Dark tourism – tourism that involves travelling to places associated with death and suffering. Although dark tourism sounds like a new kind of travelling (especially after the recent Netflix documentary series of the same name – ”Dark Tourism”), it is in fact nothing new. Every time one visits the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam, the 9/11 memorial, Chernobyl’s fallout zone or the sites of massacres, one is actually engaging dark tourism. And surprisingly there are lots of people who seek the thrill of visiting scary, spine-chilling places rather than spending their vacation on the beach or beautiful surroundings. If you are one of them, keep reading. You can find dark tourism in Latvia, too and it can get scary.
Karaosta prison (Karaostas cietums)
Karaosta prison was built around 1900 and since the first days until 1997 it was used as a military prison throughout the Nazi and Soviet Union regimes. This place has witnessed countless and executions, including dreadful torture of sentenced criminals, Nazis, Soviets and very often just Latvian deserters who did not want to fight for either Nazis or Soviets. Seeing the cells with writing on the walls and feeling the spine-chilling cold in the cells are already enough to make one frightened, but there is more. This place is full of the spirits of sentenced ‘criminals’. In 2009 The Ghost Hunters International team went on an expedition in Karaosta prison and they claimed it is one of the most haunted places in the world. The team reportedly was able to feel, hear and even see them and record their presence with their specialized equipment. They also saw the most famous ghost of Karaosta prison – the girl with red hair in a wedding dress. Legend has it that her fiance was mistakenly arrested and imprisoned only 2 weeks before their wedding. She managed to get into the prison but when she got to the cell no.18 where her beloved was held, other men in the cell told her it was too late and her fiance had already been executed by shooting. The girl hanged herself in the prison and her ghost is still present there. Now she loudly opens and shuts the doors of the cells, takes out the light bulbs and appears in the halls of the prison in her wedding dress.
Just by the looks of it, Pokaiņi forest looks like a typical forest with piles of ancient rocks. But it has long been considered as an anomalous zone with a strange energy. People say that the ancient stones and rocks emit very strong energy. It is believed that Pokaini forest and the ancient rocks have healing powers and each rock has its own healing power, while some other rocks actually have the opposite effect. Most of the ancient rocks have weird-looking ornaments and signs drawn on them. In this forest, compasses do not work and mobile phones are out of service. There are sources that claim that Americans have thought there are some huge underground buildings built by Soviets for military purposes because of the anomalies fixed by satellites, but none of the locals can confirm this. The forest is also said to be “visited” by strange light balls invisible to a naked eye, but visible on photographs. Anomalous zone hunters believe that Pokaini forest could hide an invisible gateway to a parallel world and this place is a complicated system built with a goal to exchange information between different civilizations and parallel worlds. Superstitious locals visit Pokaini forest for its healing power and to get energized, however, there have also been cases when people visiting the forest experience sickness and headaches. It is believed to be very bad luck for tourists to take a stone or rock from the Pokaini forest.
This castle is home to the ghost called Sybilla or the Green Lady. Johann and Friedrich Behr, the grandsons of Ulrich Von Behr, were madly in love with one beautiful and stubborn girl called Sybilla. They fought over the rights to marry her and one day the fight got so intense that Johann took a knife and stabbed Friedrich to death. His blood splashed over one of the walls of the red room of Edole Castle. Johann cleaned up the blood and hid the murder and even somehow managed to marry Sybilla later. When he took her to her new home, the castle, she entered the room where Friedrich was killed and the blood appeared again on the wall. Johann tried to wash the blood over and over again, but it would always appear the next day. He nearly lost his mind. To pay for his sins, he built a church and asked to be buried under the doorway after his death so the people entering the church would walk over his sinful body, but the blood did not disappear even then, so he demanded to build a fireplace to hide the blood. The fireplace Johann Behr asked to build, is still in the room.
It is hard to believe that this beautiful baroque palace built for Duke of Courland and designed by marvellous architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli could hide so many dark legends. Rundale Palace is visited by countless tourists per day, but during the night it turns into a castle possessed by ghosts. The White Lady, the Black Lady and one very evil man who in the past demanded to immure his servants in the palace walls take over the castle in specific hours during the night. They even have their walking routes of the castle. The evil man can be met in of the castle rooms and the ghosts of servants appear occasionally.
The White Lady, who is actually a very young girl, wanders around the corridors of the first floor, then goes up to the second floor and disappears. She was the daughter of the doctor living in the palace. One day the young girl died all of a sudden. Her father was in deep shock and sorrow. He told everybody in the palace that his daughter went on a trip, so he could examine her dead body in the basement as he desperately wanted to find the reason for her sudden death. But he simply could not find the reason and he died from grief of losing his only beloved daughter before managing to make the funeral for her. Now she wanders around the corridors of the castle.
The Black Lady comes from the 19th century and this ghost has been caught several times in the billiard room staring at a painting of a woman and 2 small girls as though she knows them and then she turns away, walks through the dining room, goes down the stairs and disappears in one of the corridors. The Black Lady used to be a poor girl who became the love of the Count Valerian Zubov who was a favourite of Empress Catherine II. She found out about their relationship and demanded the head of the girl be cut off and brought to her on a plate. Instead of bringing her his loved one’s head, Zubov arranged to get another girl killed in place of his beloved. This girl now wanders around the castle as the Black Lady.
Velnezers lake (Devils lake)
Velnezers is a small round lake that is famous in Latvia for its clear green-blue water and mysterious legends. It is 17m deep and it can be seen through for 12m in some places of the lake. Locals say that no one has ever lived by the lake because people avoid it, as do birds and animals for some reason. Legend has it that there is no bottom of the lake and once when a person tried to swim in it, he was later found dead in another lake. Those who have managed to swim in the lake and get out alive say that the water has a sweet taste and one can easily get dizzy being in the water and the water lifts people up. People also get lost in this area and sometimes cannot find the lake although they know where they are going.
KGB building (a.k.a. Corner House)
In the centre of Riga, there stands a beautiful Art Nouveau building that hides a grim and sad history that definitely deserves to be in the list of dark tourism objects in Latvia. This used to be the KGB headquarters in which political prisoners were held and tortured to death. In most cases for things, they had not done. Anybody who was against the ideas of Soviet Union and wanted to see Latvia independent again was imprisoned here. Many of them were executed in the basement of the house, while others were kept in cells alongside dozens of others with no fresh air until they simply went mad. The risk of being arrested and held here created mass panic amongst the people of Latvia. They were scared to even talk to their neighbours because the KBG would summon random people to work for them by threatening them and their families. The building was closed in 1991 when Latvia gained independence from the Soviet Union, and since 2012 it has been been a museum.
*Link source of the article cover photo here
If you know more dark tourism places in Latvia, let me know by posting a comment. Thanks for reading!
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