Considering I’ve been running this blog and website dedicated solely to dark tourism for just over three years now, it may come as a surprise that this was my first trip to what I would classify as a ‘darker destination’. Though I’ve had a keen interest in the subject since studying it and then writing my dissertation on it at university, I’ve never had much of an opportunity to visit many of the places I write about on this website. As well as this, it’s a belief that one should visit these destinations out of interest for each individual site, not as a checklist of morbid monuments around the globe. This particular location gained my interest as soon as I learnt about it whilst researching ‘dark tourism’ for my university work; a church garnished in the remains of over 40,000 plague victims, arranged in chandeliers, candelabras and intricate shields, Sedlec Ossuary had me intrigued from the first photo.
Catching a flight from London Luton to Prague on a dark October evening was just the beginning of my travels to check out Sedlec Ossuary, a small but absolutely fascinating ossuary, situated about an hour’s train journey from Prague in Kutna Hora. Once I’d settled down in Prague and spent my first night in a simple but charming apartment situated some ten minutes walk to the Old Town Square, I spent my first day exploring the city by foot and taking in as much as I could possibly fit within one day. By the second day I had developed a limp. Now I could continue to talk about all the wonderful sights, attractions and beer that Prague has to offer, but I’ll save that for another time, we’re here to talk about the Sedlec Ossuary.
Getting to Kutna Hora, whilst certainly not ‘easy’, was far from intimidating. Arriving at Praha hl.n, the main train station of Prague, is a relatively straightforward job. Walk through the main entrances, continue past the shops, metro and tram services and find yourself presented with a row of ticket booths with English speaking attendants, who were able to help me out after I flashed my phone in their face whilst repeatedly mispronouncing ‘Kutna Hora‘. I cannot for the life of me remember the exact ticket price, nor did I keep the ticket as a souvenir, but I can without a shadow of a doubt tell you that it was cheap. I believe that the return ticket I bought was somewhere between £3 – £4, possibly a fiver at a push, but nothing compared to the cost of UK rail fares. After missing one train by about two minutes, quite likely due to the amount of delicious Czech beer I’d had the night before, I had to wait for the next one although fortunately this service runs every hour.
Once on the train, I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of space I had to myself. It was a busy service, full of locals, tourists and guided tours. Fortunately I’d managed to find myself a seat and settled down with a book for what would be a good hour long journey through some (admittedly rather mediocre) Czech landscapes. I had already looked up train times via iDNES.cz website and so knew when my train would be arriving rather than anxiously looking out the window and reading station signs. I can tell you now that the train journey was largely unremarkable, with quite pretty scenes to look at but unfortunately did not differ from the typical English countryside views I am use to. There were a couple of towns to pass and if you’re in to your architecture (I think every visitor to Prague becomes a fan of architecture once there!) then there’s definitely some stuff to catch your eye.
Once arriving at the train station, you take a journey underneath the tracks and are presented with a roughly twenty minute walk in to the ‘center’ of this small and seemingly peaceful town. This is so far removed from the hustle and bustle of Prague and does make an excellent ‘breather’ to the city trip. Following the other gaggle of tourists, I made my way towards the town and passed many a roadwork site with men who didn’t seem to be doing too much road work, though it was around lunch time so I won’t pass judgement too quickly. Following Google Maps on my phone had made exploring Prague, and now Kutna Hora, so much easier and I would recommend it highly to anybody whose network operator is kind enough to provide free or cheap data roaming.
After following the map and walking for roughly twenty minutes; there it was, right in front of me, the church and ossuary that I had spent so much time reading about, looking through all the photos of, reading the reviews – and it was right there, and it was rather small. That is not to say that it wasn’t as impressive or as fascinating as I had imagined it to be, but in my head it was bigger. I took a stroll around the tastefully decorated surrounding cemetery whilst more builders seemed to be doing work to the outside of the church. Once inside, boy does it hit you.
From the outside looking in, it looks rather unremarkable; a plainly (but admittedly quite quaint) looking building presents itself as nothing remarkable. A small brown tourist sign and a information map is about all that shows that this is the intricately decorated burial grounds for between 40,000 – 70,000 people. Once you get in through the door though, it’s quite a wow factor. Straight away you are presented with an intricate and artistic arrangement of skulls and bones above the stairs leading down, where you can already see that this is just a taster.
