Dark tourism: Visit Italy’s creepiest attractions

While Italy might be famed for its art, history and food, it is also home to some of the creepiest tourist attractions on Earth, meaning you can celebrate this Halloween by visiting Mussolini's bunker or marvelling at a severed finger.

Dark tourism: Visit Italy's creepiest attractions
Mussolini's air raid shelter. Photo: Giulio Napolitano / AFP

Dark tourism is not a new phenomenon.

Medieval pilgrims walked countless miles to visit the tombs of saints and grizzly relics to get their kicks.

During the Enlightenment things weren't much better: upper class travellers eagerly paid their cash to witness public executions in Europe's grandest squares.

Even today, while we may spend summers innocently building sandcastles on the beach, at heart we're still a very morbid bunch, and Italy is home to some fantastically spooky places.

Here's our run-down of the very creepiest. Read on if you dare…

The Colosseum – Rome

The Colosseum. Photo: Filippo Monteforte / AFP

An obvious one, yes but impressive architecture aside, the Colosseum really is just a massive theatre of death.

It was once regularly home to 65,000 baying Romans, who cheered an estimated 400,000 people and 1,000,000 animals to their deaths. Think about that the next time you line up for a selfie in front of its famous facade.

The former psychiatric hospital of Volterra

The flaking facade of the hospital. Photo: Arianna Flacco

What could possibly be more eery than an abandoned mental asylum?

The ruins at Volterra have been slowly crumbling since 1978 when the hospital was finally closed after years of mistreating its patients .

As if that wasn't creepy enough, one room contains the runic etchings of a patient who was called Oreste Ferdinando Nannetti. Nobody knows what the etchings mean – but they are perhaps a chilling expression of his insanity.

San Cataldo Cemetery – Modena

The San Cataldo cemetary by Maria Lucia Lucetti / Paolo Tedeschi

This hideous monstrosity was built as a high rise cemetery destined to become the eternal resting place of the towns inhabitants. The building was designed by noted architect Aldo Rossi and built between 1972 and 1976.

However, plans changed and the cemetery was never used. Now the cemetery stands, alone and empty with identical rows of empty tombs just waiting to be filled…

Galileo's middle finger – Florence

A rude gesture? Galileo's middle finger.

We don't know why the Florence Museum of Science considers the rotten, severed appendage of the renaissance scientist a suitable tourist attraction.

We do know that the digit was removed from Galileo's body 95 years after his death by Anton Francesco Gori, who must have had a strong stomach.

The finger is kept in a container made from gold and glass, much like a religious relic — ironic given that he was condemned for heresy by the church for his views which have since spawned centuries of scientific thought.

He is still giving the finger to the church today.

Museum for the memory of Ustica – Bologna

What remains of Itavia flight 870. Photo: Ghedolo

The Ustica air disaster of 1980 is one of the most controversial tragedies in modern Italian history. The only certain fact is that on June 27th, at 8.59pm Itavia flight 870 plunged into the sea 150 miles off the coast of Sicily killing all 81 people on board.

The flight had been on its way to Palermo from Bologna – but the question as to what brought the jet down has been the subject of fierce debate ever since.

In 2007, much of the salvaged fuselage was installed in a grim art project-cum-memorial. The room also holds personal belongings of the victims that were recovered from the sea. As if that wasn't creepy enough, loudspeakers blast out the “worries” of the passengers who lost their lives as you survey the wreckage. Chilling.

Mussolini's Villa Torlonia Bunker – Rome

Ghostly: Mussolini's air raid shelter. Photo: Giulio Napolitano / AFP

When you're finished gawking at Rome's other grizzly and blood-soaked Roman sites – why not check out Mussolini's Bunker? The bunker lies beneath Villa Torlonia and is where Il Duce used to hide from allied bombs with his family.

The bunker looks a lot like you would expect, but the morbid fascination lies in entering the personal space of a man whose philosophies are largely responsible for one of the darkest moments in human history.

The Capuchin catacombs – Palermo

The Capuchin catacombs. Photo: Eugenio Interguglielmi

Not one for the faint-hearted. The labyrinthine catacombs under Palermo contain 1,250 bodies. The bodies are in various stages of decomposition and were interred from late sixteenth to the early twentieth century.

The corpses are organized into categories, and all the people interred here were buried in their best clothes. Highlights include the body of a well-known 'Don Giovanni' who is hung up on the wall with his eyes still open so he can look at all the women who pass. Spine-tingling stuff. 

Read also: How to celebrate Halloween in Italy

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MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

Here are the remote Italian villages worth seeking out in 2022, according to a list compiled by one of the country's leading tourism associations.

MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

A total of 270 villages across Italy have been recognised as being especially tourist-friendly this year by the Italian Touring Club (Touring Club Italiano), one of the country’s largest non-profit associations dedicated to promoting sustainable tourism throughout the territory.

‘Orange Flag’ status is awarded if a village is judged to have significant historic, cultural and environmental value, as well as for being welcoming to visitors and outsiders, according to the initiative’s website.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

Villages can apply for the status if they are located inland with no coastal stretches; have fewer than 15,000 inhabitants; have a well-preserved historic centre and a strong sense of cultural identity; demonstrate sensitivity to issues of sustainability; have a well-organised tourist reception system; and show an intention to continue to make improvements to the town.

The list is updated annually, and in 2022 three new villages gained orange flag status for the first time: Dozza in Emilia Romagna, Manciano in Tuscany, and Sasso di Castalda in Basilicata.

See below for the map and a list of the Orange Flag villages according to region:

Montepulciano in Tuscany has 'orange flag' status.

Montepulciano in Tuscany has ‘orange flag’ status. Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP.

