San Marino … trying not to find pleasure inside the country’s Museum of Torture, and trying not to laugh inside its Museum of Vampires

My first full day in San Marino’s Old Town back in June 2015, was like the start of a classic Hammer Horror movie: a (not so) young lady finds herself lost in an unfamiliar place. She desperately wants to get out of the rain and runs to the front door of a strange looking house where a mysterious old man invites her in. The door shuts behind her and it is then she realises the dreadful truth: she is all alone, in a house full of vampires!

I was indeed alone with a coven of vampires, albeit mannequins dressed up to look like them, because I was standing in the middle of San Marino’s Museum of Vampires. The weather was awful that morning and the “mysterious old man” who sold me my entrance ticket was mysterious in as far as it was a mystery why he chose to wear such a garish looking tie that morning. I have to say, most of the displays inside the museum were actually “dreadful”, but overall the experience was rather educational.

San Marino's Museum of Vampires, ironically opened during daytime hours and closed at sun set

San Marino’s Museum of Vampires, ironically opened during daytime hours and closed at sun set

Not the "mysterious old man" who sold me my entrance ticket but the first vampire on display at the Museum of Vampires, found inside the museum's vestibule. First impressions weren't good: I could see the string he was using to pretend to fly

Not the “mysterious old man” who sold me my entrance ticket but the first vampire on display at the Museum of Vampires, found inside the museum’s vestibule. First impressions weren’t good: I could see the string he was using to pretend to fly

One Direction's 2045 Reunion tour? No, just another collection of vampire mannequins presumably trying to shelter from the rain outside

One Direction’s 2045 Reunion tour? No, just another collection of vampire mannequins presumably trying to shelter from the rain outside

I couldn't work out whether this was supposed to be Nosferatu or legendary comedian Ken Dodd: Diddy scare me? Diddy hell!

I couldn’t work out whether this was supposed to be Nosferatu or legendary comedian Ken Dodd: Diddy scare me? Diddy hell!

There were no vampire movie posters, no vampire memorabilia and hardly any related artefacts on display anywhere in the museum. The greatest disappointment of all was that there wasn’t even a commemorative photograph of Christopher Lee on display considering he had died only a few days earlier to my visit. It was just a windowless, sulphur-scented room full of humanoid mannequins covered in dribbles of red paint and put in poses that were presumably meant to appear frightening, but left me in a fit of giggles due to how ludicrous they actually looked.

With everything labelled in Italian only, the museum experience was like playing a sinister version of 'Guess Who'. I may have been wrong here but I had a feeling that the figure sitting at the table was supposed to be Vlad the Impaler

With everything labelled in Italian only, the museum experience was like playing a sinister version of ‘Guess Who’. I may have been wrong here but I had a feeling that the figure sitting at the table was supposed to be Vlad the Impaler

Vlad sitting at the 'head' of the table

Vlad sitting at the ‘head’ of the table

Clearly Vlad enjoyed his meal, leaving only the bones after him

Clearly Vlad enjoyed his meal, leaving only the bones after him

That larger light shade beside the bed would probably work better in a room with a higher ceiling

That larger light shade beside the bed would probably work better in a room with a higher ceiling

I wasn't the only one to find the vampire mannequins laughable

I wasn’t the only one to find the vampire mannequins laughable

Without being too harsh, the museum wasn’t a complete waste of time and money. The collection of real life vampire stories and legends detailed in the museum booklet was really interesting. The mannequins may have been laughable, but the stories and personalities they represented were absolutely fascinating.

Carmilla, the main character in Sheridan Le Fanu's 1872 novel of the same name, believed to be based on ancient Hebrew myths and legends where vampires were depicted as sensual yet evil women

Carmilla, the main character in Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 novel of the same name, believed to be based on ancient Hebrew myths and legends where vampires were depicted as sensual yet evil women

Someone who was accused of being a real life vampire in the seventeenth century was Erzsébet Bathory, a sadistic and depraved countess who is considered to be the most famous Hungarian serial killer to this day. Left alone by her military husband for months at a time in Castle Cséjthe – north-east of what is now Bratislava, Slovakia – Erzsébet would often appease her boredom by torturing her servants.

