Museum of Torture Instruments
Take a break from the beauty of Prague to explore a more gruesome side of history.
Humans are good at being bad to each other, and the artifacts of that cruelty are on display in this museum, which contains over 100 exhibits showcasing the torture practices of medieval and early modern Europe.
A short walk from Prague’s Old Town Square, at the east end of the Charles Bridge stands a three-story museum. Inside its exhibits showcase the various instruments used by Europe’s powers-that-were to torment heretics, “witches,” political rebels, scapegoats, gluttons, insufficiently amusing entertainers, women who talked too much, and other assorted enemies of the state.
The Museum of Torture Instruments contains more than 60 torture devices, including old standbys like the iron maiden (known here as the Virgin of Nuremberg), the rack, and the gridiron (the getting-roasted-alive kind, not the football kind), as well as deeper cuts like the Spanish Tickle Torture (less tickling, more getting cut to ribbons by a giant fork), the Catalan Garrote (a garrote plus a spike at the base of the skull for added horror), and an array of iron masks—plucked from your most vivid Lynchian fever dreams—designed to publicly humiliate sinners.
Torture was formally abolished by European governments in the 19th century, and the actual practice of torture decreased as well during that period. Today, prohibition against torture is a bedrock principle of international law. Groups like Human Rights Watch document the use of torture and work with victims to ensure that those who use it are brought to justice.
The implements at the museum are accompanied by medieval-style illustrations showing how the devices were used, as well as detailed textual explanations of their workings in eight different languages. The Museum of Torture Instruments also includes wax figures of various hapless individuals, as well as special effect representations of a witch-burning and an execution by sword.
Know Before You Go
Walking access easiest due to it already being a prime sightseeing spot. There are two museums of torture in Prague with roughly the same name and same exposition. The museum mentioned in this entry is located close to the Old Town Square, by the address Celetná 12. The other one is just in front of the Charles Bridge, by the address Křižovnické nám. 1. The first one is more graphic with many of the instruments shown with wax models as torture subjects.
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