Peter the Great’s Naval Fortress, which is known as Patarei Prison, is one of the most prominent symbols of Soviet political terror for people in Estonia. At the same time, it is a monumental site of memory of international importance that helps to understand and make sense of the hostility of totalitarian regimes towards mankind, regardless of the particular polity under consideration.
The Patarei complex was built in 1840 as part of the fortifications of Peter the Great’s Naval Fortress for the tsarist Russian state. The Republic of Estonia, which became independent in 1918, reconstructed it by 1920 as a prison, and it has been in use in that function until 2002. Over the course of the Second World War, Estonia came under the occupation of first the Soviet Union (1940–1941), thereafter Germany (1941–1944), and again the Soviet Union (1944–1991). Throughout the Soviet period, a USSR security service prison operated in Patarei. Tens of thousands of victims of the communist regime passed through Patarei prior to their execution or before being sent to Gulag camps in the Soviet Union
The Patarei complex is one of the largest completely preserved classical style military structures in Europe. Europa Nostra, Europe’s leading organisation for preserving cultural heritage, and the European Investment Bank Institute have designated the Patarei naval fortress as one of Europe’s most endangered monuments.
The museum is planned to occupy the eastern part of the Patarei complex, where authentic prison cells, the room for executions by shooting, corridors, the prison courtyard with walking rooms for prisoners, and much more that is worth seeing, have been preserved.