Why “Dark Tourism” Matters

Why “Dark Tourism” Matters

Why do we travel? The answers to this question are endless but include everything from seeing new places, to trying new food, to learning about and experiencing other cultures. But shouldn’t we also travel to learn about the past, learn FROM the past even if it means becoming uncomfortable, feeling sad, or even crying in public?

I think for most people (myself included), one doesn’t get AS emotional at battlefields where fighting took place well over 200 years ago. Just as with the statute of limitations with the law, the same goes for feeling emotional in a sense. When a battle, a heinous crime happened so long ago you just don’t feel the same emotional attachment as you do for something that happened in your lifetime or the lifetime of your parents or grandparents (first-hand accounts that are passed on directly to you).

Why "Dark Tourism" Matters

Only steps away from the beautiful and striking Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris lies the Deportation Memorial which remembers the 200,000 French persons who died at the hands of the Nazis during World War II. Each light you see illuminated represents one of the 200,000 victims who died. The memorial crypt contains the Tomb of the Unknown Deportee. The remains placed in the tomb are those of an individual who died in the concentration camp of Neustadt. Many people are not aware of the memorial’s existence and yet it’s a vivid reminder that even in recent times, Paris (and France) had quite the dark history.

Many people don’t understand why some seek out “dark places” when they travel. And by dark, this could be a cemetery, a concentration camp, or a former POW prison. It’s not that I’m a morbid person (hardly). But I am and have always been interested in history and not necessarily ancient history, but more “modern” events of the last 300 years. When I was growing up, I read countless children’s narratives written by former Holocaust survivors. If I say I’ve always dreamt about visiting a concentration camp, yes, that sounds horrid. But you see, I’ve read so much about this horrific period in modern history that I want to visit one in person to pay my respects.  As powerful as words on a page can be, nothing is as powerful as seeing these instruments of death firsthand. Places like Auschwitz and Dachau weren’t destroyed in the aftermath of World War II so they could forever stand as stark and somber testaments to what once took place there, to show what men are capable of doing to each other.

Why "Dark Tourism" Matters

Madres de Plaza de Mayo-Argentine mothers who tirelessly marched every week for decades in search of information on their children who went missing during the country’s military dictatorship. These women who are elderly now are genuine heroes.

Robben Island prison (where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for almost three decades), the Hanoi Hilton, the Old Slave Mart in Charleston, South Carolina where humans were once bought and sold-all of these places have the most hellish and tragic of pasts. And yet these are all places I want to see with my own eyes. Traveling isn’t always about feeling good and happy when you visit a particular site or destination. The world is not a perfect place and has never been, as history has shown. Being a traveler means you’re a citizen of the world and to me, that includes seeing both the good and the bad, the happy and sad parts, and educating those who aren’t able to travel themselves.

Former slave quarters serve as a stark reminder of a dark period in America's past.

Former slave quarters serve as a stark reminder of a dark period in America’s past but one that still needs telling.

 Have you visited any sites associated with “dark tourism”?  

Has it given you a perspective different from what you’d anticipated?  

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  • Reply
    Bridget @ A Traveling B
    August 2, 2016 at 9:49 pm

    Great post, Julie! People often travel to “forget work and the world,” but there are so many other reasons than to just relax. After a long trip through Europe, we found that we had done just as many WWII sites as not. There is definitely an importance to seeing that side of a place – like you say that is often why it is historical or important after all.
    Bridget @ A Traveling B recently posted…Best of BelfastMy Profile

    • Reply
      August 3, 2016 at 11:01 am

      Thanks Bridget and I wholeheartedly agree! Traveling is never solely about bringing a smile to one’s face, it should also serve to educate. Visiting a dark place firsthand is one of the most meaningful travel experiences I feel, ones that stay with you for a long time.

  • Reply
    Diane Barrowsmith
    August 17, 2016 at 2:43 am

    Definitely agree on this front – a lot of my big trip was actually dark tourism. Hiroshima, Auschwitz, Jewish ghetto Kraków, Berlin memorial.
    It’s important to understand what happened in the past and pay respects I think.
    Diane Barrowsmith recently posted…A slight update – with more to comeMy Profile

    • Reply
      August 19, 2016 at 9:46 am

      I entirely agree Diane! You can always read about historical events in books but if you have the chance to visit these places firsthand, it’s something you shouldn’t hesitate to do. All those places you mentioned are high on my bucket list.

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    July 27, 2017 at 9:33 pm

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