nuremberg municipal museums

The Mediaeval Dungeons in the cellar of Nuremberg City Hall are testimony to Mediaeval legal practice.

Mediaeval Dungeons

Topics - History

Cross Section of the Gothic building of the Old City Hall: the Mediaeval Dungeons are in the cellars.

From Breadhouse to Prison

In 1322, Nuremberg, the Free City of the Empire, purchased from the monastery of Heilsbronn the building rights for the later Gothic City Chambers. As in many other cities in the High Middle Ages, before this, the organisation of markets and supplies for the population had been under the auspices of the church.

When in 1332, construction of the new City Hall began, the plans comprised a prison facility, because the city hall also served as law court. For this purpose, the existing shops of the former Cistercian breadhouse were turned into prison cells. During building, because of flood danger, the entire ground level was raised by about 3 meters. Thus the former breadhouse which had been situated on the ground floor was now transformed into new cellars - the dreaded Nuremberg dungeons.

The so-called "Smithy".

Nuremberg City Council

The dungeons are a testimony to mediaeval judicial practice. Like many other German cities, Nuremberg used generally accepted forms of criminal proceedings.

The accused had to produce witnesses who swore to their "good repute", and in Nuremberg, the City Council and the Jury, the competent legal body, from 1320 onward had the right of condemning defendants convicted of "ill repute" to punishment "in body and soul".

The so-called "Death Cel".

Nuremberg citizens were subject to these rules, as well as people from outside the town. Among the many criminal cases, quite a number involved prominent citizens who were not spared conviction and punishment. The sculptor, Veit Stoß, was probably the most famous inmate of the dungeons. He was in prison because he had forged a borrower's note and was pardoned to "just" being branded (rather than executed).

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