hidden europe 19

Memorials to death and disaster: dark tourism

by Nicky Gardner


In the world of postmodernity, the sites of tragedies and atrocities have become new venues for pilgrimages. Dark tourism comes of age as memorial museums make their mark on the tourist trail.

There was a time when we went to museums to see Grecian urns or to ponder on the folksy history of some remote small town or mountain valley. All that seems to have changed. Nowadays, more and more museums recall a darker side of life: famine, persecution, disasters and atrocities. But reshaping a troubled history for presentation to visitors is not always easy.

There are plenty of folk in Derry who heard gunshots during the Troubles. Some lost loved ones to violence. But now anyone can go to the Bogside district of the Irish city, as staunchly republican today as ever it was during the Troubles, and recall the awful events of Bloody Sunday. Just call at the Museum of Free Derry. Visitors to the museum can hear the terrified screams of innocent civil rights protesters as they were gunned down by British soldiers on a sunny Sunday afternoon in January 1972. The Museum of Free Derry is one of a new genre of visitor venue that is becoming ever more a feature of European travel. Dark tourism, it seems, has come of age: travellers today will often make a considerable journey to feel the chill of a place scarred by tragedy or atrocity.