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Briefly on The Prison Museum of Sweden

Schwedens Gefängnismuseum
in kurzen Worten




The old Castle and County Jail of Gävleborg County anno 1732
and the former penitentiary anno 1847


“Torture and exemplary punishment” – an exhibition in the Old Castle and County Jail


Our exhibition in the Castle Jail is housed in the building’s original dungeons. Here you can see how criminals were tortured in public when corporal punishment was generally in use. The purpose with these punishments was to humiliate and torture criminals in public; and at the same time to prevent people from committing crimes. The more severe the committed crime was the harder one was tortured.


Death penalty was often preceded and/or followed by various other humiliating punishments. It could happen that e.g. they cut off the convict’s right hand before beheading him and afterwards quartered the corpse the parts of which they put on a breaking wheel.


Other, milder form of punishment was to sentence a criminal to “ride” the so-called wooden-horse which had a sharp-edged back. The horse was usually placed on public view on the main square, where the convict had to sit for a few hours. Not only did they pinion him but also tied heavy weights to his legs to make the torture more uncomfortable and painful.


Another instrument of torture was the so-called “Spanish violin”, used especially in military towns, which the soldiers’ wives, servants or children who didn’t behave had to bear around their necks, standing on the main square for two hours at the most.


(The models on the photos are on the scale of 1:10)

Apart from different sceneries of punishment, shackles, instruments of torture and execution you can see life-size dummies that represent criminals from the past. Step in the cells and try to imagine what it must have felt like to be behind bars! You can nearly hear flies buzz, feel fleas bite, or smell the stink coming from the latrine pot or from the people who once sat here jailed.


There were two underground dungeons in this jail, one of which is now restored. Those who refused to admit their crimes were locked in here and lived on only bread and water as well as those unable to pay the fine they were sentenced to. You can take a look at one of them through a plastic window on the floor.


Unemployed people and people on the loose were sent for hard labour. Unlike women condemned for severe crimes, men were not sent to houses of correction but to fortresses from a few years to a lifetime.



After your journey back in time of the pillory, you can enjoy a few minutes of liberty on your way to the other part of the museum, the penitentiary. Shake off the feeling of discomfort that you might have been affected with during your visit at the Castle Jail. But do not forget our principal message:




“Hotel Hamilton” - an exhibition in the former penitentiary of Gävleborg County


When the penitentiary system was introduced in the 1840’s, corporal punishment and humiliating in public were substituted with imprisonment and hard labour. Convicts disappeared from public spotlight and were kept isolated from society instead. The dark and wretched dungeons were replaced by architectural masterpieces which reflected the idea behind the new prison system.  The keywords were: supervision, control and discipline.


The new way of treating criminals was called The Philadelphia System, which was a penal system that put solitary prisoners into cells to contemplate their misdeeds and to plot a new life. The name derives from the prison built by Quakers in Philadelphia in 1828.  – Eastern State Penitentiary


Inside the prison, complete silence reigned. The prisoners had to work, eat, sleep, and read religious, edifying literature alone in their own cells and had to remain completely silent all day long. This was a part of the process of building up new, decent personalities.


The Prison Museum is on the first floor of the building, including ten cells. You walk counter-clockwise at the exhibition. Besides some cells, which are designed to various themes, we have three cells, which are restored to different eras, where you can see life-size dummies representing prisoners from 1850, 1900 and 1986 (the year the prison closed down).

In cell nr 40 sits “Stickan”, as we call him. He should actually serve his sentence at the current prison in town, but due to overcrowding, he got to stay here. He is also one of us, fellow-beings, so show him some respect by knocking on his door before you go in.

We have a memorabilia in cell nr 41 – “A gallery of escape attempts” – where you can find confiscated tools of escape, syringes, needles and much much more.


Thou shalt not kill” is the theme in cell nr 43. 17th March 1893, the police-assassin, Per Johan Petterson got executed within the prison’s walls. He was the last one to be executed in Gävle as well as in Northern Sweden before death penalty was abolished in 1921 in the whole country.

English translator: Paula Mathiasson/Andrea Kulcsar

Hamiltong 1 & 3 GÄVLE
On the south side of Gavleån, beside Gävle castle

Open daily in summer.

When you visit the museum, borrow an audio guide for free! Listen to a sample here.

Opening hours in low season:
Wednesday-sunday 12 -16
Booked guided tours
tuesday - sunday
day- & evening

For information & bookings:
+46 26  65 44 30
+46 70 - 628 01 92

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