Have you ever looked down a sewer grate and shuddered at the thought of finding yourself beneath those iron bars?
An oubliette–French for “forgotten room”–is not how you remember it from The Labyrinth. In reality, they were so narrow that prisoners could sometimes not even turn around in them, let alone sit down. Oubliettes are believed to have originated in France in medieval times before their spread throughout Europe but that’s because we have the proof of them in castle dungeons. Throwing someone in a dark hole has been around long before that–think Sparta. What defines an oubliette is simply a punishment chamber whose only exit is through an unreachable ceiling.
Once dropped in this hole, the trapdoor–too high to reach–would be closed. Imagine the cold, musty walls. Some would have been standing in water, some might have the company of rats. The Leap Castle in Ireland had both, along with spikes coming up from the floor.
Not everyone was left to die; sometimes food and water would be thrown down to them until their sentence was served. But what if you missed the weekly chunk of bread, and couldn’t bend down to reach it? That’s torture!
Crimes punishable by oubliette
If you were noble or wealthy you could forget about being thrown in the oubliette, or any real legal punishment (some things never change). Despite the terrifying thought of death in one of these pits, they were mostly used for minor offenses and time in the oubliette was often short–days to weeks.
Many oubliettes’ only purpose was a piece in the torture plan of political prisoners for information. The Bastille in France was notorious for this use of their oubliettes.
What do you think would be worse: a solid trapdoor leaving you in the dark or a grated one where you could see out, and be seen? Comment.
If you like reading about torture (freak) check out Three Types of Torture You Probably Haven’t Heard About