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10 Terrifying Prisons Turned Tourist Attractions (PHOTOS)

First Posted: 10/21/10 09:10 AM ET   Updated: 05/25/11 07:05 PM ET

We've all seen "Escape from Alcatraz," "Shawshank Redemption" and "The Count of Monte Cristo," and romanticized about the heroic prison break. Yet real-life prisons like Alcatraz and Chateau d'If have incredibly dark, frightening histories, which are also important to acknowledge and remember.

Here is the Huffington Post's list of 10 of the most notorious prisons in the world that have now turned into museums and tourist attractions (The Bastille in France is conspicuously absent because nothing of the original building remains).

Send us pictures of your own visits, and share your thoughts!

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  • Alcatraz, California

    Perhaps the most famous prison in the United States, <a href="" target="_hplink">Alcatraz</a> was the first maximum security-minimum privilege prison in the country. It has housed some of the most notorious criminals of the mid-20th century, including Al Capone, Robert "Birdman" Stroud, and "Machine Gun" Kelly. Located on a rocky island surrounded by the freezing water of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz was believed to be inescapable. Of the 36 men that attempted escape, 23 were caught, 6 were shot and killed, and 2 drowned. The remaining 5 were never seen again. Today, Alcatraz Island is a historic site operated by the National Park Service as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and is open to <a href="" target="_hplink">tours</a>.

  • Tower of London, England

    Now home to the British Crown Jewels, the <a href="" target="_hplink">Tower of London</a> served as a prison from 1100 to the mid-20th century. Famous prisoners include Sir Thomas More, King Henry VI, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard (wives of King Henry VIII), and Rudolph Hess. The Tower of London is reputedly the <a href="" target="_hplink">most haunted building in England</a>, with tales of ghosts, including that of Anne Boleyn, inhabiting the tower. Today, the Tower of London is one of England's most popular <a href="" target="_hplink">tourist attractions</a>. It is cared for by the charity Historic Royal Palaces, and is protected as a World Heritage Site.

  • Robben Island, South Africa

    Located just off the coast of Cape Town, <a href="" target="_hplink">Robben Island</a> has served many functions over the years, including as a leper colony. However, it is most famous for serving as a prison under the apartheid regime. Well-known figures such as Nelson Mandela and Kgalema Motlanthe are just a few of the political prisoners who spent time there. Today, Robben Island is a <a href="" target="_hplink">popular tourist destination</a> and can be reached by ferry from Cape Town.

  • Chateau d'If, France

    <a href="" target="_hplink">Chateau d’If</a> is well-known through its use as a setting in the book “The Count of Monte Cristo" by Alexander Dumas. From 1634 through the end of the 19th century, the chateau served as a prison for religious and political prisoners. Following the custom of the time, prisoners with wealth or class received better treatment than less fortunate ones. Cheateau d'If, just off the coast of Marseilles, was demilitarized and <a href="" target="_hplink">opened to the public</a> in 1890. Today, it is one of the most famous prisons in the world.

  • Devil's Island, French Guiana

    First opened in 1852 under Emperor Napoleon III’s reign, the <a href="" target="_hplink">Devil’s Island penal colony</a> 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 piranha-infested rivers and thick jungle. The autobiography of former inmate Henri Charrière describes numerous alleged escape attempts. In 1973, the book was made into the movie "Papillon," starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. The prison was closed in 1952, and the French space agency CNES has since then restored many of the historic buildings. The scenic island now welcomes thousands of <a href="" target="_hplink">tourists</a> each year.

  • Elmina Castle, Ghana

    Built in 1492, <a href="" target="_hplink">Elmina Castle</a> in Ghana is the oldest European building in existence south of the Sahara. For over 300 hundred years, it served as a holding area for people captured against their will to be sold into slavery. It was not uncommon for slaves to share a cell with as many as 200 others, cramped together with not even enough space to lie down. By the 18th century, over 30,000 slaves were passing through the <a href="" target="_hplink">"Door of No Return"</a> each year. Today, Elmina Castle is a <a href=",en/" target="_hplink">popular tourist attraction</a>, and was visited by President Obama during his presidential campaign in 2009. The castle is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

  • Goree Island, Senegal

    Thousands of slaves passed through <a href="" target="_hplink">Goree Island</a> 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. Now a musuem and a <a href="" target="_hplink">UNESCO World Heritage Site</a>, Goree Island serves as a pilgrimage point for many African-Americans tracing their roots. <a href="" target="_hplink">It has also been visited</a> by dignitaries such as the Pope, President Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela and recently George W. Bush.

  • Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Cambodia

    Converted to a prison in 1975 by the Khmer Rouge from what was once a high school, <a href="" target="_hplink">Tuol Sleng</a> is probably one of the most horrifying prisons in the world. Prisoners were routinely tortured in order to coerce a confession to whatever crime they had been charged with. Once they confessed and named any conspirators, they were then executed. Of the more than 17,000 people incarcerated at Tuol Sleng in the four years it operated, there are only a few known survivors. In 1979, Tuol Sleng was turned in to an <a href="" target="_hplink">historical museum</a> memorializing the actions of the Khmer Rouge regime.

  • Hoa Loa Prison, Vietnam

    The <a href="" target="_hplink">Hoa Loa Prison</a>, sarcastically coined the "Hanoi Hilton" by American POWs, was originally built by the French to house Vietnamese political prisoners. The North Vietnamese Army later used the prison to house POWs during the Vietnam War. Prisoners were subject to torture, starvation, and even murder. Well-known figures such as Senator John McCain, James Stockdale and Bud Day were just a few of the many POWs who spent time in this prison. Only part of the prison exists today as a <a href="" target="_hplink">museum</a>. Most of it was demolished during mid-1990s construction of a high rise that now occupies most of the site.

  • Port Arthur, Australia

    <a href="" target="_hplink">Port Arthur</a> is a former convict colony in Tasmania. From 1833, until the 1850s, it was a destination for the hardest convicted British and Irish criminals, and rebellious inmates from other prisons. Today, many highly recognizable ruins remain, including the penitentiary, the hospital, the insane asylum, and a church built by the convicts. The area is managed by the <a href="" target="_hplink">Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority</a>, and is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.


Filed by Manal Khan  |