Around the world, prison populations are diminishing. And fewer inmates means fewer prisons. Many aging decommissioned jails lie rotting away like best-forgotten eyesores. But others have been reborn to serve as luxury hotels, concert halls, and event salons. Many of these structures have a long infamous history and it only seems fitting that they should have a second life as a positive part of the community.
Here’s a glimpse of 10 former jails that have reformed and opened their gates to start anew.
1. Hostel Celica, Ljubljana, Slovenia
Slovenia’s most popular hostel is located in the most unlikely of buildings: a former Yugoslavian military prison.
Guests at Hostel Celica sleep behind bars in artistically redesigned jail cells. Each of the 20 cells has its own distinctive flavor.
Renovation of this Ljubljana icon, decommissioned in 1991, took 10 years and 80 artists to complete. It finally opened to the public in 2003, transforming what was once a place of confinement into a place of open ideas and cross-cultural exchange.
The former prison is also home to an art gallery with a cultural program that includes regular concerts, workshops, poetry readings, and philosophical debates.
2. Cultural Park of Valparaiso, Chile
A jail in Chile’s beloved port city used to detain political prisoners during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Valparaiso Prison closed in 1999 and re-opened in 2013 as the Cultural Park of Valparaiso.
Chilean architects completely transformed this site of reclusion into an integrated open space that straddles one of the city’s 45 urban hills.
The center offers a mixed bag of activities, from rotating gallery exhibitions in the old cell blocks to classes, live theater, and dance in a modern theater. It’s also home to an expansive public park with newly-planted trees and great views of the Pacific Ocean.
3. Pentridge Prison, Melbourne, Australia
This jail was built in 1851, decommissioned in 1997, and more recently converted into a hip space for everything from weddings, fashion shows, conferences, and cocktail parties.
Recent public events included a craft beer festival and a prison sleepover where visitors experienced prison life by being locked in a cell overnight.
4. Museum of Belize, Belize City, Belize
Her Majesty’s Prison in Belize City closed its doors in 1993 and reopened in 2002 as the Museum of Belize. A prison that once housed a nation’s top criminals now safeguards its national treasures. Exhibits span thousands of years from the reign of the Maya to modern-day Belize, covering its many cultural influences from Africa to Europe and beyond.
Her Majesty’s Prison in Belize City dates back to 1855 when bricks known as “London Socks” were brought over from England to build a jail in the former British colony.
The facility didn’t close its doors until 1993 and spent the next decade undergoing refurbishments before the National Institute of Culture and History opened it as the Museum of Belize in 2002.
5. Four Seasons Istanbul, Sultanahmet, Turkey
The prisoners who slept on stone slabs and ate bread with water would be rolling in their graves if they knew the current occupants of the old Sultanahmet Prison now nod off in king-size beds with the finest linens.
This jail, which housed prominent artists and political dissidents, became a Four Seasons hotel in 1996.
The modern-day luxury resort is a glamorous refuge to escape to, rather than from, but elements of the building’s dour history remain visible on hand-painted tiles in the lobby, carvings on several marble pillars and within the landscaped courtyard, which once served as the prisoners’ exercise yard.
6. Liberty Hotel in Boston
Completed in 1851, the former Charles Street jail was revived into the Liberty Hotel in 2007.
In 1973, after 120 years of housing some of Boston’s most notorious criminals, prisoners revolted because of poor living conditions and the jail was declared unfit and in violation of the inmates’ constitutional rights.
Thought to be one of the best examples of the “Boston Granite Style” of the mid-19th century, it has earned a reputation for elegance.
The jail’s granite exterior and expansive, light-filled interiors remain largely unchanged. Soaring 90 feet, the jail’s central atrium was beautifully preserved and forms the core of the hotel.
7. Malmaison in Oxford
Oxford Castle was built by the Norman baron Robert D’Oyly the elder from 1071 to 1073. It is a large, partially ruined medieval castle on the western side of central Oxford in Oxfordshire, England. Most of the original moated, wooden motte and bailey castle was replaced in stone in the 11th century.
Most of the castle was destroyed in the English Civil War. By the 18th century, the remaining buildings had become Oxford’s local prison. A new prison complex was built on the site from 1785.
The prison closed in 1996 and was redeveloped as a hotel. The medieval remains of the castle include the motte, St. George’s Tower, and the family crypt.
8. Louviers Music School, Normandy, France
The 17th-century Convent of the Penitents served as a prison in the 18th and 19th centuries and got a new life altogether in the 20th century when it reopened as a music school in 1990. Much later, in 2012, the French studio Opus 5 remodeled the complex and built a two-level, glass-covered expansion that wraps the southern wing.
On the top of the Louviers Music School is a concert hall with an undulating mirrored ceiling, while below lies a fully stocked music library.
9. Freedom Park Lagos, Nigeria
Born out of the ruins of the notorious Broad Street Prison, Freedom Park Lagos opened in 2010 to commemorate 50 years of independence from Britain. This airy leisure spot is a community favorite and a welcome change to the congestion of Lagos Island.
Local architect Theo Lawson took what was once a colonial instrument of control and oppression and turned it into a peaceful place for contemplation and interaction.
The park includes a museum, art gallery, water features, shops, and restaurants. It’s also home to a popular amphitheater that hosts a variety of live events amid the packed cultural calendar.
10. Laurel Hill, Lorton, Virginia
The Lorton Reformatory, medium-security prison for Washington D.C. convicts located Virginia, closed in 2001. It is currently being redeveloped into a mixed-use community center.
The new neighborhood, rebranded as Laurel Hill, is one of the most talked about examples of adaptive reuse in the country. It will retain much of the prison complex’s original structure thanks to its listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
Retail establishments, office spaces and 225 apartments are all expected to take shape within refurbished cellblocks, guard towers and prison dorms.
One of the already finished highlights is the Workhouse Arts Center, a collaborative visual and performing arts space with cooperative studios, educational facilities and galleries.