The history of the island is closely linked to the Benedictine monks and to the hospital buildings. For more than 600 years, San Servolo was home to a community of monks and nuns, who found shelter there when old age or illness no longer allowed them to dedicate themselves to their normal tasks.
In the 1700s, the Duchy of Venice decreed that the buildings would also be open to nonreligious people afflicted by illness. Under the Napoleonic government, San Servolo became first a military hospital and then a psychiatric hospital (which closed permanently in around 1980).
Recently, the island has been completely reinvigorated and has become a centre of multicultural promotion. The Italian Foundation for the Research and Study of Social and Cultural Marginalisation can be found here, as well as Venice International University, a training centre and residential buildings for students.
San Servolo is one of the centres of excellence for conferences, training seminars and cultural events. The Museum of Madness, a cloister, and a church from the 1700s round out the cultural attractions.
The island can be reached by steamboat from Venice and is open for guided tours; tourists who visit the island can enjoy not only the interesting exhibition itinerary but also the large and well-kempt gardens that characterise San Servolo and make it an exceptional spot in the Venetian Lagoon.