Finland has been catering to its growing numbers of tourists by opening more luxury hotels such as Hotel St George in Helsinki and unique accommodation such as the Kemi Snow Castle in Lapland. But a new hotel opening in Turku in March 2020 has a particularly quirky draw – it will be located inside a notorious former prison.
Kakola Prison opened in central Turku in the 1840s, taking the place of the city’s former central prison in Turku Castle (you can still see some of the old prison cells on a tour of the castle). The prison later included a mental hospital for prisoners, held political prisoners during the Finnish Civil War, and incarcerated international spies during World War Two. It housed some of Finland’s most notorious criminals, including bank robber Volvo Markkanen, who received his name as he used Volvo cars as his getaway vehicles, and Toivo Koljonen, who was the last person in Finland to be sentenced to death. All of these contributed to giving Kakola a dark and grisly reputation.
Kakola closed down in 2007 when the prison was moved to a modern building, leaving the old one abandoned. Prison tours began the next summer and were even more popular than initially expected, attracting over 30,000 visitors every summer. The cell of the last prisoner to leave was preserved as it was when he left, showing what prison life in Kakola used to look like. A café, shop, and exhibition space were even opened in the former prison buildings.
It also became a popular site for urban explorers to enter illegally and look around. They were fascinated by the morbid sight of an old abandoned prison and mental asylum right in the middle of a busy city. Additionally, Kakola became a common filming location for television shows and films that needed a prison setting.
The new hotel in the former prison (the official name has yet to be revealed) will consist of 155 rooms with balconies overlooking Turku, some of them in the former solitary confinement cells. The prison chapel will also be preserved as it was and used as an event space for weddings.
It’s unclear why Kakola was chosen as a location for a hotel. Perhaps Primehotel, the firm operating the hotel, thought it was a good central location with attractive views over Turku. But chances are they believed that its history would be a draw for tourists who are looking for something different.
31 August 2018 will be the final day to take the Kakola Prison Tour before reconstruction for the hotel begins, so get there quickly if you want to see the final remains of Kakola’s grim history. Otherwise, you can wait until spring 2020 for a chance to stay in one of Finland’s most unusual and historic hotels – and perhaps spot a ghost from the past.