Trazzler

The world's spookiest attractions

From Roman crypts to Incan mummies, these creepy sites will satisfy your taste for the macabre

  • Confronting the inevitability of mortality in Rome

    For centuries Capuchin monks have been living and dying at Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini in Rome. For a startling reminder of the inextricable bond between life and death, try visiting a few brothers of the deceased variety. In the vaulted chambers of the crypt, the earthly remains of thousands of Capuchins adorn the walls and ceilings in arrangements of macabre artistry and undeniable power. Although most have been disassembled into their skeletal components and rearranged (the pelvises are particularly dainty), some brothers still stand in their humble vestments, flesh flaking away from their desiccated faces. In their various states of decay, the monks convey the inevitable facts of life, from the unique perspective of those who are now deprived of it, reminding visitors (the Marquis de Sade, just to name a famous one) to cherish their precious days among the living.

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  • Pondering a cold eternity with child mummies in Salta, Argentina

    If the bare-boned mummies of your imagination come wrapped in white gauze and have supernatural powers, you should treat yourself to the real thing at the Museum of High Altitude Archaeology in Salta. In 1999, three frozen children (las momias del Llullaillaco, 15, 7 and 6 years old) were found atop a remote volcano in a state of near-perfect preservation. Studies revealed blood in their veins and fully intact organs. Every detail, in fact, from skin, to fingernails, even eyelashes will leave you wide-eyed as will the artifacts that were found with them on the mountaintop. Ritual sacrifices like this one 500 years ago functioned to mollify mountain gods. It is believed Los Niños were offspring of Inca elite who would have been honored. Certainly visitors are. The overall impression is one of supremely deep sleep and it is, quite simply, stunning.

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    Convento de Santa Teresa

    Visiting a barefoot visionary poet’s birthplace in Ávila, Spain

    A mystic, rebel, reformer, philosopher and writer of ecstatic poetry who has stood the test of time, it’s no wonder that Saint Teresa of Ávila inspires such a diverse set of day-tripping pilgrims to flock to the provincial Castilian town where she was born in 1515. As a young girl, she fantasized about becoming a martyr. Later in life, she dedicated herself to ridding Renaissance convent culture of luxury and creature comforts. Her poetry is analyzed by lit geeks and theologians alike. At the still-active convent that was built atop her childhood home, you can peer into the yard where she once played and ponder scenes from her fascinating life depicted in stained glass. The adjoining museum gift shop amasses a curious collection of relics from Santa Teresa and her fellow-poet buddy, San Juan de la Cruz. The strangest: her severed finger complete with emerald ring (her hands were reputed to have miraculous powers — Franco kept her left hand, now housed at La Merced church in Ronda, at his bedside until his death).

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  • Designing in a human bone medium in Kutná Hora, Czech Republic

    From the outside, Sedlec Ossuary appears to be a relatively nondescript Gothic church. When the structure was being built, a huge cemetery filled with tens of thousands of skeletons was unearthed. The skeletal remains were stacked up dutifully in the chapel for centuries. That is, until the 19th century, when a woodcarver, František Rint, was tasked with straightening up the piles of bones. And what a job he did, festooning the church with garlands of skulls, a coat of arms made entirely of bones, a chandelier using every bone in the human body, a bony Jesus on the cross … It’s haunting, macabre and grotesque, but even the most creeped-out visitor can’t help but admire Rint’s creativity and artistic vision.

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  • Oohing and aahing over medical oddities in Philadelphia

    For those of us with dark affinities, the Mütter Museum is a delectable underground treat. A modern-day cabinet of medical curiosities, the Mütter boasts an eerie assortment of bodily growths, mutations and disorders. Glimpse sliced sections of a human head, syphilis-ravaged skulls or a mammoth ovarian cyst plucked out of time and preserved behind glass. Or perhaps you long to peer into the skeletal remains of conjoined infants, or contemplate a plaster cast of famous Siamese twins Chang and Eng. On the way out, reintroduce yourself to some semblance of normality in the Medicinal Plant Garden, a quiet respite from the weirdness.

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  • Seeking refuge with the dead in the Paris Catacombs

    Cool as a wine cellar, l’Ossuarie Municipal serves as the final resting place for 6 million Parisians (and a macabre respite for tourists from the muggy days of late summer). The trip into the site begins with a long descent down spiral stairs twisting into the darkness. Passage continues along a narrow corridor marked by an ominous black line on the ceiling to keep early visitors traveling by torchlight from losing their way in the labyrinth of tunnels. Passing through one of the archways, a sign reminds “This is the empire of the dead.”

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  • Musing on mummies and cast-off corpses in Guanajuato, Mexico

    The Mummy Museum is the biggest draw in town — and definitely the strangest. Salt and minerals in the soil here mummify dead bodies: the only place on earth this happens naturally. And long-lasting local remains led to a 19th-century space problem, prompting an unusual Mexican law. If a graveyard bill remained unpaid by a certain date, the delinquent undecomposed corpse would be tossed out! Sadly, many corpses missed the deadline and were evicted. The city, stuck with a hundred excess mummies, created a museum and put them to work! There, you can see a drowning victim’s body, a man who died from knife wound, and a woman who was buried alive. Warning: Such sights make for macabre memories — and dandy little nightmares.

