Mankind is a truly fascinating species. Endowed with imagination and creativity without limits, there’s seemingly no end to what us humans can build. We can instill life into our most colorful dreams, but also into our darkest nightmares. There are always two sides to imagination, and it can be used in both noble and, unfortunately, in mischievous ways. The harder it is to create, the easier it is to destroy, and there are plenty of places in the world to testify to mankind’s destructive force.
We all have different notions of what is creepy, but I’m sure we can all agree that these places are scarier than the scariest horror movie, and they are all the work of man, sometimes with a little help from Mother Nature. Memorable vacations are usually those that have a nice shot of adrenalin in store, and extreme tourist attractions continue to gain popularity. Nightmarish, post-apocalyptic sights, ghost stories, mad scientists, serial killers, dark magic, gateways to other worlds, mystery and legend. Are you tempted yet? Go ahead. I assure you these sinister places will make your skin crawl.
10. Poveglia Island, Italy
Deemed the most haunted location in Italy, Poveglia is a small island close to Venice. The island was once a plague pit, called lazaretto, a mass quarantine for the victims of the bubonic plague during the height of the Black Death. Here, they lived their final days until finally buried in communal pits. Thousands of graves were discovered in 2007, but the hundreds of thousands of uneasy souls buried underneath are not all that’s terrifying about the place. In 1922, a building was erected on the island to serve as a mental hospital. Legend has it that the doctor in charge of the asylum conducted all sorts of experiments on his patients, torturing and butchering them. In the end, he went mad and killed himself, jumping from the bell tower. They say he survived the fall, but apparently a thick mist swallowed him and finished the job. In 1968, the hospital closed its doors and the entire island was abandoned.
9. Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic
One of the most unusual places of worship in the world, the chapel in the city of Kutna Hora in the Czech Republic is decorated with the skeletons of over 70,000 people. It is more than just an ossuary. The bones have been carefully arranged in an artistic fashion, with bone chandeliers and garlands of skulls hanging from the ceilings, making the place seem as if made entirely of bones. When rumor hit that soil from the Holy Land had been sprinkled over the small town of Kutna Hora in the Czech Republic, people from all corners of the world chose Sedlec as their final resting place. Hundreds of years after, the place began to pile up with bodies. Priests soon found a solution; to use the bones to redecorate the chapel.
8. Doll Island, Mexico
Once upon a time… there was a little girl and her doll. The vast system of canals and artificial islands called chinampas in the district of Xochimilco in Mexico is home to one of the creepiest places on Earth. The islands were inhabited by one man alone, a hermit by the name of Julian Santana Barrera. One day, he found a young girl drowned in one of the canals. Soon after, Barrera found her doll washed ashore of one of the islands. In the memory of the girl, he hung the doll by a tree. He believed this pleased her spirit, so he began collecting discarded dolls and hanging them from the trees of what would soon become known as Isla de las Munecas, the Doll Island.
7. Manchac Swamp, Louisiana
On the banks of the Ponchartrain Lake in New Orleans lies the world’s most haunted swamp. According to legend and local folklore, there are far more dubious things crawling in the Manchac Swamp than just alligators. The place is said to be the home of the Rougarou, a species of werewolf; and that’s not all. The swamp is haunted by the ghost of Julia White, a voodoo priestess who predicted that on the day she’d die and take all the swamp’s inhabitants with her. She was right. When she passed away in 1915, a hurricane hit the area and destroyed three neighboring villages. New Orleans is the American capital of voodoo. It is in the neighboring swamps that the infamous Delphine LaLaurie tortured and killed her slaves together with her husband, Dr. Leonard LaLaurie. Also known as Ghost Swamp, Manchac Swamp is a sinister place where visitors often claim to see the bodies of LaLaurie’s victims come to surface on its waters.
6. Hoia-Baciu Forest, Romania
Also known as the Bermuda Triangle of Romania, Hoia-Baciu, in the heart of Transylvania, is one of the most haunted forests in the world. Stories of missing people, UFO sightings, strange humanoid shadows, radioactive fields, compasses, and electronic devices gone berserk warn people to stay away and continue to fascinate scientists. Locals refuse to wander into the forest, accusing nausea, dizziness, chills, even unexplainable scratches and burns on their skin. It is said that the forest is a gateway to another world. Footprints appear in the snow and mud in front of visitors, as if some invisible creature were walking around. Photographs reveal shadows and strange silhouettes and lights that the naked eye cannot see. Strange happenings have been recorded and studied here since 1936. Even to this day, researchers have failed to come up with an explanation. It became famous in 1968, when military-technician Emil Barnea ignored all warnings and decided to spend the weekend in the woods. In plain daylight, he and his friends saw what seemed to be a UFO surveying the area at low altitude and he took several pictures of the flying object. Years after, international specialists classified the photos as some of the clearest images of a UFO ever captured on film in the world.
