Capuchins’ Catacombs

Capuchins’ Catacombs (Palermo, Italy)

In 1599, Capuchin monks made a shocking discovery while exhuming bodies from the catacombs of their monastery — many of the bodies had been naturally mummified. Following this discovery, the monks decided to mummify one of their own, and the Palermo townspeople soon joined in. Deceased members from all social classes were mummified and placed in these catacombs until the 1880s, when the practice of mummification was banned. But that didn’t stop the curious townspeople, as the last mummy was laid to rest here in 1920. As a result of this “mummification trend,” the catacombs of the Capuchin Monastery have become one of the largest, and most eerie, collections of mummified bodies in the world.
Thanks to Carolyn for the suggestion.


Specola Museum

Museo La Specola (Florence, Italy)

Suggested by John: “The Specola museum in Florence, Italy is a most fascinating museum. It is a natural history museum and is laid out starting with insects and mollusks, then birds, fish, mammals (all stuffed, sometimes very weirdly) and ending with the most stunning wax anatomical models of humans and their parts. There is a book published by Taschen called: Encyclopaedia Anatomica. If you ever find yourself in Florence, I strongly advise you go there. It’s near the Pitti Palace.”

House of Terror

House of Terror (Budapest, Hungary)

mattsochoki writes to recommend this site: “I found an article about this place which is a museum in Budapest to the communist secret police, it was also their former headquarters. The real treat is that I did some searching and found the official website for the place. [There are] some really interesting photos of the inside of this place. I highly recommend checking it out. I found it incredibly interesting that they not only acknowledged the communist secret police but made a whole museum.”

Rick Steves has an excellent article about this site, which includes the following fascinating info: “Budapest has recently opened one of the most powerful museums in Europe. Featuring the grim decades of Nazi and Communist repression, the museum is the former headquarters for the secret police of both the Nazi and Communist governments. The building’s awning has the word TERROR cut out of it, and when the sun projects through these letters, it symbolizes the terror which was projected onto the Hungarian people for fifty years. After allying themselves with Hitler to save their own skins (and their Jewish population), Hungary was overtaken by the Nazi-affiliated Arrowcross in the waning days of World War II. Arrowcross members did their best to exterminate Budapest’s Jews. They killed Jews one-by-one in the streets, and were known to tie several victims together, shoot one of them, and throw him into the freezing Danube—dragging the others in with him. They executed hundreds in the basement of this building.”

Medieval Crime Museum

Medieval Crime Museum (Rothenburg, Germany)

TandoMando highly recommends this site: “If anyone gets to the medieval walled town of Rotenburg ob der Tauber, in the Rhine valley, I highly recommend the museum of torture and death! It’s located at the far end of the entrance to the city. They have all the standard medieval torture devices like iron maidens, stretching racks, large metal hoods worn for various transgressions, for all manner of punishment meted out way back in the day. Some were positively bizarre, including one that was basically a table to which the victim was tied, and had a spike that went in the anus, forced into the body so far it resulted in death.” Sounds like my cup o’ tea!

Holocaust Memorial (Berlin)

Holocaust Memorial (Berlin, Germany)

Berlin Holocaust Memorial by K.

Berlin Holocaust Memorial by K.

K. suggests this site: “I don’t know I would strictly say this is a morbid sightseeing example, although if you include the museum underneath it might qualify. Regardless, it certainly is worth a wander through if you are in that part of the world.

“In 2005 I was backpacking through Europe, and made a point of getting to Berlin to do a tour of the city. On the tour we stopped at many places including the remaining sections of the wall, Hitler’s hiding place and the Holocaust Memorial. It was the memorial that intrigued me the most. It is made up of hundreds of pillars all of differing heights, and placed on the ground which was a series of dips and rises. Our guide explained that part of the reason for the design was to show how you might meet up with people for a while, but then turn off and only see people for a second before they disappear behind another pillar, which was an effort to show how people passed each other in the death camps during the Holocaust as they were shifted around.