It is truly remarkable the amount of work that has gone in to this place, every corner you look there is an intricately arranged collection of skeletons and skulls. The larger and less decorated piles of bones are equally as impressive as some of the smaller and more artful pieces. When I went, the ossuary was quiet and I could explore the small chapel at my own pace with no fear of ruining somebody’s holiday snaps. In case you were wondering, this place was not visited solely by those with a taste for the morbid and dressed in black; there was a plethora of tourist types, with several other solo travelers like myself, as well as a couple of guided tours and some families too.
The story of this small ossuary starts in 1278 when the King of Bohemia sent the abbot of the Sedlec Cistercian Monastery to Jerusalem. The abbot returned with a jar of “holy soil” and soon people from all over desired to be buried in the cemetery and an expansion was soon needed. In the 15th century, a Gothic church was put up near the cemetery and the basement was built as an ossuary. They stayed there until 1870 when a woodcarver named Frantisek Rint was appointed to create some order and structure to the collection of bones. Well some may say that he became a little overenthusiastic in his new position and hence created this morbidly marvelous and truly unique display of human remains.
Truly a fascinating place that is definitely worthwhile visiting, it is actually one of the top attractions within the Czech Republic with an estimated 200,000+ tourists arriving every year, and hopefully this brief post will potentially get you to visit. The entrance cost is extremely modest at around 60CSK (3ish Euros) and more information can be found on the official website, including a little more on it’s history and practical information on how to get there. Below is a gallery with all the photos I took whilst there, they were taken with my smartphone and so may not be the greatest quality but they should give you a good idea.
Click to view slideshow.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post and I hope that I’ve encouraged somebody out there to go and visit this most unusual of tourist attractions. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to visit some more ‘darker destinations’ over the next couple of years, with a particular interest in ossuaries, so do follow the blog and come back to see where I’ve been to next. As always, if you like what I write about then please follow the page on Facebook where I post regular updates daily; all the support is hugely appreciated as this website is ran only by myself, purely out of interest for the subject and unfortunately on a rather tight budget. Until next time, thank you for reading.
Ireland’s “Alcatraz”; Spike Island, has been named as Europe’s best tourist attraction at the 2017 World Travel Awards. In a move that has definitely raised a few eyebrows, Spike Island, commonly referred to as The Alcatraz of Ireland, won the best in category for Europoean Tourisrt Attraction, beating out competitors including the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Buckingham Palace in London, the Acropolis of Athens and the Colosseum of Rome.
The island measures around 42 hectares and was built around the 18th century star-shaped Fort Mitchell, which once served as a defensive output and later turned in to a prison. In the 1850s, there were over 2,300 inmates with many later to be transported to Australia.
Read more: The Telegraph
Ursula Haverbeck, an 88 year old Holocaust denier, has been sentenced for six months in prison at a court in Berlin. Haverbeck said that the case against her was incomprehensible, although she has previously been charged with Holocaust denial for the content of several articles in the magazine Voice of the Reich. The Nazi grandmother also disputed the facts that 1.1 million people were killed at the concentration camps in Poland and stating that it was simply ‘not true’ that there were gas chambers at the Auschwitz death camp.
Holocaust denial in Germany carries a custodial sentence of us to five years and although she has been charged with this before, she has not previously served jail time because her cases are still undergoing the appeals process.
Read more: The Metro
Dark Tourism may have just seen a little spike in interest thanks to an unlikely source. This month, the multimedia and national outlet known well within the UK’s student population, Lad Bible, posted a video exploring “Skull Island“, otherwise known as Trunyan, a Balinese village in Indonesia. This video shows a group of travellers getting to the island which can only be reached by boat and provides a fascinating insight into the life and funeral traditions locally. It also gives a great story about how the island came to be and how it centres around a deliciously scented tree.
