No guts, no glory: experiencing the Amsterdam Dungeon
Many of Amsterdam’s visitors and locals have heard of the Amsterdam Dungeon on the Rokin, but how many of us have checked it out? Well, that number should be higher, as there’s more than meets the eye with this deathly destination. It’s a sometimes hilarious, sometimes gruesome, but always fun 80-minute journey through the darker sides of Dutch history.
A gruesome glimpse into Amsterdam’s past
The horrible-history-loving folks over at the Amsterdam Dungeon invited us to check out the attraction, so check out we did. The goal of the Dungeon is to give a brutal blow-by-blow interactive journey through the darkest times in the last 500 years of the Netherlands’ history.
But this isn’t just any old tour – much like similar attractions in London and Berlin, live-action performances, special effects, convincing acting and some genuinely terrifying scenery make up the bulk of the experience. And although some honestly horrific scenarios are covered, the comic relief peppered throughout makes for a much more grounded experience – one that’s approachable for squeamish visitors and young ‘uns alike.
What’s immediately apparent is how much care went into making the whole experience feel real and authentic. As soon as you enter, you’re greeted with haunting décor, frightful waxworks and what seems like a genuinely lived-in (or died-in?) environment. Heck, even the toilets are on point, thanks to bloody walls and the distant wails of pain that echo through the chamber. And that’s before the tour really gets started. If you’re a fan of haunted houses or Halloween, you’re in for a right treat here (as well as a trick or two!) Right after sorting our tickets out, our group was guided into a dank and gloomy cell, where – after a few introductions – we began the tour.
After being escorted down a dark, debauched elevator shaft, we were led into the first room: the torture chamber. The scene included everything you’d expect from such a place, including blood-drenched walls, an enthusiastic torturer and some truly stomach-churning tools of the trade. Utilising some ‘volunteers’ from our group, the torturer amusingly and captivatingly showed off some of the twisted mechanisms of times gone by, including an impaling hook and ‘The Chappy Chopper’ (we’ll let you use your imagination for that last one…)
The next room was an 18th-century dockside bar, whose creepily charismatic barmaid – AKA the Soul Merchant – revealed how hundreds of drunken men and women were once suckered into signing up for ship work for the Dutch East India Company (VOC), essentially enlisting themselves into a life of scurvy scores and scabs. Of course, a member of the audience was tricked into enlisting – to great effect.
Fascinating, frightening and freakin’ funny
We were then directed aboard the VOC Batavia, whose deckhand gave us some first-hand experience of what it’s like to live and work on an 18th-century naval vessel. One member of the group was given the honour of holding the ship’s poop bucket, while I was made to clean the ship’s broadside cannons – all while the cannons blared and the shipmate barked orders. The comedy and interactive nature of this scene are great for the kids – and big kids! – among us.
Next up was a recreation of the scene from Rembrandt’s iconic fragmentary painting The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Deijman (1656). Without spoiling too much, Dr Deijman’s anatomical dissection of the infamous criminal Black John was extremely vivid, involving audience members and – well – leaving very little to the imagination! You know what they say: no guts, no glory…
We were then led into a highly interactive, informative and comedy-packed Spanish Inquisition courtroom. Members of the audience were tried for crimes such as highway robbery and witchcraft – and one unsuspecting dad was even tried for crimes against fashion (all in jest, of course.) While the section was undeniably entertaining, it also shed light on how different – and brutal – the judicial system of the olden times operated. Needless to say, history buffs will feel right at home here. This point is echoed in the next segment, which opened our eyes to the horrors of witch hunting during the 16th century, which concluded with one lucky audience member being burnt at the stake – as you do.
Our last stop was a fright-filled performance packed with some striking lighting and special effects. The setting: an 18th-century tannery at the Amsterdam Zeedijk. The story: a jealous sister’s betrayal that takes an otherworldly twist. The verdict: a captivating performance that engaged every person in our group and quite literally had us on the edges of our seats. One thing’s for sure: I won’t be walking down the Zeedijk alone at night anytime soon…
Every visitor is encouraged to have a picture in the pillory when they enter, and we think our pic sums up the whole experience quite nicely…
Some of us might get a little scared (I mean, just look at my face), some of us might get a little bit too into it (just look at that executioner!), but you’re bound to have a bloody good time either way!
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