For those who are unfamiliar with the term, “dark tourism” refers to visiting sites associated with grief, tragedy, or death. While some people may debate the ethics of visiting these types of sites, they often provide educational, enlightening, and even life-changing experiences for those who do. When I was in Munich, Germany, I took a day trip to see Dachau Concentration Camp (shown right) and learned a lot about the site and the Holocaust in general that I had not known before. While it wasn’t an easy experience, I did see the value of visiting such a site for the awareness factor as well as to stop these past tragedies from happening again.
Although dark tourism first gained prominence between the 18th and 19th centuries, the interest in these types of sites is still growing. Here are some new dark tourism sites open all over the world, as well as some that have garnered an integral status throughout the years.
Napoleonland, which will be created to honor military leader and politician Napoleon Bonaparte, is expected to be completed by 2017. It will be a theme park that will include shops, museums, hotels, and restaurants. While this may sound fun, the site of the attraction will reside on the very spot where Napoleon’s troops fought and defeated the Austrian army about 200 years ago. A water show resembling the Battle of Trafalgar, a ski run containing the frozen bodies of dead soldiers, a re-creation of Louis XVI literally losing his head on the guillotine, and other war-related and morbid interactive exhibits will all be featured.Singapore Bomb Shelter
The Singapore Bomb Shelter, believed to be the last of island-country’s bomb shelters, opened at the end of 2011 to visitors. To help commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Singapore as well as raise awareness about Singapore’s war history, the National Heritage Board is leading tours of the shelter. During WWII air raids, this 1,500 square meter space was used as protection for about 100 people. Until now it has been hidden from the public, and for the most part is still in its original condition.
National September 11 Memorial and Museum
As a reminder of the worst terrorist attack ever to hit United States’ soil, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum opened to the public in September, 2011. The memorial and museum resides at the site of the former World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan and honors the nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives on that tragic day in 2001. The memorial section contains two acre-sized reflecting pools that sit where the Twin Towers once stood, as well as the biggest man-made waterfall on the continent. Moreover, bronze panels list the names of all those who lost their lives in the 1993 and 2001 World Trade Center attacks. While the museum section is not open yet, it will include exhibitions such as a look at the events leading up to the disaster, portraits of those who lost their lives, the architectural history of the buildings, and more.
Robben Island is a museum and World Heritage Site that opened to the public in 1997. Now South Africa’s most popular tourist attraction, it was once an apartheid-era maximum security prison that held some of history’s most well-known political leaders, like Nelson Mandela, who spent twenty years on the island, and current deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe. Visitors can experience tours of the facilities, precinct attractions like a Muslin Shrine and a museum shop, watch educational videos, and speak with a former political prisoner.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is a memorial to those who lost their lives during the U.S. nuclear bomb attack in 1945. While more than 140,000 died when the bomb hit the city, thousands more were killed in the aftermath, including 80,000 lost lives three days later in the Nagasaki atomic attack. The park was opened in 1954 on a field that was created from the bomb explosion. Dozens of monuments and tombs are erected throughout, some of which include the Peace Clock Tower (shown right), which chimes daily at 8:15 to remember the time when the world saw its first atomic bomb, the Peace Bell, a symbol of “spiritual and cultural movement”, and the Flame of Peace, which “expresses condolence for victims unable to satisfy their thirst for water, as well as the desire for nuclear abolition and enduring world peace”.
Choeng Ek Killing Fields & Security Office 21
The Choeng Ek Killing Fields and Security Office 21 (S-21) were once areas of extreme tragedy during the Khmer Rouge reign of terror. Once a peaceful village, Choeng Ek was transformed into violent killing fields. Moreover, S-21 was actually a high school that was converted into a center for interrogation, torture, and murder, with only seven of the 14,000 who entered surviving. During this time the Khmer Rouge actually took careful notes and took almost 6,000 photographs, which can be seen during a visit to the site.
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, is home to one of the most iconic battlefields in the United States as well as a rich but tragic history. The Battle of Gettysburg was the Civil War’s bloodiest battle, with over 51,000 lives lost. It was also the motivator of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, as well as a turning point in the war that stopped General E. Lee’s aggressive northern invasion. In November, 1863, President Lincoln officially dedicated Soldiers’ National Cemetery and, with more than 1.5 million annual visitors to Gettysburg Military Park, the city is an extremely popular tourist destination.
Slave Castles of Cape Coast, Ghana
In Cape Coast, Ghana, there are two well-known slave castles that bring visitors back to the time of the Atlantic Slave Trade, Cape Coast Castle and Elmina Castle. Guided tours offer visitors the chance to learn about and see the dungeons where slaves were kept in inhumane conditions as well as the Door of No Return (Cape Coast Castle), which was the gateway to a life of slavery in the west.