SS Lazio, a football team based in Rome, have been discovered to be leaving racist and anti-semitic messages during their recent match with Cagliari Calcio. The supporters had already been forced to change stands due to racist chanting during the match. In a move hoping to tackle racism within the club, president of the club, Claudio Lotito said:
“Today I can officially announce that Lazio will partake in a new annual initiative, organising an annual trip to Auschwitz for 200 Lazio fans to educate and make sure we don’t forget certain episodes, so that these lads can know what it is we’re talking about,” said Lotito.
“There are no racist images in the Curva today, in the past there were banners and flags which left no room for interpretation.”
Well whether this will make any real impact is anyone’s guess, but at the very least the president of the club is recognising the issues and making a very public statement. Although the numbers are small, 200 fans a year is still better than none, although it’s doubtful that one visit to the former concentration camp will tear away all their ignorance and racist ideologies.
Read more: 90MIN & L’Espresso
Sweden‘s concerns are growing after packs of radioactive wild boar have been sighted moving north across the country, with one animal being shot by hunters having been found to have more than 10 times the safe level of radiation. Even 31 years after the Chernobyl disaster, these high levels of radiation are still being found in the surrounding wildlife and has made hunters in the area afraid to kill and eat the animals.
Ulf Frykman, who works as an environmental consultant, issued an alert this month to local hunters in the country of Gävle, around 100 miles north of Stockholm, warning of “extremely high” radiation levels among local boar. After testing an animal in Tärnsjö with a radiation level of 16,000 becquerel per kilogram (Bq/kg). They then sampled 30 boar and only six were found to be below the safe limit of 1,500 Bg/kg. As the soil in the surrounding areas, and in particular Tärnsjö, are so highly contaminated, this problem is only thought to get worse before it gets any better.
Read more: The Telegraph
That’s all for this month’s round up, as we’ve said before please make sure to follow the Facebook page to see our regular updates, normally around two news stories per day. You can also find us on Instagram and Twitter. If you have any news suggestions or would like to write an article for the site, please feel free to drop us an email.
In a very interesting turn of events, a judge in Belgium has been served a seemingly fit sentence for his crimes. Laurent Louis, a far-right politician and self-proclaimed “anti-Zionist,” has been ordered to tour the concentration camps and write about his experience at each one. Laurent Louis was initially served a roughly $20,000 fine and a six-month suspended prison sentence, however the prison sentence was replaced with this clever initiative instead. For the next five years he must visit a concentration camp, including Auschwitz, and write ’50 lines’ on his trip. Now this is dark tourism done correctly!
Read more at Stars and Stripes
In what can only be described as a ‘really?’, the infamous Fyre Festival that almost caused a humanitarian crisis last year when their organisation of a festival turned to tatters; leaving festival goers stranded and starved, has returned! This time though, they’re obviously looking to grab more headlines by announcing that the next three annual Fyre Festival’s will take place exclusively in; Pyongyang, North Korea; Chernobyl, Ukraine; and Guantanamo Bay – of course they are! At the moment that’s all there is to report, but this is one to pay close attention to as it melts in to a disastrous pot of a disorganised and reckless company trying to jump on the dark tourism trend.
Read more at Digital Music News
In an ignorant and shocking move, several high schoolers from Ort Rogozin high school in Migdal HaEmek, Israel; have grafitti’d on a wall with the date of their visit; August 27, 2017, on the Block 25 wall in Birkenau alongside the name of their school and a drawing of a Star of David. One of the students told Ynet news:
“Like all of the kids in our year, I too am shocked and regret what happened. We denounce this kind of behavior. None of us even knew about this. I can assure you that if any of us had seen this, it wouldn’t have happened.” … “merely wanted to leave his mark, show pride of his delegation. I’m sure he understands the enormity of his mistake and the importance of the site.”
Of course that’s not going to let them off the hook and several investigations are now under way. Unfortunately this is just another sign that dark tourism isn’t being managed correctly enough; with both tour planners and tourists lacking adequate information and context.
