Lukiškės Prison – Vilnius, Lithuania - Atlas Obscura

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Lukiškės Prison

A century-old prison in the heart of Vilnius is now a lively bar, dance club, and artist residency. 

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Lukiškės Prison prison was built in 1904 and held prisoners for over a century, with the last prisoners transferred in 2019. Afterward, the prison was turned into a cultural hub that is open for guided tours, as well as a dance club, music venue, and residency space for over 250 artists.

In 1904, Vilnius belonged to the Russian Empire, and the Lukiškės Prison was built under Czar Nicholas II. A revision of the criminal code in 1874 had introduced the concept of serving time in prison. Before, prisoners were detained for a transition period and then either released, sent to the gallows, or moved to labor camps. With the reformed criminal code, delinquents could be sentenced anywhere from six months to six years, a change which led to an overcrowding of Vilnius’ existing prison complex. 

In its place, the new Lukiškės complex was built, holding space for 421 prisoners and a detention center for 278 inmates. The new prison also included an Orthodox Church, a Catholic Chapel, and a Jewish Synagogue. (The latter was destroyed during World War II while Vilnius was occupied by German forces.)

Today, the Lukiškės Prison can be explored with a guided tour. The prison building itself is well preserved and is considered a cultural heritage from the time of the Russian Empire. Daytime tours examine the historic architecture and facilities, outlining the daily activities of former inmates; flashlight-led nighttime tours look to thrill visitors with tales of lingering spirits.

Unlike former inmates, visitors today can celebrate their freedom with a drink at the bar situated in the former Catholic Chapel. On weekends, the bar turns into a dance club featuring a range of musical genres from electronic to swing. The toilets are located in one of the former cell wings, giving the unique opportunity to have a look into the still intact prison cells before relieving oneself. If the party hasn’t started yet, visitors can also hear the occasional band practice from artists residing at the prison. 

Under the name Lukiskes Prison 2.0, the barbed-wire prison walls now offer a space for creators, reviving the former prison with a new free spirit. Additionally, the Lukiškės Prison is of interest to all fans of Stranger Things as the fourth season was partly shot here.

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