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An artist's depiction of a Torture chamber of the Inquisition, ca. 1736. The Inquisitors and the clerk are seen on the left.[1] The Inquisitors were present to hear the confession, as soon as the torture victim gave up resisting, and the clerk recorded it.[1] The strappado i.e. the rope and pulley system through which the victims, having their hands tied behind their backs and the lifting rope attached to their wrists, were raised and then lowered violently from the chamber ceiling, is visible on the left.[2]

A Torture chamber is a room where torture is inflicted.[3][4]

Methods of coercion

According to Frederick Howard Wines in his book Punishment and Reformation: A Study Of The Penitentiary System there were three main types of coercion employed in the torture chamber: Coercion by the cord, by water and by fire.[5] In the book Retrying Galileo, 1633–1992 by Maurice A. Finocchiaro it is mentioned that there were five stages of torture that could have been applied to Galileo; He could have been threatened with torture,[6] he could have been taken to the torture chamber and been shown the instruments, he could have been undressed as if in preparation to be tied to the instrument, without actually being tied, he could have been tied to the instrument of torture but not actually getting tortured and finally he could have been tied to the instrument and tortured.[7][8] In the book Crime and criminal justice in Europe and Canada it is mentioned that fear was a factor in the process of torture and that there was a form of torture known as La présentation de la question where the prisoner was led to the torture chamber and was shown the implements of torture. While at the chamber, sentence to full torture was pronounced but, immediately after, the prisoner was taken back to the prison cell, without actually having been tortured.[9]


Artist's depiction of the strappado, including the weight hanging from the victim's ankles

The torture chamber was specifically designed to evoke fear in the victims.[10] It was usually built underground and only dimly lit. Inside the chamber waited the executioner, his face covered and wearing a black hood. When the sight of the chamber, the torture instruments and the executioner did not cause the victim to confess, a full-scale torture session was initiated.[10]

The most common instrument of torture was the strappado,[2] which was a simple rope and pulley system. With the pulley attached to ceiling of the chamber, the lifting rope was tied to the wrist of the victim, whose hands were tied behind their back. Subsequently, the victim was raised to the ceiling and then lowered using a jerking motion causing dislocation of the shoulder joints. To increase the suffering caused by the strappado, weights were attached to the feet of the victim.[2]


During the Inquisition, the method of construction of the torture chamber of the papal palace at Avignon has been described as ingenious.[11] The walls of the torture chamber were constructed in such a manner as to project the shrieks of the tortured from wall to wall, without ever reaching the outside.[11] The chamber where the victims were being burnt was of circular construction and resembled the furnace of a glass-house with a funnel-like chimney at the top.[11] Up to 1850 the chambers were shown to visitors after which time the ecclesiastical authorities of Avignon decided to shut them down.[11] In a similar vein the torture chamber of the Spanish Inquisition in Lima, Peru had one metre thick walls so that the screams of the victims could not penetrate them.[12]

In Nuremberg and Salzburg the torture chambers featured trapdoors on their floors. In Nuremberg the room underneath the main torture chamber featured torture machinery while in Salzburg, the room under the trapdoor, functioned like a waiting room for prisoners. When the time came the prisoner was pulled up and into the upper torture chamber.[13] Other times, deep water pits could be found under the trapdoor, where the victims of the torture chamber could be thrown, after a torture session, to drown.[14]

Palace of the Inquisition

The torture chamber was the final destination in a progression of four cell types during incarceration at the Palace of the Inquisition. The palace contained the Judgement Hall, the offices of the employees, the private apartments of the Grand Inquisitor and the detention cells adjacent to the apartments.[11] The detention cell gradations started with the cells of mercy reserved mainly for rich transgressors who upon bequeathing all their property to the Inquisition were normally let go after a time of detention in the cells. For more difficult prisoners the next cell stage was the cell of penitence. These were situated in small round towers of about 3 metres (ten feet) in diameter. They were painted white and included rudimentary furniture such as a stool and a bed. Very little light was allowed in. If the prisoner did not cooperate, the next step in the detention process was the dungeon. The dungeon had walls 1.5 metres (five feet) thick, double doors and was in complete darkness. No conversation of any type was allowed in the dungeon.[5][11] The food allowance for prisoners was less than a penny a day including the profit of the warden while any human refuse was removed every four days.[11] After a stay in the dungeon, uncooperative prisoners were moved to the torture chamber.[11]

