Once the site of misery and sorrow, today many decommissioned island prisons provide a fascinating insight into a country's history. There really is something eerie about the isolation of an island jail - with the water as a natural barrier to escape. These places of incarceration are now even more famous because some of the former inmates are now household names for their nefarious dealings.
Chateau d'If, Marseille
Situated off the French coast from Marseille, Chateau d'If was initially built as a fortress in 1524 but was later converted into a prison. Many interested travellers today make the journey across the Mediterranean Sea because of the notoriety the Chateau received as the setting for Alexandre Dumas' novel The Count of Monte Cristo - the fictional lead characters were held as prisoners.
Alcatraz, San Francisco
Originally used as a military prison from 1861, the American Department of Justice formerly opened the location as a federal prison in 1934. 'The Rock' as it’s known, became home to Robert Stroud who was dubbed the Birdman of Alcatraz, Al Capone and George 'Machine Gun' Kelly. Interested travellers should take a ferry from San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf to explore arguably the world's most famous island prison.
Robben Island, Cape Town
The most famous inmate of South Africa's notorious prison was Nelson Mandela who was incarnated for 18 years on Robben Island. It was the Dutch settlers who first used the island as a prison and throughout its colourful history, the island has been used a leper colony and animal quarantine station. Today, there are regular ferries to the site from the V&A Waterfront.
Devil’s Island, French Guiana
In the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast from French Guiana lies the feared Devil's Island. It was primarily used to house political prisoners from France between 1852 and 1953. The location featured in the novel and film adaptation of Henri Charrière's memoir Papillon. Charrière claimed he had escaped from the island, however authorities dispute his account.
Norfolk Island, Australia
After an initial settlement period from 1788, the British Government decided to send the fledgling colony's worst convicts to Norfolk Island from 1824. It's estimated that just under 7,000 convicts were held on the Island until the decommissioning of the facility - the remaining prisoners were taken to Tasmania in 1855. The exploration of the colonial structures is particularly interesting.