Alcatraz - the world's most famous prison
Location show on map
Alcatraz, San Francisco, United States
Date of build
1909 - 1912
Located on an island 2 km from San Francisco Bay, the prison was the place where 1576 of the most ruthless American criminals, i.e. Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud or George "Machine Gun" Kelly, were sentenced.
The Alcatraz prison was built on the basis of the fortress of the American army, which moved out of the island. War prisoners built this prison from 1909 to 1911.
It was not until 1933 that the military assigned Alcatraz's property to the Department of Justice, already then it was ready to accept the most famous criminals in American history.
The first 37 prisoners appeared in Alcatraz on August 11, 1934. At exactly 9:40 a.m. the first 37 prisoners arrived at the door.
The Alcatraz door was finally closed in 1963 because it became too expensive to maintain. The structures were eroded by salt water and the buildings needed regular maintenance. At that time, it was 3 times more expensive to maintain a prisoner in Alcatraz than in other prisons. This was mainly due to the cost of transporting fresh water to and from Alcatraz.
The condemned had showers with hot water, which might seem like a luxury, but this was due to the fact that they would freeze more quickly during a possible escape attempt because of the icy water surrounding the island.
The brutal reputation of the prison called "Rock," derived from the fact that, apart from providing medical care, clothing, shelter and food, practically no other privileges were offered to the prisoners.
The three-storey main building consisted of four main prison blocks, block A, block B, block C and block D, the head's office, the visiting room, the library and the hairdressing salon.
Typical prison cells were 2.7 meters by 1.5 meters, and 2.1 meters high. The cells were primitive and without privacy, there was a bed, desk, washbasin and toilet on the back wall, with some furniture in addition to a blanket.
Because of the race skirmishes, the Afro-Americans were separated from the rest to a separate block. The corridors were named after the famous American streets: Broadway and Michigan Avenue.
At the end of Block D, which held the most dangerous convicts, there was a "Hole," which was a place of punishment for poorly behaved prisoners.
There were, of course, escape attempts, or more precisely 14 recorded attempts, 36 prisoners in total, over 29 years. 23 of these were captured, 6 shot, 2 drowned, and 5 are listed as missing and presumably drowned.
From November 20, 1969 to June 11, 1971, the island was occupied by Native Americans from the American Indian Movement, who protested against what they considered to be the continued economic, social and political neglect of Native Americans by the United States government.
Once Alcatraz had beautiful gardens, as its officers and their families planted them. The resistant plants they chose survived decades of neglect after the prison was closed.
Today the island of Alcatraz is a great place to observe birds. There are many species of birds on the island, including falcons, ravens, hawks, cormorants, herons, western seagulls, nuisance, oystercats, blindfolds and snow herons.
The island has a lighthouse, which was actually the first lighthouse on the west coast. It was launched in 1854 and helped guide ships in the San Francisco Bay until the early twentieth century, when the newly constructed building on the island covered it from the view of incoming ships.
In 1972 the prison and its grounds became part of the newly established Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and Alcatraz remained one of the most popular tourist destinations in San Francisco.
The island of Alcatraz is considered to be one of the most haunted places in America. Its history, legends and myths haunt visitors who walk in the corridors of an abandoned concrete building, and those more courageous even after dark.
The prison attracts about 1.5 million visitors a year.
Alcatraz Prison was the set of many films, the most popular ones are: "Escape from Alcatraz" starring Clint Eastwood or "Fortress" starring Sean Connery, Nicolas Cag and Ed Harris.
The name "Alcatraz" comes from sea birds. In 1775, the first European citizen sailed through the Golden Gate. It was the Spanish Lieutenant Juan Manuel de Ayala, who, due to the numerous colonies of brown pelicans on the island, called it "Isla de los Alcatraces", which translates as "Pelican Island".