My 'Darkometer' ratings
What is this? In short: these ratings are intended to provide a quick and easy to spot impression of how dark any particular place described on these pages is for today's visitor.
that these ratings are NEITHER a seal of approval NOR intended to be a measurment of overall quality and/or general touristic merits (those aspects are classified through a star rating system
). Nor are they weighing up tragedies against each other (that's a misunderstanding that has occurred
). They are not about dark histories as such but about how palpably dark the tourist experience at any given site is for potential visitors today.
So, here I provide a simple ranking system of ratings between 1 and 10 on a scale that I will dub my 'Darkometer'. See the complete "league table" under darkometer ranking list
Here's a rough guide to what the different levels are meant to indicate:
1-3 -- a rating within this bracket means only mildly dark, perhaps a monument, or a museum with a somewhat dark twist but not in an emotionally taxing way.
4-6 -- a rating within this range means medium dark, that is: more emotionally demanding, maybe not a place to take the kids along to, and one that stimulates contemplation even beyond the actual visit, but still one not likely to shake you up so much as to give you bad dreams (as some really dark places might do).
7-9 -- these are the really dark places, some of which may be too dark for some dispositions. These are sites you should come emotionally prepared for (which also means intellectually prepared, of course – you should know beforehand what you're letting yourself in for).
-- this top rating means the very deepest darkest of the dark. Some 10-rated sites may be too tough for some – on the other hand, they may exert some of the greatest touristic pull precisely because they are so dark (e.g. Auschwitz
). I only allocate this top rating very sparingly.
(Note that my overall Top 20 dark tourism destinations
need not all have a top darkometer rating too – some are there for other reasons, such as bizarreness, remoteness, or historical significance beyond the purely dark element. Also, certain cities with several separate dark sites may be a allocated a darkometer rating that does not necessarily follow arithmetically from the average ratings of the individual sites in that city combined. For instance Berlin
, as the indisputable "capital of dark tourism" is given a top rating of 10, even though none of the individual sites that can be visited within that city are given such a high rating. Conversely, a city as a whole may be given a lower overall darkometer rating than would follow from the average of all the individual subcomponents in that city combined, such as with Amsterdam
. This has to do with the range and number of dark attractions in a city as well as with considerations of how significant these are for the overall impression of a city. In Berlin
, many of them are quite central to the city's tourism industry, while in, say, Tokyo
, they play a rather marginal role.)
If the term 'darkometer' rings a bell then that is maybe because it has been used before, namely by the Lonely Planet Bluelist 2007 yearbook
in its special feature chapter on dark tourism, more precisely in a box at the bottom of page 124 – however, the word is used there in quite a different sense, namely as a classification of dark tourists, i.e. of people, not of dark tourism sites,
as it is used here. The Bluelist classifies "you", the tourist, in a somewhat jocular fashion, as either "opaque", "dark", "die-hard dark", "pitch black" or "too dark" – the latter mainly for ethical reasons. The authors give examples to illustrate these levels, and here it becomes clear that the system is inconsistent and unworkable, at least as far as the three middle categories are concerned: for the first category the authors name the Smithsonian
as a typical site such a vaguely dark tourist may go to; this is also seen as applying to most tourists, who do at least a little dark occasionally – I can go along with this (although I could think of better examples).
The next step, just "dark", is exemplified as applying to people who go to "battle re-enactments" out of a "minority interest" – minority yes, but is it dark? As far as I'm concerned it isn't, it's something else altogether (see beyond dark tourism proper
and battlefield tourism
For "die-hard dark" they suggest Rwandan genocide memorials
, while for "pitch black" they suggest Auschwitz
and the Killing Fields
… I cannot see where the great difference is in degree of darkness here. In fact, in the case of someone who, as a Westerner (who the Bluelist is primarily aimed at too), makes the effort to go all the way to Rwanda to see its genocide-related sites, I'd say if anything that's an indication of an even greater, deeper interest in the dark than going to the Killing Fields
or to Auschwitz
, both of which are quite commonly visited by tourists, even mainstream tourists.
A large proportion of the tourists that these latter sites see are actually rather in the first category, "opaque", i.e. vaguely dark – these people go there because they're there and it's part of the place's tourism infrastructure. This is particularly true for the Killing Fields
where you can see scores of tourists who make it quite clear through their inappropriate, disrespectful behaviour that they quite probably do not have any special minority interest in the dark, or even a proper understanding of the significance of the place. It would seem that the only reason they're going there is because it's "something you do" when in Phnom Penh, which in most cases is for reasons other than specifically targeted dark ones.
is not quite the same, because that place's darkness is something that most people are well aware of, and I assume few would go there solely because the tourism industry in Krakow
markets day-trips to Auschwitz (which it does!). On the other hand, a large proportion of visitors to Auschwitz go there on school trips or study programmes, i.e. they are there for (pre-arranged) educational reasons – which, again, is something different, and not necessarily an indicator of any special dark interest. (And likewise some of these kids indicate this lack of special interest and understanding through inappropriate behaviour too).
In short, the Bluelist classifications are basically too flawed. Only "too dark" is the one category that is probably easy to agree with – going to actual public executions, or to disaster areas that are not yet ready to receive tourists (again), simply to ogle out of voyeurism, are things that this website does not endorse either (see ethical issues
and beyond dark tourism
In my view, it is far more useful to classify the dark sites as such, according to how dark they are (specific criteria are laid out below), independently of who visits them and why or in what kind of mindset. The latter is simply too variable, too unpredictable and, frankly, too irrelevant. Some very dark tourist may also go to less dark sites (I do), and, in particular, vice versa: i.e. not-so dark tourists also stumble into extremely dark sites (like the Killing Fields – see above). It doesn't say much about degrees of darkness. So let's stick with the darkness inherent in the destinations as such, however that may be "measured" – which takes us to the possible criteria:
The 'darkometer' ratings on this website are all purely based on my own personal judgement, although they are not simply based on arbitrary gut feeling alone but are (hopefully well-)guided by arguably universal criteria relevant to dark tourism (cf. also the concept of dark tourism
) such as the following:
how 'actual' a place is it?
E.g. is it the actual site of some disaster or atrocity or is it a displaced representation? For instance, a Holocaust museum in the USA
is a displaced representation, while the sites of the death camps
are the real places, and thus 'darker' than any representation.
how visibly dark is it?
E.g. the site of the death camp of Treblinka
no more than hints at what it may have looked like when it was in operation, as all buildings and facilities were destroyed and planted over – today there's a few monuments in a clearing and a small museum. So even though it's the actual site of one of the worst atrocities in history, it's quite detached from its dark significance in terms of what can be seen today. In contrast, Majdanek
, near Lublin (also in Poland
) is quite immediate: it's a huge area, ringed by watchtowers and barbed wire, and what's more: in addition to monuments and reconstructions there are still a number of authentic parts, including a gas chamber. It's at these places where the darkometer hits maximum readings – and therefore such places can also be viewed controversially. They're certainly more 'difficult'.
what was the scale
of the dark events the place stands for?
Obviously, there are differences. Though one could argue that dark is dark in as much as death is death, at least for the individual concerned. But there can be little doubt that a place as unimaginably deadly as Auschwitz
is a much darker place than, say, the site of a former prison turned memorial. It's admittedly a volatile criterion in less clear-cut cases, but it too has to feed into the overall judgement.
how recent or distant in history
did the events that the site stands for take place? It's not a simple measure of 'the more recent the darker' (or vice versa), but some historical events do 'drift away' over longer periods of time. Thus, the memorial to a landslide (e.g. Aberfan
) that happened half a century ago won't have the same impact on contemporary visiting dark tourists (unless his or her family was directly affected perhaps) than, say, the site of a much more recent event such as 9/11
, which is much more alive in the collective memory.
the latter is another criterion in its own right too: how established
is the site and what it stands for in popular awareness. It's not just popularity, as in what numbers of visitors a site physically attracts (that would be a mere mechanical popularity measure), although it may be an indicator too. But what I mean is: how well anchored is the dark event/site in question in the worldwide historical collective mind. A drastic example would be the wreck of the Titanic
. The tragedy of the Titanic is one of the most popularized of any such event in history, even though other such events were actually much worse (e.g. the sinking of the Gustloff) – yet hardly anybody has ever seen the real thing except a very small number of very privileged people. Similarly, Fukushima
. Only relatively small numbers of visitors actually go there (far fewer than go to Chernobyl
). But practically everybody is aware of both the Titanic and Fukushima. This criterion of collective awareness is also quite important.
how emotionally gripping
is the site? This is largely personal, of course, but also a significant element. Some sites almost knock you out emotionally – especially some of the sites of the former concentration camps of the Holocaust
– while others are comparatively light-hearted, also in the way they have been commodified. (Some of the 'post-communism' museums in the former Eastern Bloc
, such as the GDR-Museum
or the Museum of Communism
, could be adduced as cases in point.)
finally: how big is it?
Simple, but surely an element as well. A small monument somewhere in a city just cannot have the same sort of impact on a visitor as a site of the sheer size of, say, Auschwitz-Birkenau