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Haunting images by Romain Veillon of France’s last panopticon jail in Autun

There are few places in all of France as forbidding as this abandoned 19th-century prison – as these eerie pictures show.

They were taken by French photographer Romain Veillon inside the city of Autun jail, which has a design much-dreaded among prisoners – panopticon, a word derived from panoptes, the Greek for ‘all-seeing’.

The cylindrical nature of jails like this allows guards to see all the cells in one sweep.

French photographer Romain Veillon ventured inside France’s last standing panopticon prison, in Autun

Surveillance: The cylindrical nature of jails like this allows guards to see all the cells in one sweep

Surveillance: The cylindrical nature of jails like this allows guards to see all the cells in one sweep 

The Autun prison has been abandoned since 1956 and is now a designated national monument

The Autun prison has been abandoned since 1956 and is now a designated national monument

The Autun example was built between 1854 and 1856 on Saint-Louis Square – and in use until 1956. It’s the last standing panopticon prison in France and is now a designated national monument.

The panopticon design was created in 1791 by English social reformer Jeremy Bentham.

Prisons built to his specifications have a central tower, so the Autun prison isn’t a true example as it didn’t have one. Prisoners were instead watched by guards who patrolled raised platforms.

The panopticon design was created in 1791 by English social reformer Jeremy Bentham

The panopticon design was created in 1791 by English social reformer Jeremy Bentham 

Romain said he found taking pictures inside a very 'peaceful' experience

Romain said he found taking pictures inside a very ‘peaceful’ experience

While exploring the jail, Romain found messages etched into some of the cell doors

While exploring the jail, Romain found messages etched into some of the cell doors

And the prisoners in the Autun jail had cell doors.

Floor-to-ceiling bars were the order of the day in some panopticon designs, meaning privacy was non-existent.

It would be impossible for guards to watch every cell continually, but the prisoners never knew if they were under surveillance, so had to behave as if they were. 

Even with cell doors, it’s certain that life in the Autun prison would have been a very uncomfortable one.

Romain said: 'This prison is very impressive and when you are standing in the middle, you can start to understand how it was before'

Romain said: ‘This prison is very impressive and when you are standing in the middle, you can start to understand how it was before’

Floor-to-ceiling bars were the order of the day in some panopticon designs, meaning privacy was non-existent

Floor-to-ceiling bars were the order of the day in some panopticon designs, meaning privacy was non-existent 

It’s not generally open to the public (although it occasionally hosts events and access is granted on certain days of the year) – but Romain was given special permission by the local authority, which now owns the building, to enter and take these haunting images.

He told MailOnline Travel: ‘I was researching abandoned prisons in France and during my research, this one came to my attention.

‘I was captivated by the unique architectural concept of the prison with its unique panopticon system and I decided I really needed to photograph it and see it with my own eyes.

Romain said: 'The architecture of the prison was, of course, unique but I knew what to expect after having read about its history online'

Romain said: ‘The architecture of the prison was, of course, unique but I knew what to expect after having read about its history online’ 

The Autun jail occasionally hosts events and public access is granted on certain days of the year

The Autun jail occasionally hosts events and public access is granted on certain days of the year 

Romain said: 'Usually when I photograph an abandoned prison, it's actually haunting to witness the rooms where people were kept and where they had so much pain and loneliness'

Romain said: ‘Usually when I photograph an abandoned prison, it’s actually haunting to witness the rooms where people were kept and where they had so much pain and loneliness’ 

Panopticon is a word derived from panoptes, the Greek for 'all-seeing'

Panopticon is a word derived from panoptes, the Greek for ‘all-seeing’

‘I had the whole day to capture the prison. They just locked me up inside, so I had the perfect conditions to explore it and decide how I wanted to show it through my pictures.’

Despite the prison’s chilling nature, he found taking pictures inside a very ‘peaceful’ experience.

He added: ‘Usually, when I photograph an abandoned prison, it’s actually haunting to witness the rooms where people were kept and where they had so much pain and loneliness. You can suffer the effects they had in these four walls.

All bar one: The other panopticon prisons in France have been demolished

All bar one: The other panopticon prisons in France have been demolished

Romain had a whole day to explore the prison and take photos. He said: 'They just locked me up inside'

Romain had a whole day to explore the prison and take photos. He said: ‘They just locked me up inside’ 

The narrow nature of the cells was the biggest challenge that Romain found when taking pictures. He said: 'Even with a wide-angle it takes a lot of time to find the perfect spot to shoot'

The narrow nature of the cells was the biggest challenge that Romain found when taking pictures. He said: ‘Even with a wide-angle it takes a lot of time to find the perfect spot to shoot’

Romain said: 'It's very moving to see the old writings on the wall or the days engraved. It makes your imagination wonder how it was when it was full of prisoners'

Romain said: ‘It’s very moving to see the old writings on the wall or the days engraved. It makes your imagination wonder how it was when it was full of prisoners’ 

‘But in this case, the feeling went away. Maybe because the prison is really old and was abandoned for more than 60 years.

‘Nevertheless, it’s still very moving to see the old writings on the wall or the days engraved. It makes your imagination wonder how it was when it was full of prisoners.

‘The architecture was, of course, unique but I knew what to expect after having read about its history online.

‘Still, this prison is very impressive when you are standing in the middle – you can start to understand how it was before.’   

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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