Patarei Prison is a sea fortress originally built in 1800’s. It sits like an ugly scar in the dunes a short walk from Tallinn’s fairytale old town.
Its ugliness is both physical and metaphoric as, since 1919, Patarei (which translates loosely as ‘The Battery’) was a prison run by the KGB (and it’s preceding agencies Cheka, NKGB and MGB). The last execution by gunshot (gruesome in its revealed detail) was as recent as 1991 and the complex itself was only abandoned in 2002. As a result it has born witness to some of Estonia’s darkest history.
As we were led through dark passages of this Soviet-era relic, lit only by a small torch, I was thankful these walls could not talk and reveal the horrors that must have occurred within. As we wandered around I was struck by two things:
1. The place really is abandoned – there’s been no clean-up, just time’s decay. The original Soviet interior is intact, though discarded, in every room: blank file notes in Russian, shoes, artwork etched onto the wall by prisoners, still made beds with their dirty pillows and sheets, medical swabs, gloves, photo paper in the dark room and discarded vodka bottles drunk by the guards on duty.
2. The place is chilling in every way. It was a brilliant sunny 25 degrees outside but inside oozed a menacing cold – at least a ten degrees drop inside that everyone noticed. As we put on our jackets, our guide explained it was because the water table is only two meters below the foundations and the cold just seeps up and through the walls. But to me that cold felt like part of the place, born from horror rather than geology and geography.
The whole experience was fascinating but also really uncomfortable and unsettling.
These are the unedited pictures I took.
Tallinn, Estonia – 25 June 2016