A torture chamber is, as the name implies, a room designed to facilitate torture. In the ancient and medieval eras, torture chambers were typically filled with a selection of devices specifically designed to inflict physical pain on their victims. Other torture chambers were designed to break the spirit of prisoners through more subtle psychological pressure, often as a result of environmental discomfort. Regrettably, torture chambers employing both physical and psychological means of inflicting pain have remained quite common in the modern era, although they are rarely constructed on so lavish a scale as were those of the Middle Ages.
Torture in the medieval world was employed as a means of exacting confessions, deterring various behaviors, and punishment. It was a common feature in most societies, and, as a result, torture chambers were quite common as well. A medieval torture chamber would typically include a variety of restraining devices, as well as implements designed to inflict pain, including both simple implements, such as pliers and hot irons, and complex devices such as racks and ropes for stretching victims or special cages for crushing them. The fact that torture was both legal and widely accepted meant that the existence of torture chambers was common knowledge, and they sometimes even served, along with public executions, as grim entertainment for the masses.
The Enlightenment in Europe and similar reformist movements elsewhere in the world led to a re-examination of the role of torture and the torture chamber. Thinkers of this era asserted that not only was torture cruel but that it was also fundamentally inefficient, as it could easily produce false confessions. These philosophical changes led to the gradual disappearance of formal torture chambers, as anything more than macabre curiosities, in most western societies by 1900.
The twentieth century, however, saw the reappearance of the torture chamber in many of the countries where torture had been banned for a time. The grim cells of the KGB or Gestapo lacked the elaborate devices of their predecessors in the Middle Ages but served the same function, by making the job of torturers easier and helping to break down the will of prisoners through techniques ranging from simple physical violence to psychological torment.
Even in the most modern parts of the world, some practices persist that remind critics of torture chambers. While a small punishment cell in a modern prison is not exactly a torture chamber, it is not all that different from the tiny, cramped cells in which the enemies of the doges of Venice were left to swelter or freeze. Both serve the same function, using a form of psychological pressure to wear down the spirits of their victims.