Our world is a beautiful place. It’s also a place full to bursting with grim histories, where evil minds and ill-fated souls have given us the darker threads in our great human tapestry. This Halloween we’re exploring some of the world’s most infamous sites and grizzly tourist attractions…
Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins, Mexico
Cruises to Mexico’s Caribbean coast often give you the opportunity to tour stepped pyramids and stone altars around the Mayan city of Chichen Itza, a remarkable feat of architecture built almost a thousand years ago. Don’t let the bright sunshine and the peaceful surroundings fool you though – long ago this was practically a theme park devoted to human sacrifice. Grim carved heads decorate the Temple of Skulls; snakes and jaguars devour human hearts in relief murals; and by night the Temple of Venus is spot-lit a bright blood red as a grim reminder of the living human sacrifices performed here.
Easter Island, the South Pacific
Abandoned houses? Pfft. Ghost towns? Meh. How about an entire abandoned island? Rumours abound over just what happened on this mysterious island, which was believed to have been settled by Polynesian explorers around 800 years ago. Carving gigantic statues to their ancestors and transporting them to sacred sites across the island by rolling them on palm tree logs, it’s believed that the inhabitants gradually wiped out the forests and, with no wood left to make tools or burn for warmth, they sealed their own doom. Equally terrifying is a more recent theory, which would explain the countless skeletons of rats on the island – that the explorers unwittingly brought the rodents with them on their canoes, and having bred to millions within a couple of years, the rats devoured the island’s palm seeds and quickened the deforestation.
The Torture Museum, Amsterdam
Don’t be fooled by Amsterdam’s peaceful waterways and welcoming markets. The city hides some sinister secrets too, tucked away in its Museum of Medieval Torture. Spiked interrogation chairs, heads on spikes, stretching racks and guillotines… the Middle Ages had torture and death down to a fine art. Take a tour here and you’ll find yourself face to face with suspended iron cages, guillotines, masks of shame and some terrifying apparatus like heretic’s forks, Spanish boots, iron maidens… and the abominable Judas Cradle.
The Capuchin Catacombs, Palermo, Sicily
If torture and human sacrifice aren’t enough, how about a tour of the openly morbid catacombs of Sicily’s Capuchin monks? Once holding no less than 8,000 bodies, the vaults and alcoves here are home to scores of skulls and hooded skeletons; some of the living-impaired occupants are even stood up in their funeral suits. Grimmest of all though has to be the famously well-preserved body of two-year-old Rosalia Lombardo, named after Palermo’s patron saint, whose embalmed remains have been visible in a glass coffin since her death in 1920.
The Catacombs, Paris
STOP! HERE LIES THE EMPIRE OF THE DEAD. These are the words that greet visitors to the famous catacombs beneath the streets of Paris; a warren of sinister paths walled with countless ranks of human bones – belonging to around six million former Parisians. Historically, France’s now famously romantic capital buried its dead beyond the city limits – but with increasing urban development through the centuries, the city’s cemeteries began to overflow… and so the grizzly (and really quite artistic) arrangements of skulls and bones in the catacombs began
Gamarra Shaman Market, Lima
Peru’s beautiful stately capital also conceals a darker side; a hidden maze of market stalls beneath Gamarra Metro Station selling every ingredient a budding witch might need. Wander this shadowed market and you’ll find yourself browsing animal skins, monkey skulls, live frogs intended for curative soups… along with seeds’n beads for healing ailments and, of course, black candles – used in shamanistic rituals intended to tear star-crossed lovers apart.
Eden Browne Estate, Nevis
White sands, turquoise seas, swaying palms… and the ruins of a cursed plantation that’s hardly been set foot in for almost two hundred years. The story goes that a Miss Julia Huggins, the heiress to the plantation, was caught between two men – her soon-to-be husband and his best man – who duelled to the death over a love affair. (Both their deaths, in fact.) The result? The newly-widowed Miss Huggins was said to have become a recluse, and has wandered the ruins of Eden Browne Estate in sorrow ever since.
The Tower of London, England
What could be spookier than a trip to the legendary Tower of London on a cruise to Blighty’s capital city? Not only is this historic fort the home of the Crown Jewels… it’s also the site of centuries of death and imprisonment. Traditionally enemies of crown and country would be holed up here to await their execution, including some famous names like William Wallace, Guy Fawkes, Sir Walter Raleigh, Queen Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey… and Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, who at 68 years old reportedly took eleven axe strokes from an inexperienced headsman before the grizzly deed was done.
Pompeii and Herculaneum, Italy
A cruise to the Bay of Naples offers plenty of opportunity to visit the ancient towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, the doomed denizens of which lost their lives to a near-biblical succession of toxic gases, falling rocks, pyroclastic flows and – perhaps most terrifying of all – walls of sheer volcanic heat that effectively cooked people alive. Take a tour here today and you’ll still see the homes, taverns and human remains perfectly preserved as a grim reminder of just how much the natural world still holds sway.
The Museum of Death, Hollywood
And finally, if all that dark, dank, murky morbiditude wasn’t enough for your coal-black tastes, we’ve got one last tourist attraction for you in the bottom of our Halloween cauldron. Hollywood’s Museum of Death is the ultimate tourist attraction for the world’s foremost fans of all things dark and deathly – filled with grim reminders of the macabre, from body bags and taxidermied animals to mortician’s instruments, skulls, Victorian flowers woven from hair, a “how-to” embalming video in the Mortician & Funeral Room… and even a section devoted to cannibalism.
If all this talk of gore and death has you feeling a little unnerved, don’t forget that there’s a whole world of the living out there too; countless places of vibrancy and colour and human spirit just waiting to be explored on your next great adventure. And think of it this way… if we remember the darker side of our existence, even for just one night every year, then the life and the light will surely shine out all the brighter too. Happy Halloween everybody.
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Images courtesy of Giorgio Sommer, Claude Belair, Anne Dirkse, Sandeep Thukral, Riggwelter, Sam Spade and Carlo Mirente, Flickr/Wikimedia Commons.