Read more at Ynet News
Graves at the site of the only Nazi concentration camp on the British isles could potentially be destroyed next year due to a major energy initiative between France and the UK. The Alderney Concentration Camp Complex on the British Isles included two labour camps and two concentration camps. French, Jewish and Russian inmates were kept there with hundreds dying throughout the war. According to an archaeological report that was leaked to the Sunday Times, a planned-link up between the British and French energy grids, via the camp, has already “severely damaged” the main burial ground for prisoners on the island due to drilling.
Unfortunately, this again shows the mismanagement of dark tourism sites, particularly here in the United Kingdom where education about the Holocaust still remains arguably poor. It will be a shame if these graves are damaged and disrespected and not allowed to serve their purpose as a reminder.
Read more at The Jewish Chronicle
That’s all for this month’s edition. Make sure to follow the Facebook page to see the regular updates and pop back next month for another edition of the Dark Tourism Monthly!]]>
A team of researchers have located the wreckage of the USS Indianapolis, the WWII heavy cruiser that had a crucial role to play in the Hiroshima atomic bombing before being hit by Japanese torpedoes. The sinking of the USS Indianapolis still remains the US Navy’s single worst loss at sea, with almost 900 of the crew killed and only 316 survivors.
The expedition found the wreckage on the floor of the North Pacific Ocean more than 18,000 feet below the surface. It was discovered by Research Vessel Petrel which is owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The US Navy have said that a key finding occurred in 2016 when Richard Hulver, a historian with the Naval History and Heritage Command decided on a new search area after identifying a naval landing craft that has recorded a sighting of the USS Indianapolis a day before it sank. Here’s what he had to say about discovering the wreckage:
“To be able to honour the brave men of the USS Indianapolis and their families through the discovery of a ship that played such a significant role in ending the Second World War is truly humbling,” Mr Allen said. “As Americans, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the crew for their courage, persistence and sacrifice in the face of horrendous circumstances.”
The navy have said that the 13 person expedition team on the Research Vessel Petrel was surveying the site and their work has been compliant with the US law regarding a sunken warship as a grave not to be disturbed. The wrecked ship remains the property of the navy and it’s location is both restricted and confidential.
The USS Indianapolis was carrying 1,196 sailors and marines on the Phillipine Sea between Guam and Leyte Gulf when two torpedoes from a Japanese submarine struck the ship on the 30th of July 1945. It sank in an astonishing twelve minutes killing around 300 on board. Survivors were left in the water, many with only a life jacket, and as there was no time to send a distress signal, it was a grueling four days before a bomber on a patrol spotted the sailors. Unfortunately, by the time that the rescue mission arrived, the mix of dehydration, drowning, exposure and constant shark attacks has left only a quarter of the ship’s crew alive.
It has been featured in a variety of media since, including a reference in Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster “Jaws” where the captain recounts of his horrors after the sinking; as well as very recently with 2016’s USS Indianapolis: Men Of Courage starring Nicholas Cage.
Since, numerous books have told of it’s vital role in delivering components of what would soon become the atomic bomb “Little Boy” which was being built on the island of Tinian, the departure point for the bomber Enola Gay’s mission to Hiroshima in August 1945. Alongside the “Fat Man” dropped on Nagasaki, “Little Boy” forced the surrender of Japan and the end of the Second World War.
Read more at The Scotsman.
A campaign has been launched to ensure the restoration and upkeep of the infamous ‘stretcher fences’ that were once used to carry wounded civilians during the Blitz. Although not terribly well know, many estates in London including; Peckham, Brixton, Deptford, Oval and East London, feature these unique and historical fences.
This is a particularly interesting story because it remains largely unknown to the public, despite over 600,000 stretchers being produced! You can find out a lot more information and how to help by visiting the official website Stretcher Railings here.
Read more at the Evening Standard.
In a desperate bid to wash it’s hands of history, Ukraine has decided to remove any Soviet-era statues and monuments in every village, town and city controlled by Kiev. It is a direct result of the law created by President Petro Poroshenko in May 2015.
What is important in this story, is whether it’s the right thing to do. This story really resonates with the theme of ‘dark tourism’ as a whole; should we preserve the parts of history we’d rather not be reminded of? Would it have been fair to completely bulldoze Auschwitz-Birkenau ? Is this different, not because it is a memorial but because it is a tyrannical figure? Far too much could be written about this issue but we’d love to know your opinion; should statues and monuments be removed in a bid to, essentially what is; ‘rewrite history’ – this also resonates with current political feelings in the United States of America.
