Photo Credit: Wolf W

After decades of Communist rule, the Soviet Union's satellite states were left in an unstable state of repair. Many of those countries have been working hard to improve their image in an attempt to eradicate any trace of the destructive past and usher in a new era of peace. In northern Estonia, a prison complex serves as a visible reminder of the Soviet’s reign. Undeterred, the destination has somehow morphed into a popular beach hangout for tourists and locals. This is how a place which once housed thousands of inmates has become a relaxing spot for locals to sun and scuba.

Photo Credit: Kat Meyer

Inmates Exit, Vacationers Enter

Limestone deposits are one of Estonia’s most profitable natural resources and the main reason behind the Soviet Union’s placement of the prison outside the small community of Rummu. Incarcerated individuals were the perfect solution to a process that required considerable physical labor to extract soft rock from the quarry.

When Estonia regained its independence in 1991, the quarry and its active water pumps were abandoned. As a result, groundwater rapidly seeped in, filling the large hole, sending some of the buildings to an early grave. The destruction of one landscape, however, allowed the beauty of another to shine through. Startlingly blue waters surrounded by rigid white ash cliffs allowed the gentle curve of green vegetation to envelop the area.

Photo Credit: Wolf W

A Unique Escape

The area is now referred to as “the blue lagoon” and is frequented year-round by locals and tourists. Those who like to sunbathe can hang out on the shore or scale the steep cliffs that surround the quarry. The more adventurous swim out to the ruins to dive off the top of the prison. The crystal clear waters have also made Rummu quarry a spectacular place for scuba divers. Grab your flippers and an oxygen tank to explore what has essentially become an underwater museum. Old mining equipment, machinery, barbed wire, brick walls, and prison cells make for a fascinating swim indeed.

Photo Credit: Jannock

How to Do It

Rummu isn’t far from Estonia’s capital city of Tallinn and can be reached by train, bus, taxi, or car. The quarry is slightly removed from the rest of town so renting a vehicle to drive yourself is the most convenient option. The quarry is not an official dive site and most of the area is blocked by barbed wire and a stone wall. However, with the right GPS Coordinates (59.226397, 24.190215) and a little perseverance, you’ll be able to find an opening in the wall through which you can slide. Pro Tip: The water is clearest in mid-summer and during the winter so if you plan on scuba diving, plan your trip accordingly.