The Patarei Sea Fortress in Tallinn was built by Nicholas I in 1840. Originally used as an army barracks, by 1919 the cold, inhospitable site was converted into a Soviet prison.
It was used throughout both the Russian and Nazi occupation of Estonia and did not close until after the former Soviet state joined the European Union in 2004.
Understandably, the prison was one of the most feared locations in the country. It was home to some of the worst communist brutality in Estonia.
Although much of the site is now dilapidated, many parts of it have been left untouched since the day the prison closed its doors for the final time.
Inside the Patarei Sea FortressMost of the year the former prison is closed to visitors. You can still view the fortress from the outside, and enthusiastic urbex photographers clearly can’t resist trespassing in order to get the shot.
There are some great image opportunities too: Cell walls retain the torn posters of favorite pin-ups, rusting wheelchairs line the corridors of the medical ward. The prison operation room even contains archaic medical equipment from the Soviet era.
Outside, you can still see the barbed wire and guard lookout towers.
The photograph above is especially harrowing. It is the hanging room where inmates were killed via capital punishment.
All of this is extremely eerie of course, especially when you imagine the suffering that went on within those walls.
To visit the site legitimately you need to head there between May and October. It is during these months that the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory opens an exhibition area called ‘Communism is Prison‘.
The exhibition aims to highlight the ideology and international crimes of communism in the countries that fell under its rule. It goes into detail on the ideological implementation throughout the 20th Century, and not just from an Estonian perspective.
The overriding message is a clear warning against totalitarian ideas and the importance of human dignity and freedom within society.
It is a riveting exhibition and it’s hard to imagine a better location for it.
The history of the Patarei complex is also covered. This takes the visitor through the construction of the site and its use as a navy complex, before the almost 90 year run as a prison.
The board behind the exhibition is planning on expanding the Patarei sea fortress by establishing an International Museum for the Victims of Communism within the complex.
This will be open all year round. The due date is uncertain at this time, however.
Where is the Patarei Sea Fortress?
- Address: Kalaranna 28, 10415 Tallinn, Estonia
- Phone: +372 664 5039
Good to know
There are a couple of entrances to the site. If approaching from the Port of Tallinn side, follow Suur-Patarei street through the gate towards the fortress. If approaching from the seaside promenade there is a small gated entrance at the end of the promenade.