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World's 'first wellness retreat in a prison': Infamous site converted into luxury hotel

Twenty-six years after the closure of the infamous Australian prison known as Pentridge, a luxury hotel is offering customers the chance to stay in the “world's first urban wellness retreat in a converted prison.”
World's 'first wellness retreat in a prison': Infamous site converted into luxury hotel

The 19th-century facility, just 20 minutes north of Melbourne, was transformed into “a billion-dollar dining and entertainment precinct” by TFE Hotels, which announced the site's opening in a statement over the weekend. The Heritage-listed precinct is one of the oldest prisons in Australia and one of the country’s longest operating penitentiaries.

Guests will soon be able to visit the redeveloped 170-year-old site, which features 19 “exclusive heritage suites,” each created out of 4 to 5 original cells with vaulted brick ceilings, original cell doors and bluestone walls. Prison cells were also adapted into an elegant wine bar called Olivine, which opened last month.

TFE Hotels said that trial stays are expected to begin in the coming months.

The project is one of just 40 prison hotel conversions worldwide, according to the developers.

“In our eyes, the transformation of Pentridge has now come full circle, and can officially begin a new chapter as Melbourne’s newest dining and entertainment precinct,” the statement read.

The history of Pentridge

Established in 1851 in the Australian State Victoria, Pentridge was the largest and most used prison complex constructed in the state, according to the National Trust of Australia.

At one point in its history, inmates were housed in cells for 23 hours a day and had one hour outside of those cells under the 'separate and silent' penal system — which influenced the aesthetics and layout of buildings to contain prisoners. The complex highlights how the penal system developed in Victoria throughout the 19th century.

After its official closure in 1997, following 146 years of uninterrupted operation, the State Government of Victoria sold the site to developers.

During the redevelopment of Pentridge, several relics of the former penal system were uncovered, developers said, including panopticons — a layout which places a central observation tower within a circle of prison cells where a guard is able to observe inmates without being seen, according to Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology at Brown University.

There are only eight panopticons of this style known to exist in the world today, three of which can be found at Pentridge.

Camille Fine, USA TODAY

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