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November 2013

Tommaso Campailla and the Syphilis Museum in Sicily

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Dermatology, Hotel-Dieu de France Hospital, Beirut, Lebanon
  • 2Department of Dermatology, Mount Lebanon Hospital, Beirut, Lebanon
JAMA Dermatol. 2013;149(11):1318. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2013.7819

The Museo Tommaso Campailla, or Syphilis Museum, is devoted to the treatment of syphilis. Tommaso Campailla (1668-1740) was first famous as a poet and philosopher. It was not until the death of his father that Campailla was able to indulge his passion for medicine, for at that time, the profession was not considered respectable. He became interested in the treatment of venereal diseases. He was known for creating wooden botti (barrels) for the patients to sit in and inhale mercury infusions. The idea was pioneered in France; there, the patient’s head would project from the top of the barrel. Campailla’s design was squarer, and the patient’s whole body sat in the “cabin.” The wood was of a special kind, which Campailla ordered from abroad, and to this day, no one knows exactly what it was. The treatment was administered in 2 rooms in a hospital, Ospedale Santa Maria della Pietà.