Gustavianum Museum – Uppsala, Sweden - Atlas Obscura
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Uppsala, Sweden

Gustavianum Museum

The second oldest anatomical theater is housed in a museum of curiosities. 

Despite its candy-colored paint job, the University of Uppsala’s anatomical theater has, to some, been a nightmarish theater of horror for going on four centuries now.  Up under the cupola of the Gustavianum Museum, executed criminals and other unfortunates were once dissected under the public gaze.

Upstaged only by Italy’s Palazzo del Bo, the anatomical theater is the second oldest in the world, built in the 1660s as part of Uppsala University. The octagonal tiers on the top floor of the building were meant to give all visitors a good view of the gruesome proceedings.

The last of the blood has long been cleaned up, though, and it’s now the highlight of an eccentric museum. The Gustavianum has a little bit of everything, sourced from collections acquired by the university since its foundation. There are Egyptian mummies, Viking artifacts, scientific instruments, and, perhaps best of all, an incredible curiosity cabinet.

Called the Augsburg Art Cabinet, it was gifted to King Gustav II Adolf in 1632 by the town of Augsburg. It’s covered in gemstones and has many little drawers, secret compartments, and holes that hold thousands of objects, all relating to the knowledge of the time. 

As anatomical theaters fell out of fashion, Gustavianum’s complex was repurposed by the university library in the late 18th century. After a turn in the 19th century as a zoological museum, the Anatomical Theater was restored to its original (retired) state in the 1950s. In 1997, the entire building became a museum, accompanied by a permanent collection pertaining to medical history to supplement the theater; though not for the squeamish, the exhibition contains a unique selection of dissected animals, scientific instruments, and medical devices from the theater’s heyday.

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