hidden europe 13

Another kind of Chernobyl

by Nicky Gardner


Pesticides, dioxins and nickel processing are among the worst culprits in some of Europe's environmental black spots. hidden europe reports from a few places that lie off most travellers' itineraries.

We have, by and large, tried in hidden europe to report from places that are overlooked by the regular travel media. That mission has taken us to some extraordinarily beautiful parts of Europe, but also to some spots which are less than beautiful. We have visited refugee camps, holocaust memorials and war graves, and polluted landscapes of industrial decay that, in their silence and dereliction, breed a kind of breathless horror.

Dark tourism is, of course, moving into the mainstream. A day trip to the ill-fated nuclear reactor site at Chernobyl - and the adjacent abandoned city - is an increasingly popular excursion from Kyjiv. But across Europe and beyond are communities which are another kind of Chernobyl. Norilsk may have a fabulous blue mosque (opposite), but this is a place where the winter snows are yellow rather than white. Norilsk, and dozens of other places like it, never catapulted into the media on account of any nuclear catastrophe. Rather they are communities where generations of industry have slowly taken their toll, creating a modern landscape of decay. At worst, these are real landscapes of despair, and often the finger of blame can be pointed at a single company. In this article, we look at some environmental disaster zones.

Many of Europe's old industrial areas are beginning to smarten themselves up. The veneer of brown dust that once covered everything in the steel making town of Consett (in northeast England) has long since gone. A quarter of a century after the Consett works closed, visitors might not have any hint that this was once one of Europe's pollution hotspots. And Katowice, the city in Polish Silesia that lies at the heart of a historic coal mining region, nowadays has a remarkably green demeanour. Even ‘black Kladno', just northwest of Prague in the Czech Republic, is no longer quite as black as it once was.

Life in the Russian Arctic has surely never been easy - and many of those who made their lives in the cities of the far north did not do so as a matter of choice. The towns of Vorkuta and Norilsk both had their origins in the forced labour camps of the nineteen thirties.

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