Read more at The Epoch Times
Holocaust survivor Arek Hersh is to be honoured with a sculpture created by Frances Segelman in Leeds on October 1st 2017. The artist is responsible for sculpturing the busts of The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales, as well as celebrities like Joanna Lumley, Boris Johnson and Sir Steven Redgrave. The polish-born Auschwitz survivor says he only got through because he ‘hopped’ from the line for the ‘weak’ to the line for the ‘fit’. He was honoured with an MBE in 2009 for his services to holocaust education.
Read more at Jewish News Online
You definitely read that right, making it’s debut this year is the Chernobyling festival; a collection of local artists, musicians and survivors celebrating and commemorating all things Chernobyl. You can find out all about this extremely interesting festival on their website here.
Many reports have come in regarding Mr Yisrael Kristal, an Auschwitz survivor and allegedly the ‘world’s oldest man’ (though we cannot confirm this, Guiness World Records apparently recognize him as such). This is an absolutely heartbreaking story of tragedy and courage in the face of absolute defeat. Yisrael Kristal was taken to the concentration camp alongside his wife and two children, but he was the sole survivor when he was eventually found by the allies weighing in at a shocking 5st 11lb. Definitely worth reading more about this truly courageous man, not many could have done what he has done.
Read more at Dey There, BBC News and Haaretz.
Of course that’s not all, but it’s all we can fit in to our monthly round-up of dark tourism news. If you’re interested in the subject, make sure to follow us on Facebook where we post twice a day Monday through Saturday. If you enjoy the content, please like and share to family and friends. This website is run by one individual on a tight budget and so any and all help you can give to grow our audience is very much appreciated. Also of note, if you already follow us on Facebook, please follow the steps below to make sure you always see our posts (Facebook have been tinkering with their settings and this means that you may not see all of our interesting daily posts!):
Click on the little arrow next to ‘Following’ and then select ‘See first’. This will ensure you always see our posts whenever we update and it will also help us out by growing the reach of our audience and for that we are thankful.]]>
In what seems to be a story still unfolding and developing, an Israeli student named Rotem Bides, a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, appears to have stolen several items from Auschwitz for an art project. Defending herself, Rotem Bides told the Yedioth Ahronoth:
“I felt it was something I had to do. Millions of people were murdered based on the moral laws of a certain country, under a certain regime. And if these are the laws, I can go there and act according to my own laws. The statement I’m making here is that laws are determined by humans, and that morality is something that changes from time to time and from culture to culture.
“These are the things I want to deal with. I am a third generation to the Holocaust, but I’m not saying I’m allowed to do it because my grandfather was in Auschwitz. I’m simply asking the questions. I’m concerned that after all the survivors are gone, the Holocaust will turn into a myth, something that cannot be perceived.”
Now whether that at all justifies what she has done is not up for discussion, however The Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial certainly did not think so, providing a statement of their own:
“It’s painful and outrageous. The Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial is a protected site that stands as testimony of the tragedy of the Holocaust and World War II, which should be preserved for the next generations. It’s hard to imagine theft being justified in any way, even through art, which can be seen as an attempt to gain publicity,”
However, it should be noted that a more recent story regarding this has come out which states that Rotem Bides did not actually steal any object from within the camp itself, merely collecting items from the surrounding area. She has since told Jewish Telegraphic Agency the following:
“The student said her words were taken out of context by the journalists who interviewed her and that they put words in her mouth,” the management of the college said in a statement, Haaretz reported.
“The student sent a letter of clarification to the college management, stating she had committed nothing criminal like stealing and apologizing to anyone offended by the report the college decided to allow her to present her final project at the exhibition. Also, the college will send a letter to the Auschwitz museum to clear up any misunderstanding caused by the erroneous report,” the statement also said.
It had been decided that the exhibition would go ahead as planned, despite the active and continuing controversy, on July 26th. It also contained a letter from the author explaining her creative process.
