The Portuguese capital is associated with WWII spies and dimly lit cobbled streets, but at face value it would seem to be missing the deadly undertones of cities like Paris (bloody revolution, catacombs, the Père Lachaise Cemetery) or London (plague pits, the Great Fire, Jack the Ripper).
As with most major cities, there are the inevitable ghost stories associated with Lisbon, and the ghost tours that go hand in hand; it would be naive to say that death doesn’t have a global entertainment value. Last year there was even a play called Dark Tourism, devised by local dance and drama group Silly Season, staged in a theatre on Rua Garrett. But if you want something more concrete, more respectful, there are plenty of options – you just have to know where to find them.
Imagine a cemetery where the decor mirrors the state of the city surrounding it; imagine elegant plinths crumbling away and rusting railings guarding them. This is the reality of Cementerio Colon, a sprawling 140 acre site in the Vedado district of Havana, where the lines of graves are so long that there are actual streets carving up each section.
There’s as much decay here as in the city centre, but there’s also a sense of belonging, with the tributes left to loved ones being much more personal and emotional than anything you’d encounter back in the UK. Yet many of the graves are poorly maintained because the relatives left behind have escaped Cuba and managed to emigrate elsewhere, leaving some corner of the cemetery to fall into obscurity in their absence. This is what I found when I spent a morning inside the gates…
The more I travel, the more I become aware that it’s actually quite normal for tourists to visit graveyards, despite the fact that it jars with stereotypical Western attitudes to death (we tend to talk about the dead in hushed tones and use euphemisms such as ‘passed on’ and ‘no longer with us’, rather than confront the truth). Boston’s Granary Burial Ground is so embedded in the city’s Freedom Trail that it’s almost a travesty not to visit, so it’s the perfect place to test your tolerance for morbid thoughts. This is where I saw some very plain epitaphs for famous people and some very cool ones for the not-so-famous, amongst the estimated 5,000 bodies placed here.
Calavera (Span. feminine noun) = skull. A travel blog with a love of culture, dark tourism and the unconventional.