I’m telling you, Patarei prison in Tallinn makes Alcatraz in San Francisco look like a guesthouse. 

In 1828 Nicholas I of Russia mandated the building of the sea fortress of Patarei. It was completed in 1840, and a bit later turned into a prison. The last prisoners left it only about ten years ago, 2002. Its future destiny seems to be a bit unclear. Last year, the huge building was on sale for three million euros. Therefore, it’s not a surprise that it’s far from a polished tourist destination. Everything seems to be the way it was ten years ago. 

Alanmies and I visited Tallinn for 24 hours last week, and continued exploring the Kalamaja area that we had started on our February trip. We walked from the old town to Patarei and were lucky to meet some other Finns, who asked us to join the guided tour that would start in twenty minutes (they also do tours in English and Estonian, 60 euros per hour). 

I’m glad we did the tour! The guide met us inside the walls and literally opened the doors to the history of the building and places we could not have visited on our own. 

Please have a look:

Inside the gates. If you were a handyman and able to do some useful work, they’d let you walk in the inner yard. Otherwise you’d spend your time in a cell with 10 – 20 other people. (I had very appropriate heels on my feet… Perfect for wandering in the dark and slippery stairs of an old prison!)
Back in the 19th century, the aesthetics did matter. 
Even if it was a question of a fortress or a prison.
This is what happens to the paint, when you turn the heating off for a couple of winters. 
Beautiful, though.
Upstairs, to the cells!
In the corridors the only light was our torches. And there were no other people around. If you left the group (to take photos, for instance), you’d soon be on your own without any idea of which turn to take.
It was scary!
In this room, they used to take mugshots and fingerprints of the newcomers. Alanmies demonstrates. 
The newcomers were the lowest in the hierarchy and would need to fight their way to the top (or spend their days cleaning the cells avoiding violent attacks and sexual abuse). The inmates on the top were usually people, who had been inside so many times that they had nothing to lose.

 One of the modern cells. Back in the Soviet days, they could pack over ten people to a cell like this, with four beds. The prisoners slept in shifts.
The most horrible place was the cellar, where the people of the death row were shot. There was a small room, painted with dark red (practical!), where the prisoner would lie facing the ground and get a bullet in his head. It gave me creeps… Like the whole place. At the same time, it was truly a fascinating building with calm, almost serene atmosphere.
So: do go for a visit before they turn it into a tourist attraction à la Alcatraz!