Torture chambers through history

File:Tower of London, Traitors Gate.jpg

The Tower of London and Traitors Gate. In the Middle ages, torture was carried out in its chambers

Throughout history torture chambers have been used in a multiplicity of ways starting from Roman times. Torture chamber use during the Middle Ages was frequent. Religious, social and political persecution led to the widespread use of torture during that time. Torture chambers were also used during the Spanish Inquisition and at the Tower of London.[15][16][17]

Another example of a torture chamber, not known by many, is "The Thieves Tower" in the Alsace region of France. Once a tower used for torture, it is now a small museum displaying instruments used upon the prisoners to get them to confess crimes.[18]

In Venice the Palazzo Ducale had its own torture chamber, which was deemed to be of such importance that renovations started in 1507 so that the chamber walls could be kept strong and secure.[19]

Torture chambers in modern times

Nazi Germany and South America

The traditional torture users of modern times have been dictatorship governments e.g. the Nazis, Argentine military junta (at the Navy School of Mechanics), and the Chilean dictatorship led by Augusto Pinochet as well as other South American regimes.[20][21][22] These regimes have also used torture chambers.[23][24] The isolation felt inside the Nazi torture chambers was so strong that author, and victim, K. Zetnik, during his testimony at the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in 1961, has described them as another galaxy.


Use of torture chambers was also reported in Europe during the Greek military junta years.[25][26][27] Alexandros Panagoulis and Army Major Spyros Moustaklis are examples of persons tortured at the EAT/ESA (Greek Military Police) interrogation cell units.[25]

Middle East

Under the reign of Saddam Hussein, he reportedly tortured those whom he deemed as a threat. After the invasion of Iraq by US forces, pictures of dead Iraqis, with their necks slashed, their eyes gouged out and their genitals blackened, were located in many torture chambers.[28] Jail cells, with dried blood on the floor and rusted shackles bolted to the walls, lined the corridors.[29]

In November 2004, US Marines found a number of torture rooms in Fallujah by following trails of dried blood, or the smell of death. Some rooms were hidden behind fake walls, or concealed in basements.[30] Marines believe they found the place where British hostage Kenneth Bigley was caged before being beheaded.



In George Orwell's famous novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, Room 101 is a torture chamber.

In Gaston Leroux's novel The Phantom of the Opera, Erik (the Phantom's) chamber of torture consisted of a hexagonal room lined with mirrors on each wall. Temperatures vary inside the room, and soon, without food or water, people trapped in there begin having hallucinations. There is an iron tree in there with a lasso under it with which one can commit suicide, which is the only way out.

In the September 1929 issue of Popular Mechanics an article by Harold T. Wilkins titled "Secrets of Ancient Torture Chambers" describes the [fictitious] shrinking torture chamber at the Tolfi castle in Sicily as an example of an ancient torture chamber and proposes a mechanical model to account for the contracting action of the chamber.[31] The shrinking torture chamber at Tolfi castle is described in the short story "The Iron Shroud" by William Mudford.


In film the torture chamber is also known as the chamber of horrors with the word horror implying torture as well as murder or a combination of both. A good example is the torture chamber depicted in the classic horror film The Pit and the Pendulum (1961).

List of chamber related films

Martyr (2008)

Cultural resonance

Aside from its dictionary definition the term has great cultural resonance, because it transforms an abstract concept (Torture) into a real place (Torture chamber), and is an integral part of pop culture. Related exhibits can also be found in places such as Niagara Falls,[33] Las Vegas etc., attracting millions of tourists each year.


