In case you aren’t clear on what exactly the expression “To go Medieval on one’s ass” means, here are five museums that will illustrate the point. When you see the painful accommodations that folks had to endure back in the day, that bed in your hotel room will start feeling a lot more comfy.
Medieval Crime Museum – Rothenburg Germany
Along with historical books, graphic arts and ancient legal documents, the 2,000 square metre Medieval Crime Museum, spread out over four floors shows off the many instruments of torture once making up part of Europe’s criminal justice system. Unlike some of the other torture museums, Rothenburg’s provides the full picture of the legal system, putting in context the role that torture played. In addition to the usual devices like thumbscrews, there are such unusual gems of the punishment world as the quite-uncomfortable Baker’s Chair, which was made for bakers whose loaves of bread were found to be too small. Other interesting artifacts include coats of arms, seals, patents of the nobility, medals of law and justice and other remnants of seven centuries of European law. When you’re through with the museum, you can head to your Rothenburg hotel. Just be sure not to jaywalk!
Medieval Dungeons – Nuremberg Germany
If you’ve ever wondered what a dungeon that is not part of a Hollywood set looked like, here’s your chance to get up close and personal. Right below the ancient Nuremberg City Hall, just steps down from the main market square are a series of vaulted cellars which the Medieval inhabitants hoped never to see. These twelve small cells and torture chamber of the Medieval Dungeons, known as the Chapel because of its small size, have been here since the 14th century, housing prisoners awaiting trial – whatever that meant in 14th century Nuremberg. When you’re visiting the room known as the Death Cell, just be glad that you’re going to be spending the night in your Nuremberg hotel. If you want to stay in a hotelthat was around when the torture devices were still in use, you can stay at the 1675 Hotel Am Josephsplatz.
Museum Gevangenpoort – The Hague – Netherlands
No, not all the torture museums are in Germany. In fact, the Museum Gevangenpoort (Prison Gate) is in the Dutch city of The Hague. How ironic that just around the corner from Europe’s highest arts in form of the Vermeer, Rembrandt and Steen paintings in the Mauritshuis Museum, lay Europe’s lowest arts in the Gevangenpoort. Set in the city’s old prison, the cell block has hardly changed since it was first used in the 16th century. Though the guided tour is full of dark humor, some of the sights down there are not for the fainthearted. Many torture devices are on display, and there’s also a movie about the Gevangenpoort’s most famous prisoner, Cornelis de Witt. Though the tour is mostly in Dutch, there are info sheets in other languages, and the guide can answer questions in English. Perhaps a stop at the Mauritshuis to lighten up the mood before you settle into your hotel room would be a good idea.
Museum of Medieval Criminology – San Gimignano Italy
Heading south to San Gimignano Italy, we find that torture wasn’t just a northern European pastime. Here you’ll find Medieval costumes prints and documents. And then there’s the good stuff;. The museum features masks shaped like pigs and other animals on the outside, with spikes on the inside and a ball for the mouth to keep the victim from screaming. From there it just gets worse. There’s the Heretic’s Fork, which pierces the chin and chest, designed to avoid damaging the organs, thus making the victim last longer. Or how about the Cat’s Paw, an iron claw used to scrape the skin of prisoners suspended from ropes. And then there’s the famous Iron Maiden, whose inside door contains spikes which… But why spoil the fun? The museum is fittingly set in the ancient Torre del Diavolo (Devil’s Tower), which is in the Piazza della Cisterna and close to many of the city’s best hotels.
Museum of Torture in Český Krumlov – Czech Republic
Also set in the Medieval cellars of the Town Hall, the Museum of Torture adds a new twist: wax figures demonstrating how some of the torture devices worked. Very unhappy-looking wax figures. Also set on the main town square, the museum occupies a space over 400 square metres. There are over 100 authentic instruments of torture and 10 wax figures. And wait until you see the witch-burning and the execution by sword. Correction: Wait until you see and hear them, as they both come with unique audio-visual effects. Hopefully the sounds won’t be ringing in your ears when you settle into your Český Krumlov hotel.