According to legend – and the museum booklet – the blood of one of Erzsébet’s young servants once splashed on her arm and her hand suddenly appeared to look younger and tauter. Convinced this was the secret to eternal youth, Erzsébet embarked on a murder spree, collecting the blood of her young victims to bathe in and drink. Rumours started to spread in the surrounding towns and villages that Erzsébet was a real life vampire and in December 1610 she was arrested whilst sitting in a bath of blood.

Although the evidence against her was overwhelming with the discovery of at least fifty bodies within the castle and several girls imprisoned in the dungeon awaiting their fate, Erzsébet was surprisingly not sentenced to death. She was however, sentenced to immurement: the windows and doors of her castle bedroom were bricked up with her inside it. Only a small slit in one of the walls remained to pass her food, and it was four years before Erzsébet finally died in that room.

Erzsébet (Elizabeth) Bathory seen here bathing in human blood, although it looks more like a bath of gravy to me. She also looks rather like Game of Thrones's Melisandre

Erzsébet (Elizabeth) Bathory seen here bathing in human blood, although it looks more like a bath of gravy to me. She also looks rather like Game of Thrones‘s Melisandre

I grew up and still live only a few miles away from Highgate Village in North London, famous for its cemetery where several famous figures are buried, notably Karl Marx, George Eliott and (ahem) Jeremy Beadle. In all my years I had never heard of the “Highgate Vampire” until my visit to the Museum of Vampires. He was a blood-thirsty criminal who roamed around Highgate in the 1960s attacking locals before apparently disappearing through the walls of the cemetery. Although no one was ever caught for the attacks and there was no proof of any super-natural activity other than the remains of a black magic ritual in the cemetery grounds, self-proclaimed vampire hunters say they exorcised the vampire from the area. No further sightings or similar incidents have been recorded there since 1969.

San Marino's imagining of the Highgate Vampire holding in his fist what looks like a Haribo jelly worm

San Marino’s imagining of the Highgate Vampire holding in his fist what looks like a Haribo jelly worm

It was not surprising that the museum booklet was more like a library volume due to the many paragraphs dedicated to the gory details of each legend included. It was also not surprising that the booklet was full of those gory details because after a visit to another museum in the Old Town – the Museum of Torture –  I was convinced that San Marino has a rather insatiable appetite for the cruel, bloody and gruesome.

The surprisingly quaint entrance to San Marino's Museum of Torture. The mist was real and not a special effect used to create an eerie atmosphere about the place

The surprisingly quaint entrance to San Marino’s Museum of Torture. The mist was real and not a special effect used to create an eerie atmosphere about the place

A warm welcome awaits all visitors inside the museum

A warm welcome awaits all visitors inside the museum

The first of two main floors dedicated to the art of killing people very slowly and very painfully. Thankfully, the museum does not run any live demonstrations

The first of two main floors dedicated to the art of killing people very slowly and very painfully. Thankfully, the museum does not run any live demonstrations

A nineteenth century Italian copy of the infamous 'Iron Maiden' of Nuremberg. This model was probably (and hopefully) used as a mere object of curiosity rather than inflicting torture and death on anyone

A nineteenth century Italian copy of the infamous ‘Iron Maiden’ of Nuremberg. This model was probably (and hopefully) used as a mere object of curiosity rather than inflicting torture and death on anyone

I wonder whether the light goes off once the door is closed, just like in a fridge

I wonder whether the light goes off once the door is closed, just like in a fridge

Spikes are clearly all the rage in the torture world: jackets like this one were worn by both bear hunters to protect themselves from a bear attack, and by medieval prison wardens to protect themselves during riots. It is uncertain whether this particular jacket was a 'Bear Jacket' or a 'Warder's Corset'

Spikes are clearly all the rage in the torture world: jackets like this one were worn by both bear hunters to protect themselves from a bear attack, and by medieval prison wardens to protect themselves during riots. It is uncertain whether this particular jacket was a ‘Bear Jacket’ or a ‘Warder’s Corset’

Seventeenth century ornamental rectal, oral and vaginal pears. Does the vaginal pear really deserve to be presented on a silk covered pedestal?

Seventeenth century ornamental rectal, oral and vaginal pears. Does the vaginal pear really deserve to be presented on a silk covered pedestal?