“The thing that really intrigued me was part of the controversy of the memorial. Each pillar is covered with what they call an ‘Anti-graffiti agent’, made by a company called Degussa, making it possible for any graffiti to be easily washed off. Yet Degussa also made Zyklon B Gas, which was used by the Germans in their gas chambers during the Holocaust.

“A lot of people on the tour thought this was appalling, however I thought it to be quite fitting. Sure it could more than likely come down to their bottom line and how much profit/publicity they could get off it, hell that is what business is about after all, but I prefer to think they saw how they had contributed in such a horrific way, and this is some small way of saying sorry.

“There are heaps of articles about it on the net, here is one where I checked info:

“I have attached a photo I took while in the middle of the memorial. You can see how the ground looks like a wave, and how high the pillars get. It really is quite unnerving being in there after hearing all the tales of what happened.”

Pere Lachaise Cemetery

Pere Lachaise Cemetery (Paris, France)

The famous Parisian cemetery, chock full of literary luminaries such as Oscar Wilde, Moliere, and, er, Jim Morrison. Also of morbid note, in the eastern corner of the cemetery is the Mur des Fédérés, against which 147 Communards were shot at dawn on 28 May 1871, after their final resistance among the graves the night before. They were buried where they fell against the wall. The official website has a FANTASTIC virtual tour, which is the next best thing to being there. (Special thanks to Merrie for the suggestion.)

Palais Garnier

Palais Garnier (Paris, France)

Baelish explains why this building is a must-see for the morbidly-minded:

I’d like to say that I’m disappointed you have the Notre Dame Cathedral listed, but don’t have the fabulously misleading Palais Garnier in Paris, France listed amongst your morbid sights!

To the non-franciasophiles, the Palais Garnier is most commonly known as the Paris Opera House. It was built between 1862 and 1875 by French architect Charles Garnier, and is the only theatre in the world to boast being built over thousands of corpses, a brief stint as a prison, a fatal accident involving a falling counterweight, and being the abode of the most famous, and well-traveled, ghost in the world!

(Not my site, but there are some phenomenal pictures here:

Theatres are always charged full of spooky energy, especially opera houses where the fantastic and morbid were played out every night in front of a charged audience, and especially old opera houses which add the history of centuries to the already supernatural air.

But in addition to being able to catch a ballet here (with any luck you can sit in the exact seat where, in 1896, one of the counterweights for the massive chandelier broke loose and crashed through the ceiling, killing an unfortunate patron), they host tours of the building and on rare occasion have allowed groups down into the labyrinth-like cellars that inspired an author by the name of Gaston Leroux to pen his classic, The Phantom of the Opera, which has been adapted into several movies and a hit musical that has played around the world. Besides being inspired by the building, Leroux was so impressed with it’s macabre splendour that he set his story here as well, giving his Phantom a home in it’s lair-like cellars.

Unguided groups aren’t allowed near the basement, and no tourists are allowed past the third cellar because of the high risk of getting lost, or getting caught in a collapse. However, if you did manage to end up in the fifth floor of the cellar, hundreds feet below ground, you would find yourself in a black cavern containing an underground lake. Wander down one of the side passages and you’ll find yourself in the Communards Cellar where, during the 1871 Seige of Paris, the half-finished building was used as a prison and munition storage. Nearly a hundred prisoners were chained to the walls and left alone in the darkness, with just the steady dripping of water and the fear of instant death caused by a too-careless guard around the stores of gunpowder. To this day, you can see initials carved into the walls next to rusted manacles.

If you manage to get yourself hopelessly lost you may end up in the catacombs, which are connected to the opera cellars in several places. Get lost down there and you could never be found, as the catacombs are labyrinthian, stretching under most of Paris, and filled to the brim with human skeletons.

You can see why this historic, and beautiful, building is truly a morbid sight to see. (Not to mention why I’m a teeny bit enamored with it.)

More Info:
Opéra national de Paris
Great Buildings Online