Gevangenis Het Steen

Did you know that Delft has its own medieval prison tower complete with jail cell and torture instruments located right on the market square?

The tower was where the administration of justice was carried out. People were imprisoned, interrogated and tortured in the 13th-century tower. It was called Het Steen, or the stone, because it was the only building in Delft made of stone at the time. The city hall with the red shutters we see today was built around the original tower in 1618-1620. Torture was a common interrogation method in the 13th-century, and remained in use until 1798. People were kept in the tower only until their fate was decided.

Balthasar Gerards, who famously killed Willem van Oranje, was incarcerated here in 1584. “Torturers knew everything about physical anatomy because they were allowed to go very far in torturing people without killing them, and they knew exactly how far they could go. It was a job that passed from father to son; it was a respected profession,” explained Mario Carolus van Lier, floor manager at Museum Prinsenhof.

Punishment wasn’t always physical, sometimes it was financial or just plain humiliating. If you were particularly bad you could be banished from the city, or ultimately sentenced to death. “There used to be several cells in the tower, but there’s only one left now,” said De Lier. Names, dates and images have been carved in the heavy oak walls. A suffocating box lies above the grilled cell. Some instruments of torture are on display. “The instruments in the room now were likely used downstairs at the time. That way urine, sweat and blood could be easily cleaned away,” said De Lier.

You can visit Het Steen to find out more about Delft’s bloody history. Entry is with a guide only, and tours run during school holidays. You can buy tickets from the tourist information point on Kerkstraat at a cost of €3.50 for adults, and €2.50 for under 18’s. A minimum age of 9 years applies. See for more details.

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