One of the great joys of traveling the globe isn’t just getting to visit its major landmarks; it’s checking out destinations that don’t always make the tour books. These types of adventures are the ones that transform a trip into an experience you’ll never forget, no matter how much time passes.
If you’re thinking about planning a trip abroad in the near future—but you aren’t sure where to go—you might want to consider visiting Estonia. This former member of the Soviet Union is full of off-the-beaten-path gems just waiting to be discovered—including a formerly infamous prison…
In the 1940s, in the Estonian town of Rummu, there was a structure that struck fear in the hearts of most people living nearby. That structure was a prison where traitors were sent to toil, working all day at the adjacent quarry.
The prison was notorious in its time, and not just because of all the hard labor that took place. It also developed a reputation for violating the human rights of most of its unlucky inhabitants.
Nowadays, the prison in Rummu is just as well known—but for a very different reason. You see, the prison wasn’t built to last, and when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the building fell into serious disrepair.
With no one looking after the building, it began to crumble, and the quarry itself began to fill up with water. Before too long, entire buildings were submerged in the quarry’s waters, attracting divers from all over the world.
While the perimeter of this location is now surrounded mostly by barbed wire, that hasn’t stopped passionate tourists from figuring out new ways to gain access to this totally unique site. You can hardly blame them for trying!
Of course, diving in these waters provides any number of challenges. Once you make it into the prison grounds, you still have to contend with the often frigid conditions that can make the water almost too cold to stand.
Frigid Northern European winters mean the water temperature at the Rummu site can dip as low as 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Divers can wear wetsuits, but after awhile, the water is too cold even for them!
Visibility is often an issue for divers, too. The prison, originally called Murru, was erected out of the same limestone found in the quarry. Over time, chunks of the stone have crumbled away, clouding the waters below.
While some of the prison buildings are visible from the surface, it’s a totally different experience underwater. To think that divers now simply hover over walkways that prisoners used to pace along, wondering if they could escape, is a weighty thought…
There are signs all over the former prison advising people to avoid going in the water. However, the unique setting makes the temptation to leap into the water simply too much for some people visiting the site.
One of the most popular spots for swimmers is this small structure near the center of the lake. The water is just deep enough for diving. It’s also one of the few spots where swimmers don’t have to worry about getting injured.
Any swimming or diving that takes place at the prison is done entirely at the swimmer’s own risk. Of course, for daring divers, even the threat of dangerous conditions and tight spaces isn’t enough to keep them away.
While the sights to behold under the water in the quarry might be exceptional, they also can hide dangerous secrets. The prison might no longer be operational, but it’s still not exactly friendly.
Trees covered in algae can hide sharp clams whose shells can cut human skin easily. In fact, some of these shells are so sharp that they can slice right through dry suits. In addition to clams, there is also old barbed wired that hasn’t lost its bite.
Still, there is less harmful stuff to explore under the water, too. For a period of time, the quarry was a popular place to drop unwanted goods, which still litter the bottom of the lake…
The visibility is so negligible that divers have to move at an extremely slow pace if they want to avoid an injury, or worse—a fatality. Both are sadly all too common at this one-of-a-kind location.
Another big reason that diving here is considered dangerous are all of the enclosed rooms and corners. Even experienced divers can get turned around in these places given the low visibility, which can lead to serious panic. That’s never good when you’re underwater!
Estonian officials who live close to the popular attraction do their best not to draw attention to the abandoned prison, but they just can’t seem to stop people from all over the world from checking out the secrets hiding there.
Taking photographs underwater here isn’t a task without its challenges, either. “You have to adjust the camera settings and keep your focus on your buoyancy, so you don’t touch the bottom and screw up the visibility, and also that you don’t ascend to the surface,” said one photographer at the site.
If you are an experienced diver, visiting the former prison makes for an experience like nothing else on Earth. After enjoying a nice dip in the water, people sometimes like to swim up to the beach and enjoy a delicious cookout—provided the weather allows for it!
Can you even imagine what it would be like to explore a site like this one? It’s amazing how many hidden gems are waiting around the world to be explored if you only know where to look for them.
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