Top 10 Historic and Most Famous Prisons around the world

Prisons have been used to detain social criminal, invaded countries citizens, political activities against the rulers or even sharing different thought and ideas in different times. Some prisons have become quite infamous for their illustrious inmates, their brutal treatment of prisoners and sometimes because of the unbelievable escape attempts made by some infamous genius criminals. Here an overview of the most infamous prisons in the world is given.

10 Historic and Most Famous Prisons:

10. Hanoi Hilton

Hanoi Hilton, famous prison
Hanoi Hilton | image credit – Wikimedia/U.S Military photograph

The Hoa Loa Prison is an American prison of war, sarcastically known as the Hanoi Hilton. It was originally built by the French colonists for Vietnamese political prisoners. During the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese Army used the prison to house prisoners of war. The prison is notable for its prisoner’s torture, starvation, and even murder. Most of the prison was demolished in the mid-1990s and now part of it is a museum.

9. Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, prison
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum | image credit – Wikimedia/Adam Jones

A high school converted to a prison in 1975 by the Khmer Rouge Regime from, TuolSleng is probably one of the most horrifying prisons in the world. For confession the prisoners were routinely tortured. Most horrifying matter is once they confessed, they were then executed.

In the four years of its time, more than 17,000 people incarcerated in TuolSleng and there are only a few known survivors. TuolSleng was turned in to a historical museum after the Vietnamese army uncovered the prison in 1979 memorializing the actions of the Khmer Rouge regime.

8. Port Arthur

Port Arthur, history
Port Arthur | image credit – Flickr/Andrew Braithwaite

Port Arthur is a small town and former convict colony on the Tasman Peninsula in Tasmania, Australia. This is one of the historic and most famous prisons in the world. It was the destination for the toughest convicted British and Irish criminals and rebellious inmates from other prisons from 1833 to1850s. There still remain a penitentiary, a hospital, an insane asylum, and a church built by the convicts. On 28 April 1996 Port Arthur historic site was the location of a killing spree.

7. Elmina Castle

Elmina Castle, historic prison
Elmina Castle | image credit – Wikimedia/Nkansahrexford

Elmina Castle in Ghana is the oldest European building in existence below the Sahara. It was built in 1492. It had been served as a detaining area for people captured to be sold into slavery for over three hundred years. Here in many cases about 200 prisoners were kept in a cell.  They were not even getting enough space to lie down. Over 30,000 slaves were passing through the Door of No Return each year by the 18th century.

6. Robben Island

Robben Island, prison islands
Robben Island | image credit – Wikimedia/Witstinkhout

Located just off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, Robben Island has been used for the isolation of mainly political prisoners since the end of the 17th century. Robben Island is internationally known for the fact that the great African leader Nelson Mandela was imprisoned here for 27 years.

Robben Island is now a popular tourist destination and can be reached by ferry. The island is an important breeding area for a large African Penguin colony. Robben Island is both a South African National Heritage Site and UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is our 6th pick as the historic and most famous prisons around the world.

5. Goree Island

Goree Island, island
Goree Island | image credit – Wikimedia/TSGT JUSTIN D. PYLE, USAF

Better known as the House of Slave, The Maison des Esclaves is a museum and memorial to the Atlantic slave trade on Gorée Island . Before France abolished the slave trade in 1848, thousands of slaves passed through Goree Island in Senegal.  The Maison des Esclaves is just one of the places on the island that held slaves before they were put on ships bound for the New World. Now the museum serves as a pilgrimage for many African-Americans tracing their origin.

4. Chateau d’If

Chateau d'If, history of prisons
Chateau d’If | image credit – Wikimedia/Padrecardu

Famous for using as a setting in the novel “The Count of Monte Cristo” written by Alexander Dumas, Chateau d’If in France served as a dumping ground for religious and political prisoners from 1634 through the end of the 19th century. Prisoners with upper class received better treatment than less fortunate ones.  However, they often had to pay for the privilege. It was demilitarized and opened to the public in 1890.

3. Devil’s Island

Devil's Island, famous prison
Devil’s Island | image credit – Flickr/chumlee10

The penal colony of Cayenne well known as Devil’s Island, was an infamous prison of the 19th and 20th centuries. It was opened in 1852 under Emperor Napoleon III’s reign. This historic prison was home to everyone from political prisoners to hardened criminals during its 94 years of operation. Prisoners that attempted escape faced thick jungles of French Guiana and the piranha-infested rivers.

The bestselling autobiography by Henri Charrière, Papillon , described the extreme brutality and inhumane treatment of the penal colony. Later The book was adapted as an American movie of the same name; released in 1973, it starred  Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen.

2. Tower of London

Tower of London, historic prison
Tower of London | image credit – Wikimedia/Steve Collis

Now one of the top tourist attractions in England and home to the British Crown Jewels, the Tower of London served as a prison from 1100 to the mid twentieth century. In England it has led to the phrase “sent to the Tower”, meaning imprisoned. The tower has played an important role in British history.

Controlling this tour was an important act to control the country. Famous prisoners of this tower include King Henry VI, Catherine Howard (wives of King Henry VIII) Sir Thomas More, and Anne Boleyn. Like many abandoned prison The Tower of London is reputedly the most haunted building in England.

Also Read: top 10 famous castles around the world

1. Alcatraz

Alcatraz, most famous prison
Alcatraz | image credit – Wikimedia/Don Ramey Logan

Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary may be the most infamous prison in the United States. It was known for its maximum security with minimum privilege. Alcatraz was home to some of the most notorious criminals of the time including Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. Situated on a rocky island surrounded by the freezing water of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz was believed to be inescapable.

There were several attempts of escaping.  Of the 36 men that attempted escape, 23 were caught, 6 were shot and killed, 2 drowned and the remaining 5 were never seen again after their escape attempt believed that they are all drowned although their bodies have never been recovered. Many movies and TV series have been made on Alcatraz.

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