The Archival Material of Sotiria Sanatory
Is there any chance that one can encounter a museum and a historical archive within a hospital? Yes, in Sotiria Hospital in Athens you can.
The Sotiria Museum began to grow gradually in 2007 and is expected to acquire a definite form within the next years. In its collections it includes mainly medical equipment and tools, hospital furniture, medical books and other printed material, hospital uniforms as well as certain personal belongings of patients, that were unclaimed. The collections of the Sotiria Museum, directly related to the history of tuberculosis, are housed in the so-called Military Pavilion, which was built in 1913 with money from Greek expatriate fundraisers for the financing of the Balkan Wars, mediated by Sophia Schliemann andEleftherios Venizelos.
The chronicle of discovering the Sotiria Archives states that the material was literally fitted behind plasterboard in a hospital area and came out at random in 2015, during the hospital’s reconstructions. There were specifically 8 suitcases and 2 wooden trunks filled with various personal items and documents of the deceased patients of the Sotiria Sanatorium, as well as some administrative documents of the hospital from the decades 1930 to 1980.
The suitcases were initially considered worthless and placed in dumpsters that existed outside the military pavilion. There, they suffered severe damage from downpour and were left in high humidity conditions over three days; a period capable of developing suitable living conditions for microorganisms. Part of the material was destroyed to such an extent that it was eventually thrown in the garbage. Thanks to the contribution of a group of volunteers, composed by workers of the hospital, the material entered the museum’s premises and was rescued.
In 2018, Athens Art Conservation Studio accomplished the Collection Condition Survey in order to prepare a plan for preventive and invasive conservation, in the context of the sponsorship of the Eugenides Foundation. The future goal of the project is the rescue of the Archive, the exposure of its historical importance, the employment and the dissemination of this valuable material and to provide open access to researchers, historians and relatives of patients.
The Collection Condition Survey included cataloguing, recording, documentation, and evaluation of the conservation status of the collection and planning for future preservation and conservation. Due to the limited time available for research and the unknown size of the collection, the survey was carried out by sampling, covering all kinds of material (letters, notebooks, passports, identities, wallets, booklets, valuables, books, photographs, negatives, amulets, service documents, etc.).
Τhe estimation of the size of the collection was a great challenge and finally the calculation of the volume of the collection per item and by type of material (paper, metal, book, photographs, etc.) was carried out. In total, the items amount to approximately 16,000.
The results of the Collection Condition Survey were elaborated with statistical methods and very useful conclusions were drawn regarding the general conservation status of the material, contributing to the establishment of a conservation plan.
During the processing of the material for the purposes of this study, certain personal parcels of deceased patients had to be opened, which were cleaned superficially and kept with respect to the original classification, inserting acid free paper and isolating as much as possible the objects affected by microorganisms.
The study was successfully completed in July 2018, delivering detailed conservation and storage estimate reports. The main conclusion is that, while seemingly it is a small collection (16,000 items), the need for conservation, proper storage, inventory registration and digitization is imperative because of the high historical and anthropological value. Through the Sotiria Archive interesting aspects of contemporary history of Greece (20th century) and medical science are portrayed in a separate way.
Note: Sotiria in Greek means “salvation”. It is also used as a female first name.