Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Notes from Tallinn: part 4

Today we visited Patarei Prison (which is right here in the Kalamaja district), a now defunct prison that was housed in the Patarei sea fortress. The fortress was built in 1828 by Russian Czar Nicholas I, and was converted into a prison from 1920 until 2004 (when Estonia joined the EU and decided to shut it down). The prison was for many years used by the KGB to hold political prisoners and seems to have functioned like the gulag system. It is now a museum... a rather terrifying one.

Visitors can meander through the enormous maze of the fortress, and most of the rooms are left open and accessible and untouched (the prison was effectively abandoned, and so there's still all sorts of everyday stuff in the rooms). Much of the prison is not well lit. Many hallways and cells and other mysterious spaces are nearly pitch black, and it was with the help of cell phone flashlights that we made our way through these areas.

One of the most blatantly creepy parts of the complex was the operation room, complete with all sorts of crusty old equipment, and even a white doctor's coat spread out over a bench with possible blood stains.

But really, I think the most disturbing areas were the strange little rooms whose purposes we couldn't determine, the abundance of STUFF and LEFTOVERS that seemed inexplicable, and the areas that could only be glimpsed through keyholes and other little openings...

 Flaky paint, arched ceilings, and weird light fixtures abound.

 Intercom system? This thing was called DOMINATOR II.

 Inaccessible weirdness glimpsed through a hole.

 Bleak and creepy.

 Artificially cheery blue walls did not make me feel at home.

Collection of old rotten nasty soap, bottles of creamy weirdness, little bowls and gross brushes in a glass vitrine. Supremely disgusting!

What the HELL is all of this crap doing here?

Outside in the fortress courtyard were the prison yards. Long walkways with adjoined stone cells (that are now covered in moss and weeds) with arched bars above that afford a jaily view of the sky. Not very cheerful... although the growth of plants has started to give the outside space a wild and pleasing look. Like overrun ruins.

It's kind of hard to believe that this place was functional as recently as 2004. It's in a state of crumble and mess that is pretty mindblowing. What was too difficult to get photos of were the darkest and dankest spaces on the ground floor: pitch black and tiny cells, or grotesque shower rooms that smelled horrific. This was clearly NOT a humane place... but it certainly is a fascinating (and horrifying) historical monument now.

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