Read More @ The Independent / Jewish Telgraphic Agency / The Guardian
In equally shocking, but unfortunately not as surprising, news; comes the revelation that several companies have been under investigation for ‘fixing’ the cost of trips to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
They include Pinchas Ginsburg and Zvi Sa’ar of Hillel Tours, Nachman Keidar and Ayelet Jungster from Bridge to the World Tours, Shimon Regev and Aharon Torovitz of Academy Travel, and Moshe Hartman and Eyal Sluck of Diesenhaus.
Fourteen individuals, employees of four travel agencies; are currently under investigation for setting up a non-interference pact between the years of 2010 and 2016. Police now believe that they have enough evidence to start prosecuting. Make sure to follow our Facebook to see any updates from this one, going to be a long one.
Read More @ Hamodia / Times of Israel
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, as part of their five-day tour of Poland and Germany, met with survivors of the Holocaust in Stuthof Concentration Camp; which held some 110,000 inmates, of which 60,000 died including 28,000 Jews. The camp was formed in September 1939 and was the first concentration camp to be set up outside of German borders; it was also the last to liberated, finally freed on the 9th of May 1945 by the Soviet Army. There the Duke and Duchess met British survivors Mandfred Goldberg and Zigi Shipper who were both in the camp when they were just 14 years old, it is the first time Mr Goldberg has been to Poland since being permitted to leave in 1946.
Mr Shipper talked about some of his reasons for wanting to return to the camp, including bringing more attention to the concentration camp as an informative tourist destination, adding;
“When a royal goes, and it’s put on the television or in the paper, people say ‘why don’t we go?’ And that’s what we want.”
Follow the links below to read more about this story.
Read More @ BBC News / The Telegraph / Royal Central
If you’ve ever wanted to visit the desolate remains of the world’s worst nuclear disaster; the infamous Chernobyl, you should get a move on. Because talks have already begun between the Ukranian government and Engie; one of France’s largest multinational energy firms, to build a £969m solar facility at the derelict nuclear plant and remaining areas.
Chernobyl of course being the site of the world’s worst nuclear power disaster in 1986, which led to 56 direct deaths and an estimated 4,000 deaths due to radiation exposure. Since the disaster a 30km exclusion zone has been set up for the last 31 years, with only a handful of people living in the area still and tours being time restricted to avoid unnecessary exposure to the still potent radiation. But now things could be looking brighter for the disused power plant as a spokesperson for the French power company has confirmed that talks have begun:
An Engie spokesman verified that the company is in consultation with the Ukrainian government but refused to reveal any further details on the project.
This is definitely one to watch develop and it will be interesting to learn about their predicted time frame and turnaround; and as we said, if you’ve ever wanted to go you better get a move on, because once work begins it will no longer being the infamous ghost town of Chernobyl.
Read More @ The Independent / The Bulletin / Electrek
Flashing back to the beginning of July, we had the astronomically ignorant event of Louisiana Republican; Clay Higgins posting a video from Auschwitz. What started as a seemingly suitable memorial video to the survivors of Auschwitz turned in to a ‘you can’t make this stuff up’ event when the congressman used the opportunity to support and encourage a stronger military force for the United States.
In the five minute video, the congressman Clay Higgins announces that “this is why homeland security must be squared away, why our military must be invincible” whilst standing in the actual gas chambers in Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Not too much more to be said about this one just because it’s turning very political, watch the video for yourself. Follow the links down below to read more about what is quickly turning in to a political nightmare.
Read More @ The Telegraph / The Guardian / Business Insider
Thanks for reading! Of course that’s not everything that happened in the world of ‘dark tourism’ this month but it’s a round-up of ‘highlights’ for July, compiled from our Facebook Page which is updated daily. If you’d like to see more of these articles then be sure to subscribe to the blog and follow the page on Facebook. To make sure you see content regularly, you can follow the steps below to make sure Darker Destinations always shows on your News Feed:
Click on the little arrow next to ‘Following’ and then select ‘See first’. This will ensure you always see our posts whenever we update and it will also help us out by growing the reach of our audience and for that we are thankful.]]>