Image by Janno Kusman

The once haunting Murru Soviet Prison is now a popular diving spot, but one very few divers have dared to explore.

Audacious divers can challenge themselves to a unique experience: exploring the underwater ruins of what used to be a forced-labour Soviet prison. Founded on 1 January 1938, the Murru Soviet Prison is located near the Estonian capital of Tallinn, which is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Yet, the Murru prison, approximately 45km from the popular city of Tallinn, has its own appeal.

The Murru Soviet Prison is located near the small town of Rummu, which is home to only about 1 000 people, yet the prison itself held about 7 000 female and male convicted inmates at one time! Once a dreaded establishment, this closed-dormitory style prison was patrolled by 72 prison officers and had a total staff complement of 100. The institution housed convicted adult and juvenile offenders, and felons were forced to mine Vasalemma, which is a versatile, marble-like limestone.

In 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, the newly independent Estonia put a stop to the limestone mining, but not to the prison. The Murru Prison still held prisoners until 2012, when it was shut down and put up for sale. The water pumps that kept the prison dry were shut down and the jailhouse, which had over 20 buildings at the time, was covered in water so fast that there was no time to remove all the mining machinery and equipment. What was once an icon of oppression is now submersed in wonderfully blue water.

Today, the once haunting building is an adventure sportsman’s delight! It is now a popular local and tourist attraction. In the summer, tourists enjoy the swimming hole and, since the lower part of the building is submersed, they use the ruins as a platform from which to dive into the water. The blue lagoon is also wonderful for kayaking, paddle boarding and, of course, diving. When diving the underwater prison, it seems almost like a museum and knowing the history behind this Soviet prison makes it even more interesting.

There are plenty of windows to swim through and places to explore, not forgetting the machinery and equipment which was never salvaged. Divers will get insight into some of the feelings that prisoners must have harboured as the entrance is still surrounded with a large wall and chain-link fence with razor-wire just behind it. Now covered in algae, it does not make this oppressing scene less moving. Once over the wall, divers can enter the building through some of the windows. Here, divers will encounter rusted furniture and discarded machinery, which by now looks as old as the prison itself.

Diving the Murru Soviet Prison is free of charge and accessible 24-hours, but not necessarily all-year-round. It is best to dive this historical site in the autumn as visibility is reduced in the summer and the lake is frozen in the winter. But, if ice diving appeals to you, then with the right experience and equipment, you can dive the icy lake which will boast visibility up to 40m!