Torture Museum in Volterra

Torture Museum in Volterra

The “Museum of Torture and the Death Penalty” is a large exhibition that features five Permanent Museums (San Gimignano, Siena, Volterra, Lucca and Multipulciano) on Italian soil. Although the instruments and documentaries exhibited vary widely among them, the “Museum of Torture and the Death Penalty” wants to underline its nature as a signal, an invitation to memory and a warning so that the horrors of the past can no longer be repeated; for this reason, a connection is sometimes made to some parts of the world, although civilized, directly concerned (see, below, the example of the Electric Chair).

Our Hotel in Volterra is located a few minutes from the museum and is the ideal place to leave for a journey to discover Tuscany.

The Permanent Museum of Volterra, also known as the “Medieval Criminal Museum” retains the same function not only documentary but also humanitarian and social, and in its rooms, small but wide-ranging, it shows the most varied techniques of medieval torture, together with real and own instruments of death and particularly rare documents of the Holy Inquisition.

The Torture Museum stands in the heart of the Etruscan and later medieval Volterra, on Piazza XX Settembre, which it overlooks. Accompanied by immersive backgrounds and well-reconstructed settings, this Museum is appreciated by the academic plethora not only for its clear and valid explanations, but also and above all for the tools it includes, unique in the world. It is not necessary to emphasize, in fact, through bloody or horrifying reconstructions, the message that the Museum itself carries, since the tools, in wood or metal, silent pillars of the past, already testify by themselves. The impact on visitors is strong, especially as regards the mental reconstruction of those moments in those who pass by, letting their clothes rustle: the pain of a dark and unknown past immediately becomes an imaginary contrite actuality.

The path inside the Torture Museum winds under stone arches in order to recall the underground setting, and consists of a corridor that therefore widens into a much larger space. Notable tools are immediately the “bipedal iron cage”, belonging to the seventeenth century, and the “wooden hanging cage”, built between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; the insertion, in both of them, of a skeleton with cut-off legs at knee height is suggestive and impressive and lets the tools, from the pure iron material with which they were built, embrace the true purpose for which they were used.

Furthermore, the “Barbed Collar” is one of the most famous tools due to its very shape: equipped with spikes on all sides, it tightened the victim’s neck with its five kilograms. The lethal collapse was reached in a short time, due to the erosion up to the bones of the flesh of the neck, the progressive breaking of the bones of the jaw and shoulders, the rampant gangrene and, finally, the erosion of the bare bones.

The “Inquisitorial Chair” therefore welcomes visitors with its grandeur and horror: the inquisitor’s fundamental tool, he forcibly introduced the naked tortured into it, so that the straps would gradually tighten his flesh. The interrogation was simultaneously carried out using the rocking of the chair itself or with beating directly on the already injured limbs. Sometimes the floor could also be burning by means of coals or a torch. The modern parallel of combining the “Inquisitoria Chair” with today’s electric chairs is certainly a sad but effective one.

Furthermore, the “Virgin of Nuremberg” is one of the instruments that bears the name of the large wing that contains it, together with other instruments of female torture (such as the “Chastity Belt” or the “Chain Scourge”). The “Virgin of Nuremberg” refers to the stories of the anthropomorphic sarcophagus with two doors, which had purely Egyptian origin, but adding a dense network of quills inside it so as to penetrate the flesh of the victim once the two doors are closed, in the body of the victim. The name “Nuremberg” derives from the most famous example, the “Iron Maiden”, destroyed in 1944 by bombing. In reality, only in that case, it is possible that the quills could be relocated between the doors or the interior of the sarcophagus itself, according to how the unfortunate victim was to be punished.

It is certainly heartbreaking to think that all these tortures were not limited only to adults: in the interior of the Museum, intact, there is an instrument called “Cavallino Per Punizione”, used to heavily whip children tied to it, using a childish image and dear to the family and the home.

The rooms and rooms follow one another quickly in a gloomy and gloomy atmosphere that accentuates even more the restlessness whispered by the tools of torture.

All about the tools and the museum itself, but what are we talking about when it comes to torture? Called “The Worst Face of Man”
from the Museum of Torture and the Death Penalty, was already present in abundance in antiquity and in all human cultures and is therefore “a method of physical or psychological coercion, inflicted with the aim of punishing or extorting information or of confessions. ”

However, a double moral question arises: whether everyone is ready to condemn and repudiate torture in all its justifications, theoretical or even less practical, because it continually reappears among the various human cultures, changing shape, name and motivations, so much so that it seems that is something inherent in human nature?

It would seem that the truth is precisely that then, since his condemnation does not hold up as a historical fact or anthropologically limited to a fixed place. The more evolution progresses, be it political or moral, the more torture comes to the surface, without ever being overcome, and it does not require particular socio-religious environments.
And for this reason, the “Worst Face of Man”: derives from the pleasure for the pain of others, which characterizes all human beings, according to the historian called “homo homini lupus” (“man is a wolf for the man “, from Plautus, Asinaria, a. II, sc. IV, v. 495). It comes from the history of human wickedness.

The Torture Museum of Volterra is worth its entry also and above all for this reason: to become aware, to clash with the worst that the human soul and mind have ever been able to concoct, and, finally, to reflect on what is still there. ties, today, to it, passing from the Electric Chair already mentioned and then to the torture against women: if the most varied accusations could be addressed in the Middle Ages (from chastity to witchcraft practices), still today and in certain areas in fact, the tools of the world have changed but never extinguished, and stoning or other practices still bring the horror, painful, what today the viewer can see in abandoned iron and wooden plates.