Abruzzo – 7 villages

Civitella Alfadena, Fara San Martino, Lama dei Peligni, Opi, Palena, Roccascalegna, Scanno.

Basilicata – 6 villages

Aliano, Castelmezzano, Perticara Guard, San Severino Lucano, Sasso di Castalda, Valsinni.

Calabria – 6 villages

Bova, Civita, Gerace, Morano Calabro, Oriolo, Tavern.

Campania – 5 villages

Cerreto Sannita, Letino, Morigerati, Sant’Agata de’ Goti, Zungoli.

READ MORE: Six Italian walking holiday destinations that are perfect for spring

Emilia Romagna – 23 villages

Bagno di Romagna, Bobbio, Brisighella, Busseto, Castell’Arquato, Castelvetro di Modena, Castrocaro Terme and Terra del Sole, Dozza, Fanano, Fiumalbo, Fontanellato, Longiano, Montefiore Conca, Monteleone, Pennabilli, Pieve di Cento, Portico and San Benedetto, Premilcuore, San Leo, Sarsina, Sestola, Verucchio, Vigoleno.

Friuli Venezia Giulia – 7 villages

Andreis, Barcis, Cividale del Friuli, Frisanco, Maniago, San Vito al Tagliamento, Sappada.

Lazio – 20 villages

Arpino, Bassiano, Bolsena, Bomarzo, Calcata, Campodimele, Caprarola, Casperia, Collepardo, Fossanova, Labro, Leonessa, Nemi, San Donato Val di Comino, Sermoneta, Subiaco, Sutri, Trevignano Romano, Tuscania, Vitorchiano.

Liguria – 17 villages

Airole, Apricale, Balducco, Brugnato, Castelnuovo Magra, Castelvecchio di Rocca Barbena, Dolceacqua, Perinaldo, Pigna, Pinion, Santo Stefano d’Aveto, Sassello, Seborga, Toirano, Triora, Vallebona, Varese Ligure.

Lombardy – 16 villages

Almenno San Bartolomeo, Bellano, Bienno, Castellaro Lagusello, Chiavenna, Clusone, Gardone Riviera, Gromo, Menaggio, Pizzighettone, Ponti sul Mincio, Sabbioneta, Sarnico, Solferino, Tignale, Torno.

Marche – 24 villages

Acquaviva Picena, Amandola, Camerino, Cantiano, Cingoli, Corinaldo, Frontino, Genga, Gradara, Mercatello sul Metauro, Mondavio, Montecassiano, Montelupone, Monterubbiano, Offagna, Ostra , Ripatransone, San Ginesio, Sarnano, Serra San Quirico, Staffolo, Urbisaglia, Valfornace, Visso.

Molise – 5 villages

Agnone, Ferrazzano, Frosolone, Roccamandolfi, Scapoli.

READ MORE: These are the 20 prettiest villages across Italy

San Gimignano has long been an orange flag destination.

San Gimignano has long been an orange flag destination. Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP.

Piedmont – 40 villages 

Agliè, Alagna Valsesia, Arona, Avigliana, Barolo, Bene Vagienna, Bergolo, Candelo, Canelli, Cannero Riviera, Cannobio, Castagnole delle Lanze, Cherasco, Chiusa di Pesio, Cocconato, Entracque, Fenestrelle, Fobello, Gavi, Grinzane Cavour, Guarene, La Morra, Limone Piemonte, Macugnaga, Malesco, Mergozzo, Moncalvo, Monforte d’Alba, Neive, Orta San Giulio, Ozzano Monferrato, Revello, Rosignano Monferrato, Santa Maria Maggiore, Susa, Trisobbio, Usseaux, Usseglio, Varallo, Vogogna.

Puglia – 13 villages

Alberona, Biccari, Bovino, Cisternino, Corigliano d’Otranto, Locorotondo, Oria, Orsara di Puglia, Pietramontecorvino, Rocchetta Sant’Antonio, Sant’Agata di Puglia, Specchia, Troia.

Sardinia – 7 villages

Aggius, Galtellì, Gavoi, Laconi, Oliena, Sardara, Tempio Pausania.

Sicily – 1 village

Petralia Sottana

Tuscany – 40 villages

Abetone Cutigliano, Anghiari, Barberino Tavarnelle, Barga, Casale Marittimo, Casciana Terme Lari, Casale d’Elsa, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Castelnuovo di Val di Cecina, Castiglion Fiorentino, Certaldo, Cetona, Chiusi, Collodi, Fosdinovo, Lucignano, Manciano, Massa Marittima, Montalcino, Montecarlo, Montefollonico, Montepulciano, Monteriggioni, Murlo, Peccioli, Pienza, Pitigliano, Pomarance, Radda in Chianti, Radicofani, San Casciano dei Bagni, San Gimignano, Santa Fiora, Sarteano, Sorano, Suvereto, Trequanda, Vicopisano, Vinci, Volterra. 

Trentino Alto Adige – 8 villages

Ala, Caderzone Terme, Campo Tures/Sand in Taufers, Ledro, Levico Terme, Molveno, Tenno, Vipiteno/Sterzing.

Umbria – 10 villages

Bevagna, Città della Pieve, Montefalco, Montone, Nocera Umbra, Norcia, Panicale, Spello, Trevi, Vallo di Nera.

Val d’Aosta – 3 villages

Etroubles, Gressoney-Saint-Jean, Introd.

Veneto – 12 villages

Arquà Petrarca, Asolo, Borgo Valbelluna, Cison di Valmarino, Follina, Malcesine, Marostica, Montagnana, Portobuffolè, Rocca Pietore, Soave, Valