The Dark Tourism Sensation

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Sometimes, the ideal vacation is not a relaxing weekend at the beach, or a voyage through the mesmerising landscapes of Northern Europe, or not even wandering through the streets of a famous city. For some people there’s nothing more exciting and interesting than visiting the home of notorious serial killers or the abandoned city of Pripyat, evacuated after the Chernobyl disaster, or to participate in a World War II re-enactment in Maidstone, England.

These are only few examples of “dark tourism”; the exploration of death and the macabre trough sites of disasters, past and present conflicts, genocides and the like.

Chernobyl, Pripyat, Ukraine. Credit: Yves Alarie on Unsplash

Last year the New Zealand journalist David Farrier popularised this trend with his Netflix series Dark Tourism; travelling to famous dark tourism sites to explore the reasons that bring millions of people to these places each year. Some tourists want to be just part of history, like those who take selfies at Ground Zero, whilst others want to better understand tragic historic events and learn from them, such as those who visit Auschwitz and Treblinka. Dark tourism sparks necessary debates about the necessity to establish protocols and rules to visit tragic places so that these sites don’t lose their dignity in their commercialisation.

Ground Zero, New York. Credit: Stiller Beobachter [CC BY -2.0] via Flickr
And yet, for a lot of people who have been victims of those tragedies and are now conducting paid tours to tell their own stories, it can be a kind of indirect reparation. It allows tourists to discover hidden and previously unknown pieces of history and anecdotes from a direct source. For example, in Medellín, Colombia, you can visit Pablo Escobar’s secret meeting places on a tour given by his former hit man, Popeye. Or you can visit Fukushima with a Geiger counter, while the local guide tells you that “there’s nothing to worry about” because he goes there every week. It is also an opportunity to learn about new cultures, like when David, in the Netflix series, experienced Voodoo practices in Ouidah, Benin.

Bran Castel, Romania, home of Vlad the Impaler. Credit: spline splinson [CC BY -2.0] via Flickr
These are extreme examples of dark sites, that have even occasionally changed tourists lives, such as Chad O’Carroll who, after visiting North Korea, decided to find a news site to raise the attention on human-rights violations. But it is also possible to be a “soft” dark-tourist by visiting sites officially recognised and regulated. In this case, it’s a great opportunity to remember the past and learn from past errors, whilst remaining respectful of the historical sites in question.

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I am a Italian Physicist who crossed the English Channel to pursue a PhD in Engineering. During this journey, I brought along with me my love for reading, for science, philosophy and my fascination for travel, which you will find scattered through my articles. You can follow me on Instagram as @physicist_rick

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