A world-famous heritage site, one of Italy
's premier tourist attractions and one of the most important archaeological sites on Earth for its Roman remains and relics: it's the largest and best preserved Roman town. It is also a dark tourism spot, of course, namely for the reason it was preserved so well: the ancient city was covered by volcanic ash in the disastrous eruptions of nearby Mt Vesuvius in the year 79 AD.
For about 1700 years the site lay covered under this volcanic shroud (which also sterilized and thus preserved it) and was as good as forgotten until its rediscovery in the 18th century. Serious excavations were started in the 19th century – and are still unfinished .About one-third of the site is still unexcavated, and for the time being it has been decided to leave it at this.
What has been found here, amongst the glorious mosaics (some famously quite pornographic) and other cultural relics was the remains of human bodies – of those unfortunate enough to get trapped or who made the mistake of staying behind too long at the time of the eruptions back then.
What was actually found was the hollow spaces left by the bodies, which were then filled with plaster to (re)create casts that look like "petrified" bodies. It is mainly these that provide the dark appeal. Some of the plaster casts of bodies appear to show a facial expression of calmly having fallen asleep, others seem to display deadly horror, which only amplifies the dark impression.
Coming to see Pompeii is probably one of the longest standing dark tourism activities of them all, beginning 250 years ago from the very earliest times that the activity emerged which today we call tourism – it was part of the Grand Tour
. Of course, the thrill of seeing the dark bits could always be well camouflaged with archaeological interest in the cultural bits.
But honestly, at least today it's those bodies that many people want to see in particular. And they come in droves. The site is visited by over 2.5 million tourists annually, so the infrastructure makes it easy to get there.
There's a train station near the entrance to the site (called "Pompei Scavi"" with regular connections to the city of Naples, which serves as a good base for excursions to Pompeii. The site is huge, so if you want to see it all, a single day trip may not be enough – although as a focused dark tourist one day at the site may do. Some artefacts from Pompeii, including some of those famous plaster-cast bodies, are also on display at the Archaeological Museum in Naples. So this city makes an obvious combination.
Tourism pressure on Pompeii is so great (adding to the problems of modern-day preservation), that some parts have been closed off, and visitors are also encouraged to see other archaeological sites in the area to relieve Pompeii a bit.
Some of this may also be worth it for the dark tourist: Herculaneum was a smaller town that was also destroyed in the Vesuvius eruptions of 79 AD, but in contrast to Pompeii this role was filled by pyroclastic flows, so the type of destruction was different – and: there were genuinely petrified skeletons found of the victims of the disaster, which allowed unprecedented medical/forensic study of those ancient human remains. However, these (or plaster-cast copies of them) are now on display at the Archaeological Museum in Naples. Still, Herculaneum itself is a much less visited site and makes a good addition to a visit to Pompeii.
And of course you may want to take a closer look at Mt Vesuvius when you're in the area, and, weather (or volcanic activity) permitting, you can get pretty close to the crater rim. Either go independently or on organized excursions by bus (available from Pompeii).
The word "Pompeii" is often taken as almost a generic term, or as a metonym standing for all kinds of volcanic disasters, esp. of course if they involve some place getting covered in ash or lava. Thus you find expressions such as "a modern-day Pompeii" – as a descriptive term for the former capital of the Caribbean island Montserrat
, Plymouth, which was destroyed in a Soufriere Hills volcano eruption and buried by a pyroclastic flow. Similarly, on Heimaey
, an excavation project in which houses covered by lava in 1973 are currently being dug up calls itself "Pompei[i] of the North" (which also demonstrates what a marketing asset an association with Pompeii can be …)
(Note: Pompeii is the most ancient site listed on this website; some may argue it's way too ancient to really count as dark tourism proper, which otherwise revolves around much more contemporary aspects of the dark – see the concept of dark tourism
– but I would argue that it's still to be included here, not just because of the large numbers of tourists wanting to see the dark bits of Pompeii today, but also because it's still a reminder of quite current threats of the same sort as destroyed Pompeii, even at the very site itself, as Mt Vesuvius remains highly dangerous … another big eruption is regarded by volcanologists as "overdue" …).
ca. 15 miles (25 km) south-east of Napels, Italy