Planning to travel this winter break? If you're bored of picture-perfect tourist sights and want to go somewhere a little further off the beaten path, I've got some suggestions for you--but be warned, these destinations are not for the faint of heart! Below are five famous death-related sites for fellow fans of thanotourism:
The Catacombs of Paris
The Catacombs of Paris are perhaps the most famous site on this list, and no visit to the City of Lights is truly complete without a trip into its dark underbelly. Built in the 18th century, the Catacombs now hold the bones of more than six million people, stacked endlessly along the walls of the tunnel system beneath the city. Nothing makes you contemplate your own mortality quite like being deep underground with six million anonymous skulls. If you're not done with death by the time you emerge from the Catacombs' depths, I highly recommend you also check out the Père Lachaise Cemetery where Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison are buried.
The Torture Museum, Amsterdam
Amsterdam has become an increasingly popular tourist destination as it's gained a reputation as one of the most bicycle-friendly cities, as well as one that's particularly tolerant of weed. Few people associate the city with torture. However, if you don't know about the Torture Museum of Amsterdam, you're missing out! This quaint little museum located near the flower market houses over 40 different instruments of torture from around Europe. Each device is accompanied by engravings and illustrations from old manuscripts and an explanation of its history in eight different languages. Who doesn't love a good bit of gory history?
Kerepesi Cemetery, Budapest
Kerepesi Cemetery is one of the oldest cemeteries in Hungary and contains some of the most gorgeous gravestones and statuary I've ever seen. Founded in 1847, the cemetery has served as the final resting place for many of Hungary's notable politicians, artists, actors, musicians, and more. If you go, be sure to take a stroll through the Arcades (Roman-style columned walkways) and admire the many elaborately carved weeping angels.
Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato, Mexico
The "Mummies of Guanajuato" were a group of bodies exhumed from a Mexican cemetery that were found to have naturally mummified due to the area's particular climate and soil. They were dug up between 1870 and 1958, when local law required that families pay a "grave tax" if they wanted their loved ones to stay buried. Bodies for whom no one paid this taxed were unearthed and put into storage to make room for more paying customers. When word got out that these bodies were surprisingly well-preserved, they began to draw a crowd. Thus, a museum was built to house them. The museum currently holds over 100 bodies, including one known as the world's smallest mummy. Definitely a site worth checking out!
Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic
An ossuary is somewhere where the bones of the dead are kept, sometimes in quite artful arrangements as in this little Roman Catholic chapel in Kútna Hora, Czech Republic. This Gothic-style structure is located beneath the Cemetery Church of All Saints and used to belong to a nearby Cistercian monastery. In 1274, an abbot of the monastery blessed the cemetery grounds with soil from the Holy Land, making it an incredibly popular burial place. The Black Death and a series of local wars filled the cemetery with bodies in mass graves. When a Gothic church was built in the middle of the cemetery and room was made for new burials, a great number of old bones were unearthed. Thus, an ossuary was created in the basement of the church to house them. These bones line the walls, decorate columns, and are suspended in elaborate arches from the high vaulted ceilings, even making up a little bone chandelier. The effect is stunning, and probably some of the most beautiful art made with bones anywhere in the world.
So far, I've only been to the Paris catacombs, but I hope to make my way down this list! How many have you been to? Which ones would you want to visit? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.