In technology, at Ryerson University, the laboratory used for testing aircraft components has been described as a high-tech torture chamber.[34] Wired Magazine has referred to the laboratory NASA uses to test the next generation of spacecraft as a torture chamber.[35] The McKinley Climatic Laboratory has been described as the world’s largest torture chamber for aircraft undergoing FAA or military certification.[36]


See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Title Daily life during the Spanish Inquisition Author James Maxwell Anderson Edition illustrated Publisher Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002 ISBN 0-313-31667-8, ISBN 978-0-313-31667-8 Length 290 pages pp. 68–69
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Inquisition from Its Establishment to the Great Schism: An Introductory Study Authors A. L. Maycock, Ronald Knox Publisher Kessinger Publishing, 2003 ISBN 0-7661-7290-2,ISBN 978-0-7661-7290-6 Length 316 pages p.162
  3. Torture chamber. WordNet 3.0. Princeton University. chamber (accessed: July 29, 2009).
  4. Princeton Wordnet definition of Torture chamber
  5. 5.0 5.1 Punishment and Reformation: A Study Of The Penitentiary System from Google Books search Quote: "Punishment and reformation: a study of the penitentiary system‎ - Page 100 by Frederick Howard Wines - Psychology - 1910 - 387 pages In the torture chamber, the three principal forms of coercion were by the cord, by water, and by fire. In the second of these, which has not been described,..."
  6. Nature p. 299 February 14, 1878
  7. Retrying Galileo, 1633–1992 by Maurice A. Finocchiaro Publisher University of California Press, 2007 ISBN 0-520-25387-6, ISBN 978-0-520-25387-2 p. 252 485 pages From Google Books
  8. Retrying Galileo, 1633–1992
  9. Crime and criminal justice in Europe and Canada John Hamilton Baker, Louis A. Knafla, Calgary Institute for the Humanities. Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 1981 339 pages ISBN 0-88920-118-8, ISBN 978-0-88920-118-7
  10. 10.0 10.1 Title History of Torture Throughout the Ages George Ryley Scott Kessinger Publishing, 2003 ISBN 0-7661-4063-6,ISBN 978-0-7661-4063-9 pp. 66–67 408 pages
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6 11.7 Secret Societies of All Ages and Countries By Charles W. Heckethorn Kessinger Publishing, 1992 p. 179 ISBN 1-56459-296-0, ISBN 978-1-56459-296-5 728 pages
  12. Spanish Inquisition: Preserving the dark chapter ASSOCIATED PRESS
  13. Archaeologia: or miscellaneous tracts relating to antiquity Society of Antiquaries of London, 1838 p. 243 Item notes v. 27 Original from Ghent University Digitized Oct 23, 2008
  14. The destiny of the soul: A critical history of the doctrine of a future life William Rounseville Alger, Ezra Abbot Edition 10 Publisher W. J. Widdleton, 1878 Original from the University of Michigan Digitized Sep 19, 2007
  15. Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition:Chapter 3. The water cure. by Anthony Bruno. From Crime
  16. The White Tower once held torture chambers within its crypt From Mysterious Britain website. Retrieved 5 March 2007
  17. There was no permanent torture-chamber. The basement of the White Tower was used. But prisoners could also be tortured in their cells From Tudor website. Retrieved 5 March 2007
  18. Overseas Military Portal website. quote:The Thieves Tower wasn’t a hideout for medieval criminals, but a place where they would pay for their crimes. This museum is home to an authentic torture chamber on the tower’s first floor, which highlights the different methods of punishing criminals, and the tools of the trade, which made this torture so agonizing such as the infamous Rack. (article by Michael J. Meese 1/26/2005), retrieved 6-07-2007
  19. Building Renaissance Venice: patrons, architects and builders, c. 1430–1500 Richard John Goy Yale University Press, 2006 316 pages ISBN 0-300-11292-0, ISBN 978-0-300-11292-4
  20. From Torture Victim to President Britannica online Quote:"Lucrecia Brito shared the cramped cell with Bachelet. "We could hear the screams from the torture chamber opposite our cell," Brito tells me.
  21. "Détournement as Civil Disobedience: Mash-ups, Re-Mixes and the Recontextualization of Sound and Images as Political Statements" A Parapolitical-Cultural Essay by James L. Cypher Presented to the MIT Media in Transition Conference “Disruptive Practices” Session April 28, 2007 quote: The Sexy Blindfold” based on the 1970s Chilean secret police torture chamber underneath a discotheque, where the loud dance music drowned out he screams of the sexual chamber of horrors below.
