Traveller’s confession: I’m a dark tourist, so I’m interested in death

I’ll keep you a bit more in a climate of All Soul’s and tell you about my fascination about the dark side of tourism. I am a dark tourist, what means I’m interested in things related to death, tragedy, passing.

I know what you’re thinking – she’s crazy. Well, I’ve never considered myself as a normal person. I always choose my own way. But let’s be honest – we all have some of your oddities. I prefer dark themes, I like visiting some catacombs from time to time.

Of course it is not that I read for example about Auschwitz and I think “oh, what an awesome place, I have to go there!” No, not like that. I do not think that such places are awesome and visiting them is not very pleasant for me, but I’m doing it and I want to. That some form of masochism.

dark tourist
catacombs in Paris, source: Adam Baker, flickr.com

Why I do this? To gain greater sensitivity and humility to human suffering? I think it can be explained so. Or to condemn those who inflict suffering. Or to simply learn the history, because every travel (including to such places) is the best form of learning. Those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it, wrote the philosopher and poet George Santayana.

Or is it related to my interest in psychology, which deals with the mechanisms and laws that govern the human psyche and behavior? And then I usually wonder how is it possible that someone can just make other people suffer, and he do not bear any mental or emotional consequences (sic!), has he no conscience or what? Or I wonder how much is scarred psyche of the victims who survived the hell of knowing that they can die in a moment.

Usually we read or hear about the war, about a human tragedy in the world, the terrible disaster that killed tens of thousands of human beings, and then it ends, we think in our secure European hole “now it’s good, the tsunami / genocide / assassination happened 10 years ago, wow, it’s been 10 years already!, how the time flies !, and I’m really deeper in this topic, I immerse myslef in it, I put down the roots of inquisitiveness and know that even if one year, 10 years or a lifetime passes, the fear, the shock, the nightmare will be still sitting in the man and will eat him from the inside.

That is why I go to the places of suffering and death – to understand that the man who lived such a hell will never get over it on his own.

Or maybe there is no particular reason? Maybe I just go there because I go?

dark tourist
in Kutna Hora, the Czech Republic

My interest in the didn’t came all of the sudden. I remember that I have been the most absorbed with everything that could contain even a small element of death for ever.

In the mythologies of ancient civilizations, the believe in afterlife was the most exciting for me. It is from the Greek god and personification of death Thanatos (yes, Thanatos, not Hades, Hades wasn’t the god of death but the master of the world of dead) that thanatourism took its name.

And because of this peculiar interest I brought a souvenir from Egypt 12 years ago – a stone statue of Anubis, the god of mummification and the afterlife.

Calm down, I don’t collect skulls or other gruesome souvenirs. This is not the kind of fascination.

I’m also not fascinated in some cheap shocking stories, which media feed us with. In general, I don’t watch the news (we do not have a TV), don’t listen to them on the radio. And I read only on foreign sites like BBC or Al-Jazeera. Tabloids don’t exist for me.

My interest in death is more sophisticated.

Primarily related to the history and culture.

I’m intrigued in topics such as the war in Europe, so sometimes I visit some battlefields (the battlefield of Verdun impressed me the most, where are still the trenches from World War I, but for almost 100 years they’ve become completely overgrown by forest) or I love to read and and watch the pictures of the devastation of war during World War II (I could talk for hours about Warsaw and Berlin).

I like different types of cemeteries, catacombs and bone chapels. Mainly because I’m curious about motivation for designing it in a particular way. Such a place is a Chapel of Skulls in Kutna Hora in the Czech Republic, in which the bones of 40-70 thousands of victims of the plague and various wars have been used to make the interior of the chapel, like the coat of arms of the Schwarzenberg family, chandelier or cup.

Or prisons like the Tower of London and Conciergerie in Paris, where Marie Antoinette was kept before decapitation.

There are also plenty of other places that I have not yet visited, but I would like, for example Auschwitz, Chernobyl, Ground Zero in New York City, a school in Murambi in Rwanda, where 20 years ago a Tutsi genocide happened.

I do not like to use the word “I would like” in the context of thanatourism, but there is no other, which could be used, as all the synonyms of the word “want”, that comes to my mind, relate rather to the enjoyment. I lie on a chaise lounge, someone waves over my head with a big fan of feathers, and I say dreamily, “My lord, I would like to visit a museum of genocide!”

No. No. NO.

No, but something pulls me there. And sooner or later I will see these places.

dark tourist
cemetery in Lviv

While undoubtedly this type of “attractions” arouse much controversy. I can say for myself why I visit those places but what you can say about a bunch of kids on a school trip? Visiting Auschwitz and watching all those shoes, glasses, dentures. Apparently it is written in the rules of the museum that due to seriousness of this place, it should be respected but… I mean certainly all the kids cannot be put in one sack, but for sure there will be among them some people who can not respect the tragedy of the place.

And so it is everywhere, and everywhere will always be someone who is looking for sensation. It does not regard only the places associated with death, but also of religion. I witnessed a couple of Asians in the cathedral Duomo in Milan doing a photo kneeling on the bench, laying their hands as if in prayer, lips like for a kiss and blinking eye playfully.

And it is sad that such cattle is admitted to places that have some meaning for other people.

But I have my own philosophy and in the first place for me is to respect the feelings of others. If I visit a church, mosque, temple I try to remember that people come here to pray. The fact that I do not go to the church every Sunday, does not relieve me of the obligation to respect the religious feelings of others.

If I visit a place associated with death, the words “rest in peace” are not just an empty slogan for me, but I try not to disturb the peace. I come to satisfy my curiosity, and not to be a star.

Admitting to otherness and originality requires courage. So yes, I admit out loud – I’m a dark tourist and I’m interested in death. I also have some other strange interests and habits in my account, such as reading the Bible as a great novel about the adventures of Jesus (yes, I call it that way), reading history books, listen to classical music while writing new posts and others, which I will tell you about another time.

And you? Are you a dark tourist too? Or maybe you are, but you don’t know it? Do you explore cemeteries and other places associated with death sometimes? Or maybe you have some other strange hobbies? Share them with us in the comments below!

3 comments

  1. Love this post! I most definitely am too, it’s so fascinating and really opens your eyes and your mind! Whilst I studied my tourism degree I wrote several papers on the subject!

  2. Not everything has a peachy history and darker places are very interesting to visit if not exactly pleasant. The Tower of London, like you said, was a prison but now it’s a humongous tourist attraction and the WW1 poppies they’ve planted make it so beautiful

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