For most of us, traveling is an opportunity to ‘see the sights’. To see with our own eyes the wondrously beautiful landscapes, characteristic architectures or the exotic wildlife. However, beauty and wonder are not always the only things available on a travel menu, and there are some of us all too keen about it.
Sometimes though, seeing the sights for some of us might really mean traveling to and witnessing places that are drenched in great human death, horror, misfortune and tragedy. Things like mass grave sites or old battlefields watered by bloodshed. A desire to experience the more morbid areas of our history. It becomes less about splendid grandeur and more about understanding the suffering that other people once had to endure or to engage and learn more deeply about human history.
For those of us seeking a darker side to our next tourist travels, here are some places that might be worth considering.
Murambi Genocide Memorial – Rwanda
Murambi was historically part of the prefecture of Gikongoro, which had a history of persecution of the Tutsis people living there, ranging from cattle theft, expulsion to less developed areas of the country, and killings. The Tutsis people and their armies were even called Inyenzi, or cockroaches, a derogatory term used to describe them by other members of the prefecture. They were believed to be less-than when compared to other societal groups.
Sources like the Genocide Archive of Rwanda inform us that in April of 1994 following the assassination of one President Habyarimana, the mass killing of Tutsi people began, causing them to flee into Gikongoro itself, hoping it would be safer there. However, the leaders in Gikongoro were part of the genocide plan. They convinced the refugee Tutsi people that they (the leaders) would be able to better protect them, if all the Tutsi gathered in one place: The Murambi Technical School. Approximately 50,000 Tutsi people gathered there.
Original caption states: “Deep gashes delivered by the killers are visible in the skulls that fill one room at the Murambi School.”
On April 18th 1994, the governing bodies launched their first attack on the gathered up Tutsis people. The Gikongoro leaders made sure that all water supplies to the school had been shut off and no food had been given to the refugees from the time of their arrival. This was to ensure they would be too weak to defend themselves. After two full days of minor attacks against the school, a final full scale assault was launched with guns and grenades against the mostly defenseless refugees, killing everyone in the main school building, the classrooms and even outside. The next day, a volleyball court was ordered to be built over the mass graves that were dug to bury the bodies.
The Aokigahara Forest – Japan
Also called the Sea of Trees, The Aokigahara forest is another unfortunate location of misery and sadness. A very well known Japanese forest located right at the base of the infamous Mount Fuji. Unlike other destinations on this list, the tragedies that occur in the Sea of Trees are not something of the past, but remain an ongoing experience even to our present day: Suicides. Causing The Aokigahara Forest to also be dubbed as Suicide Forest.
Japan is amongst the highest ranked places globally for suicide rates. And The Aokigahara Forest has gravely become a rather common place for would-be suicide victims to spend their last moments.
In Michael Nedelman’s article – Inside Japan’s ‘suicide forest’ – he quotes Karen Nakamura, a professor of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies disability and other social movements in contemporary Japan.
Professor Nakamura states that, “It’s not surprising to find a body there..”
She also speaks about the many and complex factors that contribute to Japan’s high suicide rates, such as economic recession and the general stigmas surrounding mental illness and about receiving mental care in the country. She also says there is a greater tendency in Japan to view suicide as a, “..rational decision.”
Nakamura also alludes to religion in Japan for example seemingly being not as black and white or as unforgiving when it comes to suicide. “Suicide is not a mortal sin as it is under Christianity.”
The article also shares that upon being able to interview some of the Aokigahara suicide survivors, it was discovered that many of them choose this forest because, “they believed that they would be able to die successfully without being noticed.”
It is also believed by psychiatrists that many may have traveled to the forest from other provinces because they wanted to “share the same place with others and belong to the same group.” A means of not being completely alone.
At the entrance of the forest, a sign in Japanese reminds visitors that “Life is a precious gift” from their parents. Quietly think once more about your parents, siblings or children. Please don’t suffer alone, and first reach out.”
Next on this list is the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. The city suddenly found itself completely at the mercy of mother nature who in a quick and violent turn chose to burn, suffocate and finally bury the city of Pompeii and all of its residents for the next few hundred years. A truly nightmarish experience that fell upon these Roman people all the way back in late August of 79 AD.
Before its downfall, Pompeii is said to have been blessed with both a favorable climate and rich volcanic soil which allowed for the city to blossom and bloom economically, particularly in agricultural ventures of olives and grapes. Apart from the towering Mt Vesuvius, responsible for all of Pompeii’s agricultural achievements, the city also had access to maritime traffic which further contributed to Pompeii’s growth. It boasted “Grand public buildings including an impressive forum and an amphitheater; lavish villas and all kinds of houses.” Wilhelmina Feemster Jashemski.
It was so prosperous there that the middle class “derived great pleasure from competing with the nobility in the construction of splendid villas.” History of Pompeii. These natural advantages and the wealth it created, “led to an increase in the level of prestige of Pompeii and a general increase in the standard of living for many of the social classes.”
Sadly, it would be nonother than these natural gifts themselves to bare their fangs at an unsuspecting nation. Tearing apart the city’s flesh and completely destroying it. In the Autumn of August 79 AD Mt. Vesuvius erupted above Pompeii and is one of the deadliest volcanoes ever recorded in European history.
It violently bellowed out volcanic debris, falling as flaming meteors onto the people below. The earth shook as flame and stone rained to the earth, burning and destroying buildings, homes and people alike. Unfortunately, those able to survive the hellish fire-fall were soon to be met by the strangling hands of asphyxiating gas that was also made blisteringly hot by the erupting volcano. In the end “…all were buried under a thick blanket of volcanic material to a depth of several meters”. History of Pompeii.
Today, we can now tour this area and rediscover this part of humanity that was hidden from us. Many skeletal remains of residents in their last moments can still be seen as much of the city has been preserved due to the volcanic ash that buried it. Plaster casts have also been created from impressions of the dead left behind in the hardened volcanic material.
It is also a significant archeological site with the remains of thousands of buildings, paved streets and even art works such as wall paintings and sculptures to be seen.
Unfortunately our history is riddled with very many dark destinations and here, we’ve only covered a few. Here’s a list of a few more places you can look up if they happen to peak your interest:
- Ground Zero, New York City, USA – Tragic site of 2001’s 9/11 attack.
- Paris Catacombs – A huge underground cemetery, home to the remains of 6 million people. Created to help with the mass overflow of bodies during WW ll
- Gulag Labour Camps, Kazakhstan – Another product of WW ll, These camps were used to imprison, isolate and oppress political opponents, and incarcerate prisoners of war.
- Red Terror Martyrs’ Museum – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – After the removal of the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, a military group called the Derg took power. In a speech by their leader Mengistu, he smashed a bottle of blood to illustrate the killings that were to come and is believed to be responsible for the deaths of nearly 2 million Ethiopians.