montalto staircase

Old Montalto Sanatorium in Valongo

Sanatoriums as treatment facilities for TB

Montalto Sanatorium was one of those facilities.

Tuberculosis disease has been present in humans since ancient times, and can be tracked as far as 17,000 years ago in the animal kingdom.

The disease was not recognized as such till 1820s, and, during the middle ages, it was mostly regarded as symptoms or manifestations from the spiritual or magical world and not a disease itself. It was not named “tuberculosis” until 1839, by J. L. Schönlein.

It was later believed, as it was a respiratory tract disease that the combination of high-altitude pure fresh air and good nutrition were vital conditions to treat tuberculosis and recover those who were afflicted by the disease.

Hermann Brehmer (1826-1889) was a pionner in the use of the combination of hygiene and nutrition and founder of the first dedicated place to addopt this strategy of treatment. The first true sanatorium.

The sooner the better approach for treating the patients was adopted and success cure rates of 30-45% were obtained by the beginning of the 20th century in the early sanatoriums in Germany (Görbersdorf and Falkenstein).

Most of the progress in the study of the disease was performed by Robert Koch, identifying and describing the bacillus in 24 March 1882.  He received the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1905 for this discovery.

Even with the best treatments and conditions, by the beginning of the 20th century, in Europe, roughly 50% of the patients admitted in sanatoriums , died within 5 years.

Portugal was no exception, with the majorities of the cases being concentrated in more densely populated areas and with poor higiene conditions.

The Montalto Sanatorium

Projected by Julio José de Brito (Paris 1896 – Oporto 1965) the Montalto Sanatorium (Gondomar / Valongo) was the last infrastructure built in Portugal part of a major healthcare network dedicated to provide care and assistance to patients with Tuberculosis.

Construction started in 1932, with the works lasting till 1958 when it was inaugurated.
Due the existence of a coalfield in the site,  resistance and oposition from the coal company of S.Pedro da Cova, in having a sanatorium built in that location, delayed the works.
The building is an impressive structure on it’s own, in the high of Monte de Santa Justa, and surrounded by a forrest and a wide landscape in a difficult terrain. The complex itself comprises the main building, smaller support structures, a chapel, a laundry and a school for the sons of those that were receiving treatment.

All the services were fully functional till the end of activity in 1975, since then, the building and related structures are at no use and in an advanced state of decay. The terrains are private property of “Assistência aos Tuberculosos do Norte de Portugal”  and some projects for the recovery and use of the infrastructure are being studied. The building and the rest of the structures are an attraction for radical sports and also for those into paranormal activities.

As a building itself is intriguing in form and gains new charm as it is completely stripped of any distractions or inside decorations, giving to those who visit it, a sense of void and isolation, combined with a complete silence.