Tucked away at in the basement of the Grodno Medical State University in Belarus is a small museum that isn’t for the faint-hearted.
Lined up against the walls are rows of glass containers holding preserved fetuses and babies with serious deformities: Siamese twins who remained connected after birth, “mermaids” with their legs fused together, fetuses with only one eye, babies with two faces.
These malformed fetuses were collected during the 19th and 20th century, and initially remained in storage until 2000 when an exhibit was created and opened to the public for a brief period. It reopened in its current format in 2012 and is a fascinating spot for those interested in teratology, or the study of abnormal formations and anatomical abnormalities.
One of the missions of the museum is to emphasize the importance of healthy lifestyles. To this end, the museum is divided into two halls. One of the halls contains exhibits relating to common lifestyle problems like smoking, alcoholism, and obesity. The other hall houses the collection of babies with abnormalities that researchers believe were a result of the parent’s lifestyle choices. A similar collection would be hard to gather today thanks to modern medical advances that have made it easy to diagnose such problems in the early stages of a pregnancy.
The building itself has early medical connections. It was built by King Stefan Bathory, of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, who died in the palace under mysterious circumstances in 1586. His doctors performed an autopsy on his body to get some answers, and this was the first anatomical autopsy in eastern Europe.
Know Before You Go
The museum is open from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. The admission fee is 1 ruble ($0.53) and goes directly to the funding of the Medical University. Guided tours can be arranged if agreed upon in advance.