The world of Harry Potter is often mistaken as a series for children, but many who have read or watched it might disagree. Blending magic and morality in a complex story amid a cast of very memorable characters, Harry Potter is much more than just a coming of age story about a teenager.
With lessons and commentary on relationships, personal introspection, and overcoming adversity, J.K Rowling’s series has a strong understanding of the human condition. Of course, any story that is so aware of humanity must go to some dark places-- very dark in some cases. Despite a cast of villains that would give any other a run for their money, the most evil thing in the series is not a person, but a place: the infamous Azkaban Prison.
Azkaban is a forlorn and despondent fortress standing on a rocky crag in the middle of the North Sea, and is the only official holding facility for magical criminals we are shown. We see little of it, yet its history and reputation have great impact.
For the few who have been on the inside and back, it leaves permanent psychological scars, and its denizens, the Dementors, are among the most feared creatures in the entire series. Azkaban represents all the darkest parts of our minds and lives, and will put the deepest fear in even the most formidable wizards.
Here are the 15 Things You Never Knew About Harry Potter's Azkaban.
15 It Was Not Originally A Prison
Ironically, the most infamous prison in Harry Potter wasn’t made to be a prison at all. Not much is known about the Azkaban’s origins, but it is believed to have been built sometime during the 15th century and its original inhabitant was an evil wizard named Ekrizdis.
However, it isn’t known if he built the fortress or just found it, so Azkaban will always have an element of mystery. It made a fine base of operations for an evil wizard due to its remote location and rugged terrain, but he lived long ago and it stood abandoned for many years. Shortly after rediscovery, it was formally designated as a prison in 1718.
It was an ideal location for a prison at a time when wizard and muggle tensions were at their peak because its distance meant no magical incidents would disturb the muggle world like they did at local prisons.
All of the advantages the fortress seemed to hold, however, were morally suspect, and the wizards would later come to regret the facility during the events of The Second Wizarding War. Azkaban’s history was not known to the greater wizarding world in detail, but everyone knew it was as evil as its inhabitants.
14 Prisoners Have Ways Of Protecting Themselves
The Patronus charm is easily the most effective defense against a Dementor. However, Azkaban is far from the perfect venue to be able to do it. It’s considered very advanced magic, so most wizards cannot conjure one.
Also, one needs to draw on their most happy memories for it to work, and the Dementors are specifically designed to mentally unhinge people, so while it might not be impossible to conjure one inside, it would be difficult. The next best way for prisoners to protect themselves would be transformation.
The Dementors feed off of human emotions, but have a hard time detecting the more base instincts of animals. Sirius Black spent much of his time in dog form while inside for that very reason, and said that if not for that and his knowledge of his innocence, he certainly would have fallen into despair.
Another known protection is chocolate. Because it induces pleasure in the brain, eating chocolate has proven to be a minor defense against the dark creatures, but it wouldn’t be easy to get some smuggled into Azkaban. Just like in real life, however, chocolate is only a temporary help against depression, and wizards must look deeper within themselves to find truly effective ways to stave off despair.
13 It Was Inspired By Alcatraz
Show just about anyone a prison on a remote island, and they’ll likely immediately associate it with Alcatraz, one of the world’s most infamous prisons. There are many parallels between the two besides the locations, not the least of which is that it was thought to be inescapable.
Alcatraz, like Azkaban, was used to house the worst of the worst, and was thought to be the toughest prison. It was frequently thought to be inhumane, just like Azkaban, and it had a reputation for causing its inmates to go insane. It was not meant to be a rehabilitation facility, and its guards were only there for the strictest security.
These measures ensured a consistent erosion of the inmates’ will, and walked a fine line between security and mental torture. A sentence in either was widely thought be to worse than death.
The two prisons also share the fact that an escape prompted huge changes for both, with Azkaban’s security being completely overhauled after the Second Wizarding War, and the Alcatraz closing completely less than a year after the great escape. The etymology of Azkaban is a mix of Alcatraz, and the Hebrew word "Abaddon," which means "place of destruction."
12 The Prison Walls Are Essentially Meaningless
Dwelling inside Azkaban are the much feared wardens of security, the Dementors. Among the most vile creatures in the world, they have a passive ability to drain the positive feelings of anyone near them, and even drain the memories of those who linger too close.
They also have the ability to drain a person’s soul, leaving them as a thoughtless, vegetative husk. Prisoners who spend enough time around Dementors experience the farthest depths of depression and despair, and often lose the will to live. Taking good memories and leaving only bad ones, the Dementors are walking instruments of mental torture that leave almost every prisoner insane.
With a population of prisoners who are unwilling to eat, move, or even breathe, the Dementors render the prison’s formidable walls meaningless, as none of the incarcerated have the will to leave. Hypothetically, if Azkaban was a small, ramshackle village of huts, its success would still be the same as long as the Dementors are there.
11 It Has A Near-Zero Percent Escape Rate
It comes as no surprise that a prison fortress designed to keep dangerous wizards inside has a very low escape rate. Azkaban spent a few centuries in its former state with the Dementors, and in that time only two prisoners managed to escape.
The first was the very troubled Barty Crouch Jr, who had a history of mental illness and social assimilation due to his abusive father. Given a life sentence for his role as a Death Eater in Voldemort’s first rise to power, he was later smuggled out by his parents, who used a Polyjuice Potion to swap identities with he and his mother.
Barty Jr walked out with his father while his mother took his place in Azkaban, where she died a short time later. The second escapee was the much beloved Sirius Black. Framed for the murder of Peter Pettigrew and 12 civilians, Black was given a life sentence in solitary confinement.
After learning that Pettigrew was alive, the revenge he had dreamed of for so long took over, and he slipped through his bars in Animagus form and swam to shore. This makes him the second escapee of Azkaban and the first to do it on his own
10 Its Original Inhabitant Was An Insane Murderer
Not much is known about the aforementioned original Azkaban dweller, Ekrizdis, but what we do know is that he was one of the most cruel and evil wizards in history. He was a wizard of unknown origin, and his legacy is the stuff of nightmares.
Ekrizdis was known to lure sailors in the North Sea to Azkaban, probably by using it as a lighthouse, and from there, would capture, torture, and murder them. He is thought to have been quite powerful and smart, as well as insane. When Azkaban was rediscovered, the wizards who were present were so disturbed by what they found that they never spoke of most of it, only that he practiced the most forbidden forms of dark magic.
We can reasonably conclude that this included all three of the Unforgivable Curses, the Imperius, Cruciatus, and Killing spells, as well as experiments with poison magic, cursed fire, and petrification. Most heinous of all, it is likely that he practiced forms of necromancy on the poor sailors he trapped, using his considerable power to desecrate their bodies to further his knowledge of the dark arts
9 It Was Hidden From The World By Magic
Magic has a wide range of uses that go well beyond direct harm or protection. It also has tons of practical use for everyday application, including the popular Concealment Charms. These charms are used to hide or obfuscate everything from writings, appearances, and in the case of Azkaban, entire buildings.
Ekrizdis used a complex array of concealment charms to hide Azkaban from the world during his lifetime, and it was only after his death that the magic started to fade and eventually dissipated, revealing to the magical world the fortress and the horrors within.
It might seem implausible that a massive building like Azkaban can be hidden, but there have been numerous times where wizards used concealment to great effect. A French wizard named Vincent Duc de Trefle-Picques used a concealment charm to fool muggles into thinking he was beheaded, preventing him from falling victim to the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution.
The largest concealment charm in British history was the operation to take a train that world become the Hogwarts Express and build the railway used to transport students to the school in order to avoid detection from the outside world.
8 It Doesn’t Appear On Any Map
Azkaban’s history is uncertain, but it is believed to have been built in the 15th century. Who built it will probably never be known, but one thing is certain: it doesn’t appear on any map, magical or muggle.
During Azkaban’s early years, global exploration was still in its prime, and cartography was a profitable skill. The mapping of new territories required thorough exploration and the safe return of the recorders. Should an explorer perish with his map, the knowledge would be lost forever unless it was copied and taken to safety beforehand.
Ekrizdis’ concealment charms, ensured that the only people who found Azkaban were those he wanted to, and they never left once they did. It’s not hard to see why the fortress was never recorded in the muggle world.
For the wizards, they only found it after the charms faded, and while they found the place revolting, it was a perfect time to have a secret facility to keep magical criminals away from the rest of the world. Like Hogwarts, Azkaban is hidden from the muggle world for both sides’ protection.
7 The Dementors Were Already There When It Was Discovered
Many fans wonder about where the Dementors came from. The truth is that Dementors aren’t born exactly, they grow. They are magical creatures that grow similar to fungi, and the conditions needed for it are perfect in Azkaban. Wherever there are high concentrations of human despair, hopelessness, depression, or any flavor of unhappiness, a Dementor will arise.
With Ekrizdis’ horrible practices inside Azkaban going completely unchecked, it created the ideal conditions for an endless cycle of suffering. When the wizards discovered Azkaban, they described the place as being infested with Dementors.
The numbers must have been staggering, because the amount needed to infest a fortress of that size would be at least in the hundreds. As the amount of suffering increases, so do the numbers and strength of the Dementors, making Azkaban upon discovery one of the most dangerous places in the world, even with Ekrizdis dead.
The wizards who came upon Azkaban could not have lingered for long because Remus Lupin says that if a wizard is around a Dementor long enough, they will begin to lose their magical powers. This is never shown to happen in books or film, but the wizards clearly believe it as they never test the Dementors
6 The Wizards Didn’t Destroy It Because They Feared Revenge
The level of suffering that went on inside Azkaban for decades is almost hard to imagine. The unfortunate wizards who first discovered Azkaban were greeted with the remains of the grisly experiments of madman, and ten-foot tall magical monsters in a perpetual state of power.
It can be argued that there wasn’t really a choice for the wizards to use the Dementors or not once they designated Azkaban as a prison because of one simple fact - no one knows how to kill one. The wizards described Azkaban as a place where pain and suffering are a part of its walls, and combined with the lack of protection from Dementors, they all greatly feared what might happen if they destroyed the building.
There was the obvious thought that the Dementors would come for revenge and attack the wizards wherever they were, but scholars also feared that the unknown nature of the dark magic of the building itself might hold grave consequences for the world if tampered with. The history books say that the wizards allowed the Dementors to stay, but from what we know, they had only one option that wouldn’t result in disaster.
5 Almost All Of Its Prisoners Died Of Despair
If you were to ask wizards what is a more merciful punishment, death or a sentence in Azkaban, most would choose death. That’s because the amount of suffering a stint inside can cause is far more than they would be willing to endure.
This isn’t the typical kind of horrible physical torture that humans are capable of, but the worst sort of mental torture imaginable. The Dementors feed off of positive emotions and memories and leave the victim with nothing but their worst of them. This can take any form of suffering the prisoner has endured.
Did you see a loved one die? You’ll relive that moment endlessly. Were you abused at a child? You’ll relive that as well and as often. Exactly everything that a human mind suffers can and will be used against them inside Azkaban.
Prisoners go insane with despair, and as Sirius Black pointed out, lose the will to live at all. Suicide is not an option, because the prisoners are so beaten down with anguish that they can’t muster the effort to move. Even those who serve time and leave are left with permanent emotional scars and usually even brain damage.
4 It Was A Major Political Issue For Centuries
The power of the Dementors was very difficult to deal with, and when the wizarding and muggle worlds needed more separation than ever, Azkaban presented an opportunity to save time, money, and lives.
In 1718, a man named Damocles Rowle was elected Minister For Magic, and he decided that Azkaban should be used as a prison, and the Dementors as wardens for the facility. This took care of two problems. First, it put much needed space between a prison for wizards and the muggle world. Secondly, it satiated the Dementors’ need to feed on suffering. Placating the Dementors was necessary in Rowle’s eyes not just to save resources, but it would take an unknown amount of power to somehow clear the Dementors out of Azkaban.
This deal was always a problem because of the human right issue of using Dementors as guards. In 1747, then Minister Eldritch Diggory attempted to have the Dementors removed politically, but he died in office and the measure with him, again because of fear of Dementor reprisal. This was the last major attempt to reform Azkaban until after the events of the Deathly Hallows.
3 The Dementors Revolted Causing The Mass Escape
Although all of the wizarding world knows what Dementors are, little is known about their biology or sapience. They are intelligent creatures, capable of greed and deception, but no one knows how to kill one or just how advanced their cognition really is.
They accepted a deal to serve as guards at Azkaban to have a reliable supply of emotions to feed off of, but the wizards were never certain of their true needs; all but Dumbledore and Voldemort. Dumbledore recognized them and called them vicious creatures whose needs are simply to feed.
Voldemort had the utmost confidence in them joining him, calling them their (Death Eaters) natural allies. They were both proved right when during the Second Wizarding War, the Dementors willing chose to side with Voldemort because he could provide them with an endless amount of human subjects to feed off of, not just the criminals the Ministry imprisoned.
In 1996, the Dementors made their move and plotted with Voldemort to cause the mass breakout of the most dangerous Death Eaters, including Bellatrix, which had serious consequences for the rest of the series.
2 It Allowed Visitors Under Heavy Restrictions
Azkaban, for all its evil, it still a prison for a civilized group of people, and as such must allow occasional visitors. As mentioned, Barty Crouch Jr was imprisoned for his role in the First Wizarding War, but his parents were allowed to visit him.
This may be because of Barty Sr’s high status in the wizard world. Another known visit came from Dumbledore when he went to see the infamous Morfin Gaunt. Morfin was the uncle of Tom Riddle, AKA Voldemort, and while an evil man, was framed for his own family’s murder.
Dumbledore was allowed to visit him, where he learned the truth of the murders, but again this could be because of his high status. As for less prestigious wizards, Azkaban has its own graveyard, so we can reasonably believe that because the bodies were treated with respect, the prison had some policy of visitation, even if for many it was to pay respects at a grave.
The graveyard also sheds some light on the cognitive ability of the Dementors since left to their own devices, they would have no need or desire to bury humans
1 The Dementors Were No Longer Used As Guards After The Series
The long and complicated relationship between the Dementors and wizards came to an end with the Second Wizarding World and Voldemort’s death. It was a zero-sum game, and the Dementors, having thrown in with the Death Eaters, lost.
Their actions gave the wizards the clear political right they’ve always wanted to reform Azkaban and get rid of the Dementors. Though no one knows how to kill a Dementor, they cannot thrive without the conditions they need to grow, so driving them away would work since they wouldn’t be able to return at the same strength they had before.
After the war, new Minister For Magic Kingsley Shacklebolt ushered in the reforms and the Dementors were driven out and replaced by Aurors, who would all take rotating shifts at the prison along with their regular duties. Though the prison itself would need to time heal from its evil history, the days of mental torture inside were over.
Even for the more hard-on-crime wizards, this was a necessary move since the Dementors had proven themselves untrustworthy, and the only thing that was keeping them there politically was their effectiveness as guards.
Do you know of any other interesting facts about Harry Potter's infamous prison? Let us know in the comments!