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Museum of Torture, San Gimignano

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by Belladonna (subscribe)
Loves going out and about, drinking coffee, eating chocolate, and writing about her adventures!
Published August 6th 2020
A journey through human cruelty
Australians have long been great travellers and adventurers. However, thanks to COVID-19, many of our overseas travel plans have been put on hold indefinitely. But that doesn't mean we can't still enjoy having adventures! We may not be able to leave the airport to have them, but at least we can still dream about them and imagine them and plan them for a time when our world will get back to some kind of normal.

Late last year, I was very, very lucky to fit in a European adventure before we had even heard of Coronavirus. In this series, I will share with you some of the more interesting places I visited, places that you might just want to add to your post-Coronavirus overseas holiday list if you haven't been there already.

Are you ready? Then let's head out to dreamy Tuscany, Italy, where in the quaint, charming medieval hilltop town of San Gimignano, you will find a place where your sun-drenched Tuscan dream will quickly turn into a nightmare.

Welcome to the Museo Della Tortura, or the Museum of Torture!

Cruel humans
No other species on this planet is as cruel as us humans. We may view other species as deadly and ferocious such as snakes and crocodiles and sharks. But snakes, crocodiles, and sharks don't have the intelligence to create atomic bombs and other weapons of mass destruction like we humans have.

Snakes, crocodiles, and sharks don't have the capacity to create swords or guns or canons or tanks or the guillotine or the hangman's noose like we humans have. And humans can also use other species for their own cruel sport and entertainment. A good example is the ancient Romans who used fierce animals such as crocodiles, lions, and bears to savage condemned people in their arenas.

When it comes to cruelty, we humans are very, very sophisticated at it. Over the centuries, humans have done a very good job of inflicting pain on one another (and all the other species on our planet). Nowhere is this more evident than in the instruments of torture that we have designed throughout time; instruments that have been particularly created to cause pain and death. Instruments such as the guillotine (famous for chopping off all those heads, including a King and Queen's, during the French Revolution), the Iron Maiden, the Electric Chair, the Hanging Cage, the Head Crusher, and the Rack (which a certain Guy Fawkes was said to have been put to after he was arrested for being part of the Gunpowder Plot that aimed to assassinate King James 1 of England).

These cruel instruments of torture and so many more like them can be found at the fascinating and yet terrifying Museum of Torture in San Gimignano.

The Museum of Torture
The Museum of Torture is not a place for the faint-hearted. Here you will be confronted with the very worst, the very darkest parts of our collective human nature. The museum contains more than 100 instruments of death, with rare pieces dating back to the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, as well as recent reconstructions of lost and ancient instruments.

You'll find the guillotine, infamous for chopping off all those heads in the French Revolution, including the heads of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, Queen and King of France. This decapitation machine owes its name to the French physician Joseph- Ignace Guillotin who introduced it in 1789 as a less painful and more compassionate execution method. But it is not a French invention. Similar versions were being used in England from the 14th century, and in Italy and Scotland from the 16th century.

You'll also come across the Iron Maiden. Yes, there's a heavy metal band named after it. But I don't think the band's music is as torturous as this device! The Iron Maiden was a container that the victim could easily fit into. It had two doors, fitted with spikes on the inside that pierced the victim upon the doors being shut. The most famous example is the so-called "Iron Maiden" of Nuremberg, destroyed in the air raids of 1944.

There's also a brank or a type of torture mask. These 'masks' came in many different styles and were popular in Europe from about 1500-1800. The victims were locked into the masks and staked out in the town square. And of course, as was a popular form of entertainment back in these good old days, the victims were also treated roughly by the crowd. Painful beatings, besmearing with faeces and urine, and serious wounding, sometimes fatal, was their unfortunate lot.

As you continue to explore the museum's dark corners, you'll find a hanging cage, another popular form of punishment and torture in Europe up until the end of the eighteenth century. Victims were locked in cages and hung up, and basically left to perish. Many of them would have already been tortured or mutilated before being locked in the cage. The cages were attached to the outsides of town halls and ducal palaces, to halls of justice and cathedrals and to city walls. They also swayed from tall iron gibbets set up near the main crossroads.

You'll also come across the infamous Interrogation Chair, the beloved device of the Inquisitor (an official whose job it was to stamp out heresy or doctrines that were contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church). The victim was seated on the chair naked and the straps were slowly tightened so that the spikes entered the flesh. The seat was often made of iron and could be heated by a brazier or a torch.

Our legacy
What I found particularly disturbing about these and many other torture devices in the museum was the fact that we humans created them in the first place. Unfortunately, these torture instruments are our legacy. They are part of our collective history, and they lay bare to us the very worst side of our human nature. "Causing pain seems to be an irrepressible human desire. Human cruelty, the pleasure derived from other people's pain, the desire to impose our criteria without respecting the freedom of others, these are not behaviors delimited to a certain era, but to human history".(Source)

However, the goal of the museum's exhibits is not to glorify human cruelty but to create in visitors an awareness and understanding of our shared past. "We cannot simply deny it or remove it from our conscience. We have to deal with it, to learn to recognize it, to try to understand it in its excesses and prejudices, in order to integrate it in another context. By washing our hands of torture, we just ignore something that is part of us, of our history and our civil path. The Museum wants to be a sign, an invitation to memory, a solemn warning so that such behaviors do not repeat because, nowadays as in the past, these repugnant acts keep on being perpetuated in our so-called "civilized era"." (Source)

The things you need to know
The Museum of Torture is located at Via San Giovanni, 125 San Gimignano. Opening hours are every day from 10am to 7pm.

Tickets: Full price 10 , Reduced 7 , and groups 5 . Your ticket is valid also for the Museum of Death Penalty which is within and part of the Museum of Torture.

There are also Museums of Torture located in Siena, Volterra, Lucca and Montepulciano. Please visit the website here for more details.

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When: Everyday from 10am-7pm
Phone: 39 0577 940526
Where: Via San Giovanni, 125 San Gimignano
Cost: Full price 10 Reduced 7 groups 5
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