The beautiful triangular fortress of Patarei, built for Nicholas I in the early nineteenth century and used in the twentieth as a Soviet prison, is now open to the public as a museum.
The former prison has been left exactly as it was when it was closed in the early 2000s, right down to used cotton swabs in the operating room. The cells still contain the books and magazines the prisoners were reading, including porn. Tours are reportedly long, thorough, and harrowing, as life in Patarei from just after World War I until only a few years ago was as grim as it gets. Visitors can climb up to where guards were once stationed, looking down into the tiny cells. One guided tour even bills itself as a “prison adventure,” supplying tourists with a picnic after a successful “jailbreak.”
Besides the cells and hospital of the dark, damp former prison, Patarei also houses a sauna and a bar facing the sea. Occasionally used a venue for massive raves, the sprawling stone fortress represents simultaneously many eras of Estonian history and the history of incarceration.