Dark Tourism, Interrail style

For this post, we chose a  very atmospheric image from Rome’s Colosseum by Instagrammer @connormalt. Makes ya think … what was it like back in the day, before a tournament, standing in the shadows, the crowds roaring beyond the walls, waiting to fight. to die.

And if that’s got ya thinking, here’s our top recommendations for those dark tourists amongst you, interested in travelling to places historically associated with death and tragedy.

The Colosseum

From the bloody deaths of the Colosseum to the Inquisition, there must be a ghost or two knocking about the dark side of the sprawling Italian capital right?  Like a real life Hunger Games, humans and animals died horrifying deaths at the Colosseum, for the amusement of the masses. In fact, some estimates say that over 500,000 people and 9,000 animals were slain here.

And, according to legend, those deaths have left a mark with reports of screams, ghosts and even the odd spectral figure in the stairs and tunnels below the arena floor. Some even report the faint echoing of a cheering crowd, baying for blood. Adding weight to the legend, the labyrinth underground area is strangely always cold, even in the sweltering heat of the Italian summer. Strange no?

And that’s just the beginning of course. If you really want to savour all the ghostly and creepy goings on in this ancient metropolis consider one of the Rome night-time ghost tours. As the sun sets on those cobble stoned streets and gorgeous piazzas, you will be guided around areas infamous for grisly murders, dastardly deeds and ghostly shenanigans.

The Paris Catacombs

No dark tourism post is complete without a mention of the Paris catacombs💀😱💀💀💀💀💀

Perhaps the most famous European ossuary (definition: a container or room in which the bones of dead people are placed), the Paris catacombs are a network of tunnels, caves and quarries 20 metres underground – and home to the remains of some six million people.

While some of the catacombs are open to tours, entry is barred to other areas. Nonetheless, some urban explorers known as Cataphiles have been illegally exploring those no-go areas, with activities from a secret cinema to bars and restaurants secretly going on under the city’s streets.

Oradour-sur-Glane, France.

In June 1944, the village of Oradour-sur-Glane in Haute-Vienne, France, was destroyed, when 642 of its inhabitants were massacred by a German Waffen-SS company.

It is believed that, after the D-Day invasion of Normandy, Oradour-sur-Glane was sealed off by the German battalion, following rumours that an SS officer was being held prisoner in the area. As collective punishment, residents of the village were ordered to assemble in the village square to have their identity papers examined, but instead, hundreds were massacred in a machine gun attack.

A new village was built nearby after the war, but French president Charles de Gaulle ordered the original maintained as a permanent memorial and museum.

A sign above the entrance to the martyred village reads “Souviens-Toi” — “Remember.”

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum

KL Auschwitz was the largest of the German Nazi concentration camps and extermination centers. Over 1.1 million men, women and children lost their lives here. Now a standing symbol to the horror of the Holocaust, the memorial and museum consists of two German concentration camps – Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau.

Auschwitz I was the main camp, which was established in a former Polish barracks and housed from 15,000 to over 20,000 prisoners at various points.

Here you will walk through the famous gates, bearing that memorable German phrase “Arbeit macht frei” meaning “work sets you free” and into what, at first glance, seems like nothing more than a well kept military base perhaps. But there is a bigger, more terrible history within those walls.

Here, at the first camp, you will find the main exhibitions, housed in the thick, brick buildings. Here the true story can be found through the heart wrenching themes and displays – torture, medical experimentation, starvation, extermination, small mountains of personal belongings (shoes, glasses, suitcases), human hair, used to make socks and other items. It can be difficult viewing – but perhaps necessary to understand the true extent of life there. Each name, each belonging, each picture tells a story.

Just a few kilometres away is Auschwitz II-Birkenau, the largest part of the complex. In 1944, this site held over 90,000 prisoners. The greater part of the apparatus of mass extermination was built in Birkenau and the majority of the victims were murdered here.

Expect to see rows upon rows of one storey prison barracks – more than you can imagine – extending into the bleak distance. Expect to see grey walls emblazoned with Nazi commands, decrepit wooden bunks, high wire fences, the ground soggy and damp. Here you will also find the remains of the crematoriums and gas chambers, destroyed by the Nazis in an attempt to cover their atrocities. Perhaps most harrowing of all, however, is the entrance – the death gate, through which trains transported prisoners to the camp for their final days and hours.

Auschwitz-Birkenau is not an easy visit but one which will stay with you forever.

Many tourists visit the memorial and museum from a base in the city of Krakow, but it is actually in Oświęcim, Poland – around 37 miles west of Krakow (there are lots of day trips from the city available).

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