What is Dark Tourism?

Pompei Alcatraz Auschwitz

Dark Tourism (also known as Black Tourism or Thanatourism) may be defined as the act of travelling purposefully to visit historical sites which are associated in some way with death, either at the hands of another person or as a result of some incredible disaster.

This is actually not as macabre as it sounds. Throughout the ages, human beings have always been fascinated with what they could not understand and death, something we all must confront, is surely one of the most mysterious ‘destinations’ of all.

Some very popular sites include Pompeii in Italy, where hundreds died in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius; the Coliseum in Rome, where gladiators maimed and killed each other for the entertainment of the demanding crowds; the Auschwitz concentration camps in Poland, where thousands of Jews and minority groups were massacred as well as the notorious Alcatraz Prison near San Francisco, to name but a few.

Why dark tourism is so popular? Could it be that the usual beach and mountain routine is simply not enough of a unique experience anymore? Is it that coming face to face with proof of our own mortality makes us all appreciate life more? Are we fascinated with mankind’s own ability to perform atrocious and terrible acts of violence?

I am sure that whoever finds themselves near Whitechapel in the UK would visit, or would like to visit, the sites of Jack the Ripper’s murders.

Disaster zones and those linked to them in some way or another are also popular. Some choose to trace the experiences of their ancestors. Maybe an ancestor was one of those hundreds killed in the well-known Titanic tragedy and the family wish to visit the Titanic Museum in Belfast, Ireland (built exactly on the slipways where the Titanic itself was built), in order to revisit a part of your family’s past.

And how about all those who travel to Egypt or visit the London Museum to see a couple of mummies, testament to the human art of preservation, not to mention the vast knowledge which at the time, still enabled human beings to achieve such a feat?

Or you could just simply be fascinated with the process of embalming itself, thus finding yourself gazing at little Rosalia Lombardo, also called the Sleeping Beauty, the small child preserved in the Capuchin Catacombs in Palermo. That was one experience I will never forget.

There is nothing frightful in wanting and striving to understand death, which after all, is a part of life and always will be. There is also something quite noble when someone would like to remember and honour the memory of those who died or were killed in circumstances so terrifying as to cause ripples through many generations after the event.

Dark tourism is a way of celebrating life through the knowledge and awareness that death and violence surround us and are always part of our reality, and that we, as individuals, should truly cherish and live every day to the full.

Whatever the reason, it is a fact that dark tourism is an ever-growing market and that people from all walks of life, from students to retired officers, find it attractive.

What do you think about dark tourism? Is it something you would choose for your holiday? Can you let us know why? Add your comments below?