The dichotomy of pleasure and pain? How can something that has the potential to inflict the worse possible pain imaginable (on a woman) be made to look so remarkably beautiful?

The dichotomy of pleasure and pain? How can something that has the potential to inflict the worse possible pain imaginable (on a woman) be made to look so remarkably beautiful?

San Marino, San Marino City, Museum of Torture, Museo della Tortura, Vaginal Pear detail

My sentiments exactly after looking at that vaginal pear

My sentiments exactly after looking at that vaginal pear

...and I don't know what you're smiling at

…and I don’t know what you’re smiling at

No torture museum would be complete without a chastity belt on display. It is wrongly believed these belts were used as a form of torture. In medieval times, noble women who wore such 'belts' often chose to do so as a form of rape deterrent whilst their husbands were away in battle

No torture museum would be complete without a chastity belt on display. It is wrongly believed these belts were used as a form of torture. In medieval times, noble women who wore such ‘belts’ often chose to do so as a form of rape deterrent whilst their husbands were away in battle

There is a seating area – of sorts – on the lower ground floor of the museum.

This nineteenth century Garrotte is Catalonian. The sign forbidding visitors to sit down on it is present day museum literature and wasn't available to advise victims in the nineteenth century

This nineteenth century Garrotte is Catalonian. The sign forbidding visitors to sit down on it is present day museum literature and wasn’t available to advise victims in the nineteenth century

No, not the Iron Throne from the HBO TV series but an original seventeenth century interrogation chair from Italy

No, not the Iron Throne from the HBO TV series but an original seventeenth century interrogation chair from Italy

San Marino, San Marino City, Museum of Torture, Museo della Tortura, Italian Interrogation Chair, side

An Austrian barrel pillory used to parade and ridicule the accused through the streets, whilst piling unspeakable substances through the mouth

An Austrian barrel pillory used to parade and ridicule the accused through the streets, whilst piling unspeakable substances through the mouth

I can’t help but admit how fascinated and curious I am of the darker side of human nature, how sadistic and cruel we have been in the past and how entertaining we found inflicting pain on others to be. The pieces on display here at the Museum of Torture hopefully illustrates how we once were and how most of us at least find these tactics and tools unacceptable today.

The curators of this museum added a great deal of explanation in their literature on how each tool and artefact was used in the art of torture. As with the Museum of Vampires’s booklet, the slightly excessive detail and focus on the gruesome and the inflictions caused by their collection seemed a little too enthusiastic… but then this is San Marino, a country that seems happy to obsess on the darker things in life.

TLT x

Useful information

Neither the Museum of Vampires nor the Museum of Torture have dedicated websites to date (2016). Both museums are easily found within the Old Town. The Museum of Vampires is along Contr. dei Magazzeni on the way up to Rocca Maggiore, and the Museum of Torture is right next to Saint Francis’s Gate. Both museums are open daily until around 7pm depending on the time of year, and tickets cost around €5-€8 each (2016). Both are especially worth visiting when the weather on top of Mount Titano is just too bad for sightseeing elsewhere on the Mount.


Remembering it can be fun to frolic naked in the bushes

A mysterious train line, an obsession with the female form and an even greater obsession with replica guns. A different side to San Marino


Arty San Marino shot number two hundred and fifty-three

The other Statue of Liberty, festive guard uniforms, two famous clifftops towers and the third one hardly anyone knows about. Trying to capture the perfect picture postcard shot of San Marino

 

 

 

 


I think I get the point

Finding pleasure inside Prague’s Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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1 Response to San Marino … trying not to find pleasure inside the country’s Museum of Torture, and trying not to laugh inside its Museum of Vampires

  1. Anna Marks says:

    I’m a writer for The Creators Project, Vice Magazine. I’m writing an article on fictional objects and weaponry that never really existed the way we think. I came across your wonderful blog (super interesting!) and I was wondering If I could borrow the images you have of the iron maiden and chastity belt?
    ——————
    TLT’s reply: I’d be honoured.
    ——————
    … and here’s the article:
    http://thecreatorsproject.vice.com/blog/the-middle-ages-darkest-tech-was-invented-by-victorian-con-men

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