso Orellana, A. La pràctica mèdica a la Catalunya del segle XVIII. Tesi doctoral. Barcelona, 2003: www.tdx.cat/bitstream/10803/7460/1/tazo1de1.pdf
Carrer del Carme, 47 Seu de la Reial Acadèmia de Medicina de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain