There are certain tourist attractions we’re all familiar with. They’ve been there for ages (and some not for that long) and they need no introductions. Sometimes you don’t even question why they are popular, because they’re simply iconic! Who cares what the Eiffel Tower was made for? It just has to be in the background of your selfie from #Paris while you’re feeling #blessed! 😀
But then there are cemeteries and attractions that don’t really bring back the fondest of memories! Some of them are morbid. And some are even more morbid! But there are also the most morbid tourist attractions of them all!
1. Cemeteries & mausoleums
The Taj Mahal would be the obvious example of a monument to a deceased person. And it’s the definition of an iconic landmark!
But there are other graveyards around the world, which are major attractions for visitors and anyone into dark tourism.
There are Cemetery Tours in New Orleans and other places as well! Apparently, there is a word for people who love to visit such places! Tombstone tourist is one such term! If you’re one of them (I think I am, too!), that’s what you are called! 😀
2. Pet cemeteries
Yes! Cemeteries for pets do exist and some of them attract visitors from far! The most famous one is the Cimetière des chiens in Paris, which has been open since the late 19th century! It hosts mainly dogs and other domestic animals, as well.
Another famous pet cemetery is the one in London’s Hyde Park. A lesser known one is the one inside the Edinburgh Castle. What makes them popular is that a burial ground for animals is not a very common sight.
This gets creepier: Simply explained, an ossuary is a container or a room into which the bones of dead people are placed. They exist everywhere in the world and most of the times they serve a practical purpose.
So why would anyone want to visit one?
Well… In some cases those sculls and bones have been used for decoration! And that includes chandeliers made of skulls and bones! In most cases this kind of decor aims to transmit the message that life is vain and transitory or what’s known as memento mori. What do you mean it’s morbid? Religion says so! 😀
These are the examples of San Bernardino alle Ossa in Milan, the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic, the Convento de San Francisco in Lima, the Capela dos Ossos in Evora, Portugal and the Capuchin Crypt in Rome.
The ossuary of the Catacombs of Paris is not as elaborate in decoration and is more practical in its purpose. Nevertheless, it is very impressive to see the remains of more than 6 million people under the ground, in what is probably the largest grave in the world!
Other times the skulls are put together to make a memorial for mass deaths or sacrifices, like the Skull Tower in Nišm, Serbia, the Killing Fields in Cambodia or the memorial of the dead at the Arkadi Monastery in Rethymno, Greece.
Relics are the physical remains or the personal effects of a saint or any venerated person, which are preserved for purposes of veneration as a tangible memorial. It’s a common phenomenon in all major religions, but it doesn’t have to be related to religion necessarily.
The reason a relic can be an attraction is usually religion or ideology related. But sometimes something special can turn a religious/spiritual attraction to a touristic one. For instance, there are these very few relics of Catholic martyrs that have been decorated with jewels! Found mostly in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, these bejewelled skeletons of saints of Catholicism are hard to ignore. Personally, I can’t help but stare at them and their details! I could never imagine myself as the relic decorator though! Could you? 😀
5. The Island of the Dolls
The Isla de las Muñecas (Island of the Dolls) in Xochimilco, Mexico belonged to a man named Julián Santana Barrera. According to the legend, he discovered a little girl drowned in mysterious circumstances in the canals. He also found a doll floating nearby and, assuming it belonged to the girl, he hung it from a tree as a sign of respect. Driven by fear, he spent the next 50 years hanging more and more dolls all over the island in an attempt to appease the drowned girl’s spirit.
After his death in 2001, the island became a (quite creepy and morbid) tourist attraction and now visitors bring their own dolls and hang them on the trees! Imagine wandering around this place at night!
6. Ground zero of the atomic bombings in Japan & Chernobyl Exclusion Zone
The atomic bombings in Japan and the nuclear accident in Chernobyl had a huge impact in the life in those places. In the case of Japan, life had to start from zero and in Ukraine it stood still on the day of the accident! A lot of people died and many have suffered the consequences until today. So, despite their sad history, it’s very fascinating to visit places like these. And very educational, too.
7. Popular suicide spots
Let’s clarify something: The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is an example of a very popular suicide spot, but that’s not where it got its popularity from! The same applies for many similar sights (e.g. the Niagara Falls and the Eiffel Tower).
Another place with breathtaking geology that tops the lists of places worldwide for people who want to put an end to their life is Beachy Head in England. The winds can be very strong if you walk along the edge of the cliffs and on a misty day the place can look like it came straight out of the set of a horror movie!
8. Torture Museums & Dungeons
Travelling the world I realised there’s a museum for pretty much anything, so I was not surprised when I found out that torture museums exist in different places! These museums typically exhibit instruments of torture (obviously!) and provide tutorials on the history of torture and its use in human society. The most famous one must be the Torture Museum in Amsterdam.
Most of these museums specialise in medieval tortures (there’s a few in Germany) and some of the most famous ones have the shape of a dungeon! Who hasn’t heard of the London Dungeon? The Mdina Dungeon in Malta is also located in a perfect setting, the beautiful medieval old town of Mdina! And I cannot turn a blind eye on their website! It’s so 25 years ago, it would be more up to date carved in stone! 😀
9. The death beds of royals
They come in different shapes and forms:
- It can be the actual bed a member of the royalty died in (like the one of Louis XIV at the Palace of Versailles),
- the bed a royal was planning on using as a death bed (like the one of Queen Anne of Great Britain, who died elsewhere) or even
- just the painting of one (like the different paintings of Napoleon in his death bed around the world).
They attract tourists who want to catch a glimpse of the place where the kings and queens spent their last moments alive! Morbid for some, fascinating for others!
10. Concentration camps & places of mass execution
In the same spirit with the torture museums, but one step further, are the concentration camps of the Nazi regime. Dachau and Auschwitz need no introductions. Other ones can be found mainly in Germany and Poland.
Sites of mass execution can also be found in Germany, but in other places as well, e.g. Kobrin, Belarus.
These places are not pleasant to visit, but we have to remind ourselves of the mistakes of humanity and learn as much as we can, so they don’t get repeated.
Do you have any morbid attractions to add on the list? I’m sure there’s plenty more out there, so feel free to share!