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Thanatotourism or dark tourism

Thanatotourism or dark tourism as a form of modern tourism has developed widely in the last two decades, this tourist activity comes to fill a gap with a multitude of trips to specific sites that are in continuous expansion. Black tourism , or dark tourism , is the newest part of the changing tourist offer of attractions and exhibitions that have death, suffering and the apparently macabre as their main theme. Will we see with morbid eyes or do we simply contemplate history?  


Tourist visits to ancient battlefields, sites of slavery in various countries, prisons turned into museums, cemeteries with paranormal activities, private exhibitions of torture museums, sites of the Holocaust or “Shoah” as Auschwitz, Mauthasen or Dachau, natural disaster sites such as Pompeii and Herculaneum, Chernobyl and others, represent the vast field of action of Black Tourism.


turismo terror
By Adam Jones, Ph.D. – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0


Depending on whether the motivation is educational, religious or entertainment, the tourist will interpret the site differently, but will begin to think of death in each case to a different degree and in different ways. Death is deeply related to fear.


almudena Madrid Cementerio
Almudena Cemetery Madrid Spain


zero zone new york dark tourism
Ground Zero in New York City

Today, thanatotourism is represented not only through the macabre, murders, tragic accidents, varied wars, racial genocides, global threats of atomic or environmental destruction, but also as entertainment. Each of us constantly encounters violent and brutal death. However, death in everyday life is closer, more real. Real death is distanced through theatrical death experienced by the spectator on the stages of travel within the concept of Thanatotourism.

Thanatoturism to see

Thanatotourism is a bridge between life and death, between the dead and the living. The way in which death is presented and the method of narrating a historicalfact are very important for the interpretation of the event and the place visited. Tourists look for experiences different from those they have in their daily lives. Some authors treat thanatoturism as part of a broader sector called cultural tourism.  


The message received by the tourist is always significant. Cultural tourism broadens social awareness, improves historical discovery, crosses borders, cultivates identification and empathy. The tourist is compelled to contemplate death, which has not only a religious dimension (for a great majority) but also a personal and cultural dimension.


The variety of trips to sites related to death and suffering is as varied as that of its participants along with their motivations and goals in this very special tourism. The perception of the “space of death” can be very personal, tragic or symbolic. It can be a mass or pop-cultural perception, which normally occurs in non-sacred buildings and sites. It should be remembered that the experience of death varies according to the culture of a given society. This variety and uniqueness creates the need to experience the visit in a different way, resulting from cultural relativity, which in turn promotes tourism as part of culture and history.


EL OSARIO DE SEDLEC (Czech Republic)


Dark tourism includes all questions concerning the origins and consequences of tourism of terror and cruelty, involving trips to disaster zones and places of mass death, genocide or murder. Natural disasters also have their place among the preferences of this type of traveler. The first researchers of this social phenomenon called tanatoturism, Lennon & Foley (2000) based their research on a description of the tourist use of concentration camps in Poland, including Auschwitz-Birkenau and Treblinka. Some authors treat thanatotourism as part of a broader sector called cultural tourism or historical tourism.

The message received by the tourist is always significant. Cultural tourism broadens social awareness, improves historical discovery, crosses borders, cultivates identification and empathy. It has been possible to observe in the last years (especially in the concentration camps) a bad tourist behavior or as a minimum of questionable taste, that tends to disrespect the solemnity of the place or to treat the “space of death” simply as one more tourist attraction.


Smiling in Auschwitz  

Auschwitz -selfie-sonriendo
Selfie in Auschwitz

 I will quote a tweet “What have we become? Why bother going to Auschwitz if you are going to behave as if you were in an amusement park? As you say: you are there, you think and store the meaning of this experience forever in your heart and mind.”  


Categories of Thanatotourism


Some authors have divided thanatotourism or dark tourism in groups of activities, according to the zones where the visits are developed, but as any order is perfectly incomplete and subjective.

Also known as funerary tourism or cemetery which consists of a tour of places where people are buried in order to know the environment, its architecture, history and even be interested in the lives of people who may be buried in it. In Europe, it has been practiced for a long time, showing the existence of the European Association of Singular Cemeteries, and in Spain it has begun to offer destinations of this type, as can be read in this page of cemeteries in Spain.

The visit to places where there have been fights, bombings or any kind of warlike conflict, such as the Normandy battle on Omaha Beach, France.  

  • Disaster tourism or natural disasters

To visit places where natural phenomena have caused great catastrophes, such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005 in New Orleans or the city of Pompeii where the Vesuvius eruption took place.  

The most visited sites are Fukushima, Chernobyl, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.   

The visit to places where the vision of apparitions, psychophonies or other paranormal phenomena are attributed.  

Sightseeing tours to areas that have resulted in death with intent to destroy part or all of an ethnic group or race.    

It is a type of tourism based on the visit to dungeons, jails and places where the human being is confined and forced by their peers.  


Black Tourism Destinations

Black Tourism