Kakolanmäki Hill is the second highest rise in Turku. The name of the hill was Kakola already in the 1700s, when the eastern hillside was home to a poorhouse. The poorhouse was used to house people who were considered to be mentally unfit, referred to by the residents of Turku as kakot (daft people). For this reason, the townspeople called the institution Kakola (place of daft people) and the bare rocky hill behind it ‘Kakola’s hill’ (Kakolanmäki in Finnish).

The first building constructed on top of the hillside was completed in 1853. The long three-storey building, which is known as the granite castle, served as a workhouse and correctional facility until it was turned into a prison 10 years later. The prison has since been expanded multiple times, and in the early 1900s, the hill was home to three different institutions for criminals: the county prison, which served as a detention centre and was taken into use in 1890, the prison asylum that was completed in 1908, and Kakola, which served as the central prison. In its prime during the 1930s, the hill was home to more than 1,300 prisoners. In autumn 2007, the prison and its less than 300 inmates were moved to the Saramäki district of Turku.

Kakola was once Finland’s largest and most dangerous prison. The prison held only male prisoners and, at one time, only the most hardened criminals. All of Finland’s most famous criminals have done time within its walls.

Heino Hilarius Sorjonen drew the attention of the public in the early 1950s by breaking into and robbing various safes and strongboxes. He and friend Uuno ‘Dynamite’ Laine (who got his nickname from working as the blaster for the Kakola quarry) were among Finland’s most notorious inmates after their prison break in December 1953. The prisoners escaped Turku central prison holding pistols that they wrestled off the prison guards.

Along his escape route, Sorjonen tried to rob a bank in Vihti, but the female bank manager refused to hand over the key to the vault. Referring to himself as a gentleman bandit, Sorjonen did her no harm and left the bank empty-handed. This act earned him the nickname ‘Hentomielinen (soft-hearted) Hilarius’.

Turku county prison was completed in 1890 as the last county prison to be constructed in Finland. At that time, Finland was divided into eight counties, each with its own prison. All the county prisons were built to look the same, red-brick buildings in the shape of a cross. Those in Kakola referred to the county prison as the ‘cottage’ (torppa in Finnish) and a ‘building full of innocent people’, since prisoners were said to have been kept there as suspects until they were found to be guilty.

It generally housed men serving lighter sentences, first-time murderers, those laying out their fines and drink drivers. Famous Finnish singers have also spent a little time here: Irwin Goodman is said to have done some time to lay out his fines and singer Olavi Virta ended up here briefly after being arrested for drink driving. Up until the 1990s, vagrants were also brought here off the street. The county prison had a separate wing for female prisoners. During the 1960s, the correctional facility for women in Hämeenlinna was sufficient for female prisoners in Finland, but women’s crimes related to narcotics and violence increased in the 1990s, which made it necessary to arrange around 20 cells of the south wing of Turku county prison for the overflow of female inmates. The wing in which the hotel lobby is located was the administrative wing that housed the offices, chapel and health clinic. The lower floor also held the prison reception area and travel cells, the kitchen, the canteen and the solitary confinement ward. The upper floors held the different cell areas. The wing that was built in the 1960s had workshops, the prison shop and family visiting room.

When the decision was made to build a new prison in Turku, the prison asylum, county prison and central prison (Kakola) were combined into one administrative institution that was moved 8.5 kilometres away, to the Saramäki district of Turku, in autumn 2007. The buildings have been standing empty since 2015, when the current Kakola Yhtiöt Ltd purchased first the Kakola buildings and, the following year, the premises of the county prison. The renovation work on the county prison premises began in autumn 2018, and the hotel opened to the public in September 2020. Today, the Kakola buildings include residence flats, Kakolanruusu restaurant, bageri Å bakery and cafe, Frukt Coffee Roasters, Kakola Brewing Company, Kakola shop and the Kakola Spa, which will open to the public in 2022.