Throughout time, prisons have been used to incarcerate a variety of people, from hardened criminals to those who opposed the current political regime. We can’t really talk about beautifully designed or interesting prisons, because there are none; however, a few of them have become quite popular.
Some prisons became part of our history due to their illustrious inmates, their barbaric treatment of prisoners or even daring escape attempts. Curious? I know I am. Let’s go down the list of 8 famous prisons together.
8. Port Arthur
Port Arthur is a former convict colony in Tasmania, Australia. From 1833, until the 1850s, it was the destination for the hardest of convicted British and Irish criminals and rebellious inmates from other prisons. In 1996 Port Arthur became the site of Australia’s deadliest gun massacre when a single shooter opened fire on visitors, killing 35 people.
7. Elmina Castle
Built in 1492, Elmina Castle in Ghana is the oldest European building in existence south of the Sahara. For over three hundred years, it served as a holding area for people captured against their will to be sold into slavery. By the 18th century, over 30,000 slaves were passing through the Door of No Return each year.
6. Robben Island
Located just off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, Robben Island has served many functions over the years, including a leper colony at one point. Well-known figures such as Nelson Mandela and Kgalema Motlanthe are just a few of political prisoners that spent time there.
5. Goree Island
Thousands of slaves passed through Goree Island in Senegal before France abolished the slave trade in 1848. The Maison des Esclaves, better known as the House of Slaves, is just one of the places on the island that held slaves before they were put on ships bound for the New World.
4. Chateau d’If
Chateau d’If in France is well-known through its use as a setting in the book “The Count of Monte Cristo” written by Alexander Dumas. From 1634 through the end of the 19th century, the chateau served as a dumping ground for religious and political prisoners. It was demilitarized and opened to the public in 1890 and is now one of the most famous prisons in the world.
3. Devil’s Island
First opened in 1852 under Emperor Napoleon III’s reign, Devil’s Island penal colony is one of the most infamous prisons in history. During its 94 years of operation, this historic prison was home to everyone from political prisoners to hardened criminals. Prisoners that attempted escape faced the piranha-infested rivers and thick jungles of French Guiana.
2. Tower of London
Now home to the British Crown Jewels and one of the top tourist attractions in England, the Tower of London served as a prison from 1100 to the mid twentieth century. Famous prisoners include Sir Thomas More, King Henry VI, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard (wives of King Henry VIII) and Rudolph Hess.
Alcatraz, perhaps the most famous prison in the United States, was the first maximum security minimum privilege prison of the country. It was home to some of the most notorious criminals of the time including Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. Located on a rocky island surrounded by the freezing water of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz was believed to be inescapable.