  22. Fort Breendonk (Nazi Camp): Pictorial essay. Mentions local torture chamber
  23. Torture chamber: behind Pinochet's reign of terror. Christian Century, Jan 11, 2005 by Kenneth P. Serbin
  24. Nuremberg Trials Opening Address for the United States Robert Jackson statement: (Nazi) Germany became one vast torture chamber
  25. 25.0 25.1 Athens news on ESA torture chambers 2 May 2003 quote: After weeks of gruesome interrogation in the infamous military police (ESA) torture chambers, Panagoulis was sentenced to death by a court martial on November 17, 1968.
  26. Political prisoners network quote: 12.00 a.m. - 1.00 p.m.: Commemoration and press conference at the EAT-ESA (EAT-ESA is a museum today, and it was used as a torture center of the gendarmery during the military junta)
  27. Reportage without frontiers from ET (Greek National TV) Interview with Vice Admiral Konstantinos Dimitriadis Quote: The fai was filled with salt. Απειλές. Threats. Ορισμένοι μάλιστα υπέστησαν κι απειλές ηθικής τάξεως. Some even suffered threats and Ethic. Ότι οι γυναίκες τους και τα λοιπά και κάτι μονταρισμένες φωτογραφίες με σκάνδαλα να το πούμε έτσι. That women and the other something mounted photos with scandals to say. Με απειλές, με τέτοια πράγματα και υβρεολόγιο. With threats, with such things and profanity. Νυχθημερόν να παίζει κάποιο ραδιόφωνο. Nychthimeron to play a radio. Ένα ραδιόφωνο με διάφορα τραγούδια εκείνης της εποχής και τα λοιπά. A radio with various songs of the time and so on. Και μαγνητόφωνα με κραυγές για να σπάσει το ηθικό, ας πούμε. And tape with cries to break the morale, say. Αυτά και βέβαια ορισμένοι, δεν υπέστησαν όλοι με τον ίδιο τρόπο την μείωση αυτή. Those are certainly some, not all were in the same way to reduce this. Είχανε κάτι ζωστήρες. Eichane zostires something. Το κορύφωμα βέβαια ήταν του Μουστακλή ο οποίος χτυπήθηκε άσχημα και βγήκε εκτός ο άνθρωπος. The culmination of the course was Moustakli who severely beaten and got out of the man.[sic] (Translation by Google)
    Original Greek interview
  31. Secrets of Ancient Torture Chambers Article by Harold T. Wilkins Popular Mechanics Sep 1929 pp. 402-404.
  32. The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism (1967)
  33. Ghost Stories of Ontario, John Robert Colombo, 1995, photos, 239 pp p. 101
  34. Ryerson University Torture Chamber Quote: "Ryerson research engineer Zouheir Fawaz does bad things to aircraft components, so they won’t do bad things to us." and "If the cavernous room at Ryerson University looks a little scary…well, that’s because it is. This is a high-tech torture chamber, complete with loops of heavy chain, bone-crushing presses, fiery furnaces and thick electrical cables that snake ominously across the floor. The good news is that all of these cruel devices are used solely on…aircraft components."
  35. WIRED MAGAZINE: Torture Chamber: NASA Tests Next-Gen Craft for Space Blast
  36. Torture Chamber: Article. Quote: "Because airplanes must fly in the real world, the Air Force built a fake one." and "The reason that didn’t happen is just one of the technological marvels of the McKinley Climatic Laboratory, the world’s largest torture chamber for aircraft in search of FAA or military certification." By Ed Regis Air & Space Magazine, May 01, 2006
  37. 37.0 37.1 Google Books
  38. The pleasures of the torture chamber John Swain Edition PublisherN. Douglas, 1931 229 pages
  39. Guida Billingue all mostra di Strumenti di Tortura Chamber dal Medioeve all Epoca Industriale Google Books 2
  40. The Iron Shroud from Project Gutenberg
  41. Online Biography of William Mudford from the Dictionary of Literary Biography hosted by BookRags p. 2
  42. Oxford Journals Critique of William Mudford Notes and Queries July 31 1943 p. 83
  43. Title The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, and Related Tales The world's classics Oxford World's Classics Author Edgar Allan Poe Editor J. Gerald Kennedy Edition reissue, illustrated Publisher Oxford University Press, 1998 ISBN 0-19-283771-0, ISBN 978-0-19-283771-4 Length 336 pages Quote: "Explanatory Note #254 p. 298: Poe apparently got the idea for his shrinking chamber from an 1830 Blackwood's story titled the 'Iron Shroud'"

External links

pl:Sala tortur

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