Museo del Presidio (Prison Museum)

Prison Museum in Ushuaia

If you’re interested in the history and origins of Ushuaia city, visiting the Presidio Museum, also known as the Jail Museum, is essential. As you walk through its narrow corridors, peering into the cells, you can imagine what life in prison would have been like. You’ll be amazed by paintings and furniture crafted by the prisoners, molds for making prison tiles, letters they wrote to their relatives, and original shackles they wore while working.

Stepping through the doors of the historic Pavilion, preserved as it was, is like stepping back in time. The most dangerous convicts in the country were known only by numbers. Some gained notoriety, such as the multiple murderer Mateo Banks, called “the mystic,” or Cayetano Santos Godino, sadly known as “the short-eared little one,” and the anarchist Simón Radowitsky.

Inside those doors, severe discipline reigned. Well-behaved prisoners worked outside, logging in the forests reached by train from the city center. Through their workshops, prisoners met many of the fledgling city’s needs. They constructed streets, bridges, public buildings, and even provided essential services like the first printing press, telephone, and electricity, all from within the confines of the prison.


Prison Museum in Ushuaia: A Glimpse of History

The Ushuaia Presidio’s roots trace back to September 15, 1902, when construction of the “National Presidio” began with convict labor, completing in 1920. In 1904, Catello Muratgia, as director, submitted a report of his administration to the Minister of Justice and Public Instruction, Dr. Juan R. Fernández.

In 1911, the President merged the Military Prison with the Ushuaia Reoffender Prison. Originally, plans aimed to establish a “Penal Colony” for 580 inmates in Lapataia, reserving 2,500 hectares of land near the Chilean border. By 1920, the jail boasted five pavilions, each with 76 outer cells. Although there were 386 single-person cells, the prison housed over 600 convicts.

Between Pavilion 1, known as the “Historic” pavilion, and Pavilion 2, the kitchen was constructed, while the bakery was situated between PAvilions 1 and 5. The administrative building stood at the bay’s forefront, with workshops housed in separate buildings. In 1943, a modern hospital opened, later becoming the Naval Base hospital, serving as the area’s primary medical facility for an extended period.

Over time, the prison accommodated criminals convicted of serious crimes, subjecting them to paid labor, primary education, and strict discipline. The prison encompassed 30 work sectors, some extending beyond its confines, fulfilling the needs of both the prison and the wider Ushuaia community. Convicts were engaged in various projects, including street and bridge construction, forestry, and even enabling the southernmost train in the world in 1910.

In March 1947, the prison closed under a decree by President Juan Domingo Perón, transitioning to the Ministry of the Navy, establishing the Ushuaia Naval Base. Declared a National Historic Monument in April 1997, the building is currently undergoing restoration for public visitation by the Civil Association Maritime Museum of Ushuaia.

The Prison  Museum and the Train of the End of the World

The Prison Museum and the Train of the End of the World have a significant historical and geographical relationship, particularly in the context of Ushuaia, Argentina.

Ushuaia, located in the southernmost tip of Argentina, served as a site for both the former prison and the current Train of the End of the World. Both attractions are situated in or near the Tierra del Fuego National Park, contributing to the region’s tourism and historical significance.

The Ushuaia Prison Museum preserves the history and legacy of the former penal colony established in the early 20th century. Many of the prisoners housed in the Ushuaia prison were involved in projects such as construction and maintenance, including the creation of infrastructure like roads and railways. This includes the construction of what became the southernmost train line in the world, now known as the Train of the End of the World.

The prisoners were involved in various labor-intensive projects, including the construction and maintenance of the railway line. The Train of the End of the World, initially constructed as a freight line to serve the prison, later became a tourist attraction, offering visitors a journey through the stunning landscapes of Tierra del Fuego. The train route retraces part of the path that prisoners once worked on, providing a tangible connection to the region’s penal history.

Both the Prison Museum and the Train of the End of the World play significant roles in educating visitors about the history of Ushuaia and its penal colony era. Tourists often visit both attractions to gain a comprehensive understanding of the region’s past, including the harsh conditions experienced by prisoners and the transformative developments that have occurred since.

Prison Museum in Ushuaia. Location map

Jail Museum: how to arrive?

The Maritime and Presidio Museum of Ushuaia (Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego) is located in the building of the Ex Presidio de Ushuaia (or Re-offender Prison of Tierra del Fuego), where the most dangerous criminals were held for their recidivism, charging a sad fame. The building is located in the heart of the city, steps from the main street.


Book a tour and visit the Prison Museum in Ushuaia!

Book a wonderful city tour in Ushuaia with the Museo del Presidio (Jail Museum). Click on the image below!


Picture of Ramiro Rodriguez

Ramiro Rodriguez

25 years working in travel market, as Sales & Marketing Manager in RipioTurismo, Marketing Manager in Nuevas Ideas Travel Consulting Group. Writer and travel lover.

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