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The Darker Side of Travel

Over the last decade, the concept of ‘dark tourism’ has attracted growing interest and whilst it may seem morbid at first glance, the main draw to these locations is mostly due to their historical significance, although some use these experiences for quiet and spiritual reflection and to pay respects to the departed souls of family and relations.

From the Normandy beaches and the Killing Fields in Cambodia to Chernobyl in Ukraine and the city of Hiroshima in Japan, witnessing places where horrific events occurred in the past is fast becoming an integral part of experiencing a destination.

The Flexicover Team looks to shed some light on some destinations that often provide educational, enlightening and even life-changing experiences.

Pompeii, Italy

Situated near Naples in the beautiful Italian region of Campania, lies the ancient ruins of Pompeii, destroyed when nearby Vesuvius erupted on 24th August 79 AD, completely engulfing the flourishing Roman town. Around 3,000 of the 20,000 population perished as the area was covered in around 20ft of ash and pumice – strangely the event that devastated the town is the reason this UNESCO World Heritage Site is so well preserved today. The ruins of Pompeii have been a travel destination for over 200 years, making it perhaps the original dark tourism site and with an estimated 2.5 million visitors a year. It is one of Italy’s most popular tourist attractions. If you are visiting Pompeii, you really should also visit Herculaneum, destroyed in the same eruption, as well as the archaeological museum in Naples, where most of the best exhibits are kept.

Auschwitz, Poland

Auschwitz is probably the most notorious concentration, labour and extermination camp built by the Germans during the Second World War and it is located about 60km from Krakow outside Oswiecim ("Auschwitz" is the German spelling of "Oswiecim"). It was actually a cluster of different camps with 3 main complexes - Auschwitz I (where the wrought iron gate bears the infamous motto "Arbeit Macht Frei" - work makes you free), Auschwitz II-Birkenau (the main extermination camp), and Auschwitz III-Monowitz (the labour camp) – there were also a further 45 sub-camps in the surrounding area. Having been preserved in memory of the 1.1 million people who died there it's now a major tourist attraction (with 1.43 million visitors in 2012 alone). A guided tour will take in Auschwitz I and II, Auschwitz I gives the history of life in the camp but the enormity and scale of the extermination is most evident at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, built specifically for mass genocide. The site also has a museum and the largest art collection of its kind in the world.

Robben Island, South Africa

Robben Island was once an apartheid-era maximum security prison that held some of history's most well-known political leaders, including Nelson Mandela, who spent twenty years on the island. Since it opened to the public in 1997 as a museum, it has become one of South Africa's most popular tourist attractions and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. Located 5.5 miles off the coast of Cape Town, access to the island is by ferry which takes 30 minutes and departs from the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the Waterfront. Once you arrive, a bus takes you around the island with a former inmate as a guide who relays the history of the island, together with a first-hand account of prison life, visiting historic places such as the Moturu Kramat, the leper graveyard and the lime quarry where prisoners endured lengthy hours of tough physical labour. The last stop is the prison where former inmates will guide you around the facility including Mandela’s cell.

Oradour-sur-Glane, France

Some 15 miles northwest of Limoges, the village of Oradour-sur-Glane stands just as the soldiers of the SS left it on June 10, 1944. In what was one of the darkest chapters of World War II, SS Panzer Division Das Reich, destroyed the French village almost wiping out the entire population in a single day. A new village was built after the war on a nearby site but on the orders of the then French president, Charles de Gaulle, the original has been maintained as a permanent memorial and museum. If you are planning a visit it’s best to start at the underground museum, Centre de la Mémoire, which provides a good background to the events before you take the sombre walk the length of Oradour's main street, past gutted, charred buildings in the shade of lush trees, to the underground memorial on the market square (rusted toys, broken crucifixes, town mementos under glass). One question that you may ask yourself is "Why did it happen?" and while there has been much conjecture, there has been no clear explanation despite many trials and court martials.

World Trade Center; New York, USA

Most people remember where they were on 11th September 2001 when nearly 3,000 people lost their lives in New York, Washington D.C. and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The World Trade Center was a popular tourist attraction before the tragedy, but has become an increasingly important destination for visitors to New York City who want to pay tribute to those that lost their lives. September 2011 saw the official opening of 9/11 Memorial which is a tribute of remembrance and honour to those killed in the attack as well as the six people killed in the Center’s bombing in February 1993. Within the footprints where the Twin Towers once stood are twin reflecting pools and edging these pools are bronze panels with the names of every person who died in the 2001 and 1993 attacks.

Wherever you travel to and whatever historical experience you choose, at Flexicover, we are committed to providing you the highest level of protection to ensure that you are safe and secure, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year when away.