Divers Explored This Infamous Flooded Prison And Discovered A Dark History Hidden Within Its Walls

Two divers descended into the watery gloom of a submerged prison in northeastern Europe. And as they dove deeper, they could see the outline of dark shapes looming in the murk. Drawing closer, they made out the walls of ruined buildings. The pair had, in fact, found the remnants of a place that deserves to be washed away and forgotten. Then, they swam inside…

Latvia-based husband and wife team Jekabs and Alina Andrushaitis are the creators of “Reverie Chaser” – a blog dedicated to their global travels, which have taken them almost a quarter of the world’s countries. The online travelogue was founded four years ago after the duo won a story competition in National Geographic Latvia magazine. And it features videos and pictures by Jekabs and writing by Alina.

The couple traveled to a flooded prison in Estonia in 2016. In order to document its ruins for Reverie Chaser, they went on three separate dives. Although the trip was not entirely safe (or lawful),  they were able to capture some striking images. Not only do the pictures portray the eeriness of abandonment, they also capture a sense of the site’s sinister history…

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Bordered by Latvia at its southern point and Russia at its eastern, Estonia is a small country in northern Europe. In fact, its national territory covers just 17,462 square miles – an area around twice the size of New Jersey in America. Nonetheless, with almost a fifth of its landmass designated as protected areas, the country boasts some spectacular natural scenery.

Ethnically, Estonia is most closely related to Finland. Historically, however, Estonia has been strongly influenced by Russia. And this is mostly because, back in 1940, the country was seized and annexed by the then Soviet Union. The occupying power’s first act of terror was to arrest 8,000 politicians and military personnel. Over a quarter of those detainees were killed while the rest were sent to labor camps. For the next five decades, Estonia was a Soviet satellite.

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The site visited by Jekabs and Alina is located in Rummu, roughly 25 miles from the Estonia’s capital, Tallin. The ruins consist of two groups of dilapidated structures, industrial and corrective, which were set up in the 1930s. And they include the Rummu quarry, which is an open-pit limestone mine, as well as two nearby jail complexes.

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Under Soviet control, the prisons supplied a convenient source of slave labor for the regime. Convicts worked in the quarry and human rights violations were reportedly commonplace, as were accidental deaths. In fact, conditions in the prisons were allegedly so poor that the inmates undertook a hunger strike – a dangerous proposition under the authoritarian USSR.

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When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, the Soviet-era iron curtain rolled back. As a result, Estonia became a free and independent nation within two years. And with the collapse of the Soviet Union’s control over the country in 1991, the quarry was abandoned. Meanwhile, the two prisons on the site merged briefly, before closing for good in 2012. Ruin and dilapidation of the buildings ensued.

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The quarry – which had previously required regular pumping to prevent flooding – groundwater rapidly took over. Before long, a large lake inundated had the area, swallowing equipment, buildings and even a wood. Today, above the surface, only a handful of structures (along with an enormous slag heap) hint at the site’s former use.

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In fact, what was once a place of oppression has become a thing of beauty. A beach overlooks inviting waters, and is popular with tourists and swimmers. Estonia’s national tourist board is even promoting the quarry’s 230 feet-high slag heap as a walking attraction. “The hike in the fresh air is enjoyable and engaging,” reads their website.

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Indeed, Alina described Rummu as a popular local attraction. “When you walk inside you will see dozens of people enjoying themselves on the beach – grilling sausages, swimming, listening to music and smoking shisha,” she wrote on Reverie Chaser. “There are plenty of Lithuanians, Latvians and locals here… You might think this is a city beach, just all the run-down buildings and the ‘no swimming’ sign might make you suspicious.”

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Of course, under the water, Rummu takes on a very different character. On their initial descent, Alina and Jekabs encountered submerged lamp posts, concrete slabs and entire buildings in the gloom. Before long, however, swimmers jumping into the water interrupted their dive. “Only half-joking [our dive master] says that sometimes people jump right to the places they see the bubbles coming up – on top of divers,” wrote Alina.

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In fact, jumping off the buildings into the lake is an extremely dangerous and potentially life-threatening activity. Hidden below the surface of the water are a host of deadly obstacles including rebar, razor wire and rusted machinery. Hitting or missing those objects is a matter of blind chance.

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Indeed, several visitors to Rummu have injured themselves, including a 17-year-old girl. The teenager received injuries to her back after leaping into the lake from a ruined building in 2014. There have even been deaths, too. In July 2016 came the sad news of the discovery of a man’s body in the quarry. He was 35 years old and had apparently drowned.

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On their second dive, Alina and Jekabs navigated an underwater forest. Unfortunately, visibility was poor, at around 16 feet. And this meant that the couple were unable to see much, aside from the yellow flippers of other divers. Winter, it seems, is a better time to visit. According to Alina, visibility in those months can reach a crystal-clear 130 feet.

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Meanwhile, the pair did sustain some minor injuries. “The trees are grown over with algae, so seem soft, but many have clams growing over, and you can get cut,” wrote Alina. “We tested ourselves, and it bleeds nastily underwater. There are also abandoned objects underwater – tires, pots and other things…”

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After breaking for lunch, Alina and Jekabs completed a third dive on the other side of the quarry. While there they saw some submerged properties which were too dilapidated to enter. The depth of the quarry, noted Alina, does not exceed 43 feet. Most of their dive took place in the range of around 20 to 30 feet down.

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Meanwhile, a number of visual artists have made use of Rummu’s spooky look. Indeed, in 2015 it featured in a movie short by Einer Kuusk called The Most Beautiful Day. The flick is an apocalyptic fantasy adventure which draws on Soviet-era themes. In addition, the location also featured in the music video to accompany the 2015 track “Faded,” by Alan Walker.

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Rummu’s future is uncertain, but architecture students from the Estonian Academy of Arts (EKA) began debating possible uses for the place in 2015. Two years later, it was announced that the site would be converted into a technology park. However, the idea does not seem to have progressed past the planning phase.

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Finally, the site is privately owned and, therefore, visiting is actually trespassing. However, there don’t appear to be any signs around forbidding entry, only swimming. “Would it be right to visit?” asks Alina. “[The] owners are starting to introduce measures to limit who can enter,” she says. “It seems that if you want to see the place, you should do it as soon as possible.”

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