5. Pripyat, Ukraine
On the 26th of April 1986, at precisely 1:23 am, the fourth nuclear reactor of the Chernobyl power plant exploded. All inhabitants in the neighboring areas were evacuated due to extremely high radiation levels. Ghost towns often appear in movies and books, but we rarely get to see one in real life. Pripyat is such a town, part of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, only nine miles from the nuclear plant. The settlement was founded in 1970 as home to the workers of the nuclear plant and their families. After the nuclear disaster in 1986, it was abandoned. The inhabitants left in such a hurry, that everything was left intact, all things and belongings still in the closets and on the shelves. The most sinister presence is the amusement park, now assaulted by vegetation. Although it is generally considered a ghost town, there are a few souls still living here. Inhabited houses are no different from the abandoned ones, except from a note on the front door reading “The owner of this house lives here.”
4. Aokigahara Forest, Japan
At the foothills of the Fuji Mountains in Japan, Aokigahara Forest has forever been deemed a demonic site in Japanese mythology. It is the second most popular suicide spot on the planet, after the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. In 2002 alone, 78 bodies were found in the woods. In 2010, 50 people committed suicide in these forests. Since the 1950’s, more than 500 people lost their lives in the Aokigahara Forest, mostly men in their thirties. Nobody can explain what draws people to end their lives here. It is said that the ghosts of these suicides still roam the forest, scaring tourists and photographers, urging others to follow. Another sinister feature is the forest’s unusual quietness. Scientists explained this is due to the high density of trees blocking the wind, but it is nevertheless creepy, like a calm before the storm.
3. Paris Catacombs
I’m sure whoever read Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables couldn’t help but wonder how it would be like to retrace Jean Valjean’s footsteps through Paris’ underground sewers and tunnels. The vast network of labyrinthine catacombs span for over 180 miles below the capital of France, and are one of the city’s main and most bizarre tourist attractions. Visited by more than one million tourists each year, only a few sections of the catacombs are open for curious visitors to explore, the rest is considered dangerous and illegal to enter.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, Paris was getting too crowded and needed more land to expand its territory. The authorities came up with a “practical” solution to the problem; digging up their dead and depositing their remains in the catacombs under the city. Bones placed on shelves one above the other, legs with legs, arm with arm, and skulls with skulls. L’Ossuaire Municipal by its official name, the macabre ossuary holds the earthly remains of over 6 million souls. The monumental silence is not the only thing to be encountered here. The dark passageways reek of putrefaction, and some claim to have felt hands grabbing them on their way.
2. Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland
The world’s most terrifying concentration camp lies 38 miles west of Krakow. Death Camp, or Auschwitz, was created by the Nazis mainly to eliminate Jews. Prisoners were gased to death and their bodies burned in communal pits nearby. Auschwitz saw an estimated 2.5 million prisoners being executed under the Nazi regime, which included Jews, Gypsies, Poles, and Soviet soldiers. Dubbed one of the world’s most haunted locations, the gas chambers and cells are now open to visitors. However, many guests abandon the guided tour halfway through after claiming to experience bizarre sensations. Some burst into tears, some feel depressed, and others feel invisible hands touching them and hear whispers. The inner walls of the gas chambers even preserved the scratch marks of the nails of the people that were cold-bloodedly being gassed.
1. Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Cambodia
Pol Pot’s secret prison, codenamed Security Prison 21, is a former high school that saw thousands of people being imprisoned, tortured, and murdered behind its gates between 1975 and 1979, under the reign of the Khmer Rouge in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. An estimated 17,000 inmates were killed by torture within these walls. Only seven are known to have survived. Most were forced to confess to crimes they didn’t commit. It is said that their ghosts continue to haunt the halls and cells. The Khmer Rouge transcribed all interrogations, and he also took pictures of almost all inmates for his personal archive. Almost 6,000 of these portraits were recovered and now hang by the prison walls. Each tells a different story, the confessions of the innocent people dragged into these rooms, from men with number tags pinned directly to their chests, to mothers carrying babies in their arms. The images alone are enough to haunt you for life. Security Prison 21 was recently turned into a museum of the macabre, attracting hundreds of tourists on a daily basis.