Dark Tourism, also known as Grief Tourism, is tourism that aims at visiting locations connected with death, grief, or generally macabre events. Put like that it may seem weird, outlandish and even disturbing, but truth is, while Dark Tourism is a modern designation, this is a type of tourism that has been around for centuries.
Pilgrims in the Middle Ages often visited the tombs of martyrs; during the American Civil War, it was a common occurrence for people to watch battles calmly from a distance, and battle sites remain – particularly the main ones, such as Gettysburg or Manassas – a popular tourist destination.
When you really think about it, the Great Pyramid of Giza is an over-sized tomb, and the Colosseum in Rome was the site of a number of atrocities. Visiting the sites of modern events is not, therefore, such a big stretch, and large crowds flock every year to Ground Zero in New York, to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or to the Anne Frank House.
If you’re in Poland, it’s not unconceivable that you should wish to pick up a car hire in Warsaw and drive to Auschwitz; and if you’re in Ukraine, you could pick up a car hire in Kiev and, in under two hours, you could be in Pripyat, just 3 km from Chernobyl, a frozen portrait of 1980s Soviet Russia, forever stuck in time.
Some people may feel uncomfortable with what they perceive as the exploitation of deeply traumatic events, but there’s a case to be made for the necessity of remembering, understanding, and even learning from our history.
The motives for seeking such an experience may range from simple curiosity, to voyeurism, to historical interest but, ultimately, the line between what is deemed acceptable or exploitative is a matter of chronological distance, personal sensibilities and just plain old common sense.
What are your opinions on the matter? Have you ever visited what could be considered a dark tourism site?