Right next in the neighboring Estonia, just 40 km from Tallinn and near Ämari NATO base is a very unusual place called Rummu quarry. When you read about this place on Wikipedia, the impression could be grim – nearly inaccessible by car, forbidden to park nearby, the owner is closing down the area and has declared the space to be dangerous for divers and swimmers. At the same time there are thousands of pictures on Facebook and Instagram with people relaxing in this place and hit song “Faded” by Alan Walker music video was partially shot here. “Atlas Obscura” writes about this place, the international press calls this the most unusual place in Estonia. So what is this strange place and why should you visit as soon as possible?
Rummu is very popular among divers and this is how we visited, thanks to our diving club Coral organizing a three dive visit here. We decide to stick around a bit longer and explore not just the underwater world but also ruins of the prison in an around the quarry.
Since the drive from Riga takes quite a while (about 4 hours), we decide to spend the night nearby so we can sleep in a bit. We chose the city Laulasmaa, which is still about a half hour drive to Rummu. You can also stay in private houses found on airbnb, which would cost you only about 15 euro, but usually no breakfast is served there. We spend the night in a large SPA where due to the short time we have, the only advantage is above mentioned breakfast. There are plenty of Latvians spending the night, who seem to be enjoyed the little bay and SPA facilities. For those staying here longer Rummu makes up for an excellent half-day tour!
Around 1930 Murru prison and quarry were established. The prisoners had to work in the quarry and the prison was notorious for it’s human rights infringements. Every year at least one person died “in an accident” and this prison became well known after it’s inhabitants went on a hunger strike demanding more humane treatment. When Estonia regained independence, times changed and the works at the quarry stopped. Upon switching off the pumps the area quickly filled up with water, much quicker than anyone anticipated, leaving houses flooded up to two stories high. So there are lamp posts, barbed wire, mining equipment and a whole forest all at the bottom, which make for an interesting visit for divers. The prison near the quarry was only closed in 2012.
When arriving to Rummu, nothing indicates there is the quarry somewhere in the city. You can find it by locating the large prison wall, then soon there is a turn to the left with the sign “30”, private houses area and upon turning to the left once more you will see a hill and a fence, in some placed covered in barbed wire. Visitors cut through it all the time, and now the fence is covered in pitch, to keep intruders from entering. Now it’s getting clear why everyone was asking if the quarry area is still open, upon hearing that we plan to visit. The nearby road is full of cars, and when we come closer to the fence we see a family with children climbing over, returning from the area. If you were to approach the quarry from the other side, you can actually walk in without any fences to climb over, there is even a road, and seems some have managed to drive on it.
When you walk inside you will see dozens of people enjoying themselves on the beach – grilling sausages, swimming, listening to music and smoking shisha. There are plenty of Lithuanians, Latvians and locals here (Estonians mostly are walking dogs). If not the fence on the way here, you might think this is a city beach, just all the run-down buildings and the sign “no swimming” might make you suspicious. When I notice the sign, I see at least ten people in the water. We walk around and see how teenagers are jumping from the roof of the building into the water. Water looks quite clear, like somewhere in a much warmer place. We also find the entry to the prison territory, you can get behind the barbed wire. Meanwhile we hear someone shouting in Russian “jump in, jump in, don’t be a pussy!” then a plunge follows and someone applauds.
There is a hill near the water, it is also a remnant from the quarry times. Right next to the beach there is a place you can climb it, roughly 70 m tall. You’ll see some concrete piles remaining here from a building that must have collapsed. There are no safety nets or margins at the top, so climbing is at your own risk. Adults and teenagers can easily make it to the top, but I would advise against taking children there.
It’s a beautiful view from the top, you can see the prison and the overflown quarry area locals call the Blue Lagoon. Seems that there is a similar hill in the distance. As nothing has been going on here for over 20 years, there are trees growing on the hill and wind and rain have caused the soil to erode and make up location for spectacular photos. Some people seem to have been camping here as well, making fires and having picknicks.
But if you don’t stop at the first entrance at the fence, but proceed on, as we did, since we went on diving, you will see a road that I strongly suggest not to take. It’s a gravel road that has eroded to a degree of it only having enormous potholes full of water (it was raining the day before) and I would especially advise against taking it if it’s raining. Finally we reach the end of the road and the fence and the water is easily accessible here without trespassing.
We change into the wet-suits in the car or in the forest (no changing rooms or toilets in Rummu), but you have to be careful, as there is barbed wire on the ground and some visitors have left bottles. The beach area is much cleaner. We also meet other Latvians who have stayed over from Friday in a tent and now are preparing to head home.
This is the place where we will do the first two dives. First we go to the underwater houses and you can even swim inside (but that can get claustrophobic and I try to stay away). Shortly some swimmers and snorkelers appear and soon they start jumping too. Although the sign says that even swimming is strictly forbidden, people climb the roofs and jump. I would say it is extremely dangerous to do so, as I saw barbed wire, lamp posts and concrete sheets under water. As soon as the jumpers appear, our dive master takes us elsewhere for everyone’s safety. Only half-joking he says that sometimes it seems those people jump right to the places they see the bubbles coming up – on top of divers.
The second dive is to the other side, where the underwater forest lies. The trees are grown over with algae, so seem soft, but many have clams growing over, and you can get cut. We tested ourselves, and it bleeds nastily underwater. There are also abandoned objects underwater – tires, pots and other things. Sadly, the visibility is only about 5 m, so we don’t see as much as we had hoped for. They say it can be even 40 m in the winter, which would be comparable to famous diving destinations in the Caribbean or Indian ocean. This time it’s all foggy, mostly seeing the other divers bright yellow fin in front of us. There aren’t many fish, some perch, but you can also see pike and crayfish, those should be well visible in the spring, but then in the dry-suit for sure. The water is about 16 C at the bottom and a bit warmer at the top. The depth isn’t much, deepest is about 13 m, but we mostly spend our time at 6-9 m depth.
After the second dive we change, fighting gadflies, eat a quick lunch and head to the third dive’s location, which is on the opposite side of the quarry, also reachable without crossing the fence. We dive at the sunken houses, it’s also finally sunny and the dive is quite nice. This time we don’t go inside, as the houses are extremely run down.
Would it be right to visit? Rummu is private property and seems owners are starting to introduce measures to limit who can enter. It seems that if you want to see the place, you should do it as soon as possible. There aren’t many places where you can grill sausages in the territory of the former prison! But you should keep in mind that several accidents and even deaths have happened here, and the last one was just a few days before we visited. I believe this location will be closed permanently soon. It is very dangerous to jump from the roof into the water, as there is plenty of debris inside and you can get serious injuries. But it is still interesting to see the place, as it is quite unusual.
When seeing the fence, my surprise was that there were no signs of private property trespassing, but could be that someone had taken those down as well. Locals don’t seem to be bothered by the measures and keep in going in, so there isn’t any surveillance or guards. Maybe the owners only put the “no swimming” signs just to avoid possible negligence charges. Hopefully, this place gets a bit cleaned up and there could be official means of entry, but no indication of that so far.
Rummu remains a not exactly legal place to visit that you go in on your own risk. But every day in summer there are dozens of people who choose to do so.
All pictures by Jekabs Andrushaitis.