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  • Discovering the iceman in Bolzano, Italy

    Imagine finding a body frozen face down in the ice while hiking on a glacier. Now imagine learning that the body is roughly 5,000 years old. In 1991, two unsuspecting Germans had such an experience; their discovery created a worldwide scientific sensation. The corpse they stumbled upon in the Oetztal Alps, known as Ötzi after the location of the find, is one of the oldest and best preserved mummies in the world. Incredibly, he was found with much of his clothing, such as goat hide leggings and loincloth, still on and intact. Lying in the glacial ice for thousands of years also helped preserve many of his possessions, including a copper ax, birch bark containers, and a bow, quiver and arrows, all found nearby. His desiccated body — covered with over 50 tattoos — and accessories are on display in a refrigerated room at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy.

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  • Suspending disbelief at Marsh’s Free Museum in Long Beach, Wash.

    Have you ever watched “The X-Files” or “Fringe,” or gawked at tabloid covers and wondered whether cross-species genetic mutations might actually exist? If so, then you may be willing to suspend your disbelief long enough to enjoy Marsh’s Free Museum in Long Beach, Wash., where visitors get the rare opportunity to get up-close and personal with the world’s most famous human-reptile hybrid. The product of a freakish, elaborate hoax (or an evolutionary dead end, if you want to believe), Jake the Alligator Man is a skeletal oddity with a human head and alligator body. (Hey, real scientists initially thought the platypus was a fabrication.) He may be mummified in a glass case, but that doesn’t stop him from having his own fan club and selling more bumper stickers anywhere west of Wall Drug. Keeping Jake company in the weird department are an authentic shrunken head and an eight-legged lamb, just to name a few.

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  • Staring at a saint’s severed head in Drogheda, Ireland

    The church is cool and dim, with tiled floors and wooden pews scattered with the devout, heads bowed in prayer. Off to one side is an unusual shrine, dedicated to Saint Oliver Plunkett, a Catholic bishop who was hanged for treason by the English in 1681. Most of him lies buried in England where his trial was held, but his head — shrunken, stark and covered in creosote to preserve it — is encased in a gilt and glass enclosure in St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Drogheda. Pay your respects to Ireland’s patron of peace and reconciliation by lighting a candle, before walking out into a gray Irish morning to raise your pint of porter in his honor in one of Drogheda’s many pubs.

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  • Gazing at haunted cliffs in Sagada, Philippines

    Sagada is famous for its hanging coffins, which rest in mysterious nooks on the side of cliff walls overlooking the town. Less well known are the coffins clustered at the mouth of nearby Lumiang Cave. An earlier generation of tourists tampered with these, with haunting results. Some bones are strewn about in front of the hollowed-out log coffins, and in one case a skull peers out from a hole in the wood. For hundreds of years local tradition dictated the exact opposite of the Western practice of interment; coffins were instead laid at the mouth of the cave because there they are both sheltered from the elements and open to fresh air.

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  • Recycling cemetery space in Hallstatt, Austria

    Behind the Catholic church on the east end of postcard-pretty Hallstatt is an unexpected find — unburied human bones. Not only bones, but hand-painted skulls, too. For a nominal charge, the remains can be viewed inside the 12th-century charnel house of the Chapel of St. Michael. Because the tiny town is wedged between a mountain and a lake with no room to expand, the cemetery literally ran out of space every 10 years or so. To solve the problem, bodies were exhumed to make way for the newly dead. Family members would then stack the bones of their deceased relatives in neat rows in the crypt, and often lovingly decorate the skulls with floral designs and denote the dates of birth and death. The tradition was discontinued in the 1960s.

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  • Honoring the sacred tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka

    The colors and costumes are astounding at Kandy’s Esala Perahera, a Buddhist festival filled with drummers, fire-dances, whip-dances, Kandian dances and richly decorated elephants adorned with lavish garments. It’s all to honor the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha, which was, as the story goes, hidden in the hair of the Princess Hemamala and brought to Sri Lanka from India during the 4th century AD. According to Sri Lankan legends, when the Buddha died, his body was cremated in a sandalwood pyre at Kusinara in India and his left canine tooth was retrieved from the funeral pyre. The festival includes a long procession filled with symbolic ritual dances to honor gods that takes several hours. The Temple of the Tooth, a beautiful 16th-century building housing the relic, is the main attraction in Kandy and worth visiting any time, but the festival is the best time to come.

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  • Walking with ghosts in Actun Tunichil Muknal, Belize

    The Mayans thought caves to be the entrance to Xibalba, or “place of fright.” In order to ensure a good crop or a spell of rain, the chosen human sacrifices would venture down into the underworld, carrying with them large ceramic vessels brimming with maize and jagged bloodletting devices. Shamans followed behind offering pleas to the gods, their minds and bellies engorged with psychedelic mushrooms. This is Actun Tunichil Muknal, Belize’s Cave of the Stone Sepulchre, rediscovered in 1989, 1,000 years after many of these sacrifices took place. You can hire a guide in San Ignacio to lead you through the first 500 meters of rushing water and show you around the dry chamber littered with human skeletons and cracked pottery. The most dramatic sight is the Crystal Maiden, a 20-year-old woman clubbed and left for dead. Cemented to the floor by age, her perfectly preserved skeleton sparkles with calcite.

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