Known as the Hospital de Bonecas in Portuguese, it is a fantastic curiosity situated on Praça da Figueira, 7, in Lisbon and was remarkably founded in 1830.

The doll hospital sparked my own curiosity so I had to find out more about its history from the owner of the hospital, Manuela Cutileiro.

This magical family business sells dolls, not forgetting accessories, restores and repairs dolls and other toys in their operating room and boasts an incredible collection of dolls in their museum.

Mending memories

Manuela Cutileiro’s family has been in the business of mending childhood memories for nearly 200 years. “The hospital was founded by Dona Carlota, and this traditional shop was originally a medicinal herb shop that sold dried herbs and teas that were very much sought after at the time. Dona Carlota was also an artisan and was very skilled when it came to making dolls. She would make the dolls of the time, which were a type of rag doll and so her shop also became known for its dolls. As the dolls started to evolve, she started to fix the local children’s dolls and that is simply how the hospital was started.” They have kept their roots and they are still selling teas and medicinal herbs and they still lovingly repair everyone’s beloved dolls.

Manuela Cutileiro told me that, today, their team is not very large and it is a family team of up to five people depending on the workload. Despite the size of the team, the hospital’s reputation has grown considerably, “We are a place where everything is stored, where you keep childhood nostalgia, memories, where everything has its space, which is perhaps why we have been running for many years.

“We don't have many dolls that we know are rare but we always want to be a hospital, and in the hospital all patients have the same value, that's why we don't really like to differentiate our dolls. We like to be known as a big toy room where everyone can fit in.”

A Lisbon treasure

A Lisbon treasure? Most definitely, but it has also captured the hearts of people worldwide too with Manuela explaining that the toys that come to them for repairs are in fact international, “I really mean from all over the world, we do not just fix Portuguese dolls or toys, they come from as far as Australia, America, Israel and even Hong Kong.”

Manuela explained that the type of work they do in repairs depends “on the doll’s illness, today, we also do restorations of paintings and porcelain. Our work is very varied and even more so imaginative.” In terms of what sets them apart from other toy hospitals around the world is that “they repair everything, from those life size bears that you see at the entrance to shops in shopping centres to the smallest of bears that children bring in their backpack on a plane.” Additionally, aside from repairs, they sell dolls from Spain, often putting them in outfits that they have made and they have all kinds of clothing including more traditional outfits as well as accessories and shoes.

Manuela told me what inspired their fantastic museum was the “sheer number of toys they had accumulated over many generations, because the hospital remained in the family, in the same building, on the fourth floor and was passed down generation to generation.”

She admitted that “the fourth floor actually started to become too small for the number of toys we had accumulated and we started being asked to show the floor to groups of children’s from different schools and the pressure to have an exposition came when a congress of children's libraries asked us to fully open our doors to school children. This was because on the first floor of the building was a boys only school, with teachers also living in the same building. Today this would be unthinkable!” We have a special connection with the school and we conserve its memory in our museum, what is special is that many ex-alumni still visit our hospital and share their photographs.”

Portuguese dolls

I was then told that the museums dolls are not only Portuguese and that Portugal has actually never been that big in doll making. “There is not a huge quantity, nor great history of Portuguese dolls which can be seen at the museum as they only have a handful of Portuguese made dolls.” Manuela told me that, only their cardboard toys and rag dolls are genuinely artisanal and Portuguese. Further adding that “we have always been dependent on Spanish dolls, with the belief that they are only good if they are Spanish which is why we have always had few doll factories.”

“In the 1950s, there were some factories that would do the same kind of dolls as in Spain but the owners of those factories were in fact Spanish and had flee to Portugal during the Civil War so you could not honestly say the doll was ours.”

As for fears of dolls, Manuela told me that during Halloween they have created a display “with our dolls dressed as the most malevolent characters from horror films and as an ex-teacher, we do this for educational purposes, we have one cry baby doll that we have painted its hair and done its makeup to make it look like Chucky, even adding a plastic knife for effect.” Adding that “this display is to demystify the idea of dolls and horror movies and for children to see that the only terror is in our heads and that the poor dolls are just used as figures like anything else in films.”

Next time you are in Lisbon you will just have to come and see the hospital for yourself because words to not do justice to this unique place, it is a one-of-a-kind experience! For more information, please visit www.hospitaldebonecas.com and you can find them on Facebook @hospitaldebonecas1830.