No single sight evokes the undercurrent of explosive creativity pulsating through the Frisian capital quite like this 19th-century prison-turned-cultural centre. Dozens of entrepreneurial start-ups and young businesses now occupy the old cells; artist workshops, tattoo parlours, artisan boutiques and a designer hostel fill cell block H; while trendsetting Proefverlof is the hippest place in town for a canal-side bite or drink. Guided tours, led by a former prison guide complete with uniform, kick off from the latter.
The majestic jail complex, with its handful of vast interior courtyards and fanciful turreted entrance, stands on the site of the town's first blokhuis (blockhouse or fort), built in 1498 under governor of Friesland, Duke Albrecht of Saxony. In 1580 much of the original building was torn down following its occupation by, and subsequent expelling of, Spanish troops. It later became an ammunition depot, gunpowder warehouse and detention centre. From the 19th century until 2008, it served as the provincial jail.