Known as Battleship Island (Gunkanjima in Japanese), thanks to its distinctive shape that resembles a war vessel from the side angle of approach, Hashima Island is a former deep sea coal-mining settlement off the coast of Nagasaki set up in the late 1800’s. The 16-acre island was once home to over 5000 workers and their families before being closed for good, and today you can witness the crumbling facades of weather-beaten buildings, overgrown grass and Japanese hawks circling overhead. You may recognise some of it, as it was featured in the 2012 Bond film Skyfall as the headquarters of Raoul Silva. Although it is in a state of compete ruin, tours are available from Nagasaki harbour, with metal railings and walkways being installed along a safe-to-walk area.
26 April 1986 is etched into global memory as the day the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant suffered a devastating accident that resulted in the evacuation of nearly 50,000 people from the immediate area and the nearby town of Pripyat, which served as a base for many workers and families. Today the exclusion zone is like a ghost town, with fairground rides, hospitals, houses and schools lying as they were left when the devastation occurred. Despite the fact that radiation levels are still higher than normal, authorised tours are available around the exclusions zone. Last year’s hit HBO/Sky show Chernobyl proved to be a catalyst in sparking renewed interest in tourists visiting the site to discover the history and background of what happened there. As is the case with any “dark tourism” (a growing trend in recent years), visitors should be respectful and mindful if they do choose to visit.
In the middle of a seemingly regular field in Croaker, Virginia, stands something completely unexpected: 43 busts of U.S Presidents, each one standing at nearly 20 feet high. It’s definitely a sight to behold. These statues were once on display at the now-closed Presidents Park in Colonial Williamsburg, but were taken in by property owner Howard Hankins, who couldn’t bear to see them become lost to the annals of history. The abandoned heads have since gained a new lease of life, thanks to Howard and photographer John Plashal, who runs tours and photo walks to the site throughout the year. According to both men, the heads are not due to stay in Virginia, but official, legal tours are still available for the foreseeable future.
Once one of the most famous prisons in the world that kept notorious criminal Al Capone in a luxury cell, Eastern State Penitentiary now stands in a state of ruin, with dilapidated wings and abandoned guard towers. Despite that however, tours are possible, and the penitentiary is open every day from 10am to 5pm. The site also includes information on the current American prison system and art installations, and tickets can be purchased online. From mid-September to Halloween the prison transforms into a delightfully terrifying haunted house.
This small town approximately 20 kilometres from Limoges was the site of one of the worst war crimes committed by the Nazis in France, when German troops entered and massacred 642 people, including 193 children. Only one woman and five men who were in the town that day survived. The town was left untouched, with pre-war tram tracks and electricity lines still in place alongside the rusted bodies of cars. Today the site is accessed via the Centre de la Mémoire, which uses multimedia displays and the testimonies of survivors to give context and pay tribute to the victims. It’s stands as an eerie but important lesson in history.