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Italian Hospital

Italian Hospital, a historic hospital situated on Defterdar (İtalyan) Yokuşu, an avenue stretching from Tophane to Cihangir in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul. In 1998, it was taken over by the  American Hospital, affiliated with the Vehbi Koç Foundation (VKV), who intended to run it as a hospital specializing in oncology and rehabilitation. However, due to various issues, it was not officially opened until July 1, 2005, only to close again on August 15, 2006 after continued financial loss.

The Italian Hospital can be traced back to a small dispensary founded in the 1820s to serve Genoese sailors in Istanbul’s Galata district. Initially staffed by one physician and a few nuns, it was originally known as the Sardinia Hospital, but renamed the Royal Italian Hospital in 1861, following the unification of Italy. The hospital grew over time and in 1876 moved to its current location in a building constructed by King Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia. A new pavilion was added in 1898. The nuns fled the hospital when it was occupied by German forces during World War I but returned once the war was over. In 1936, the hospital was expanded with the addition of a two-story surgery building and was by now serving all Istanbul residents, not simply the Italian community.
In 1997, talks began between the VKV and the Italian Consulate with a view to providing certain medical programs and services which were not available at the American Hospital. As a result of the agreement signed by the two parties in March 1998, the Italian Hospital was leased by the American Hospital for 20 years. The agreement included the provision that the name of the institution, now under the management of the American Hospital, would be protected. It was also stipulated that ownership would remain with the state of Italy, that a certain number of beds would be reserved for Italian citizens and that the hospital would undergo renovation works to a value of nearly nine million dollars. Plans for pain management programs and home healthcare medical services were included within the founding of an extensive cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment center and long-term care and rehabilitation unit.
It was planned that the renovation work would be completed in nine months and that the hospital would open in 1999, but the renovation period was extended as a result of an objection lodged by someone living next to the hospital. In the meantime, due to the need for the latest medical equipment, the renovation budget rose to 11,5 million dollars. Three million dollars of this sum were covered by the Fiat Fund of the Vehbi Koç Foundation. In a ceremony attended by the Italian foreign minister on November 18, 1999, the building, renovated by the restoration project of Architect Fahrettin Ayanlar, was renamed after the grandson of the Fiat founder, Giovanni Alberto Agnelli, who died from cancer many years before. The new 50-bed hospital covered a site of nearly 8,250 square meters, but due to various obstacles it did not officially open for service until July 1, 2005. On August 15, 2006, the hospital closed, and later it was managed by the Universal Hospitals Groups, although it closed once more in 2013.

“Agnelli’s donation was considered too generous for our cancer patients”

In the Agnelli family, there were only two male heirs to carry on the name. One was Gianni (Giovanni) Agnelli’s son, Edoardo Agnelli, but sadly he suffered from drug addiction and committed suicide. The family’s only hope was Giovanni Alberto Agnelli, son of Umberto Agnelli, Gianni’s brother, but he died at an early age from cancer. The Agnelli family donated millions of dollars to fund cancer treatment at the Italian Hospital in memory of the young man. The hospital had once been funded by the Italian government and the nursing care provided by nuns. However, over time it found itself both in financial trouble, without any nuns to provide care and falling into a state of neglect. The Italian government later transferred the hospital to the Vehbi Koç Foundation. With additional support from the Agnelli family, the hospital was transformed into a cancer center with state of the art radiotherapy equipment. The building was exceptionally stylish and attractive, but unfortunately was closed down on the grounds that it was an “illegal construction”, following a campaign by certain ill-meaning people living nearby. It is still closed today (2003). As a cancer patient myself, I find this situation exceptionally upsetting and leave those who placed obstacles in the path of the hospital to the mercy of God.
Sevgi Gönül, Sevgi’nin Diviti (From Sevgi’s Pen), Vehbi Koç Vakfı Yayınları, Istanbul, 2003, p. 215; Hürriyet, February 2, 2003
Abadan Unat, Nermin

Political scientist who received the Vehbi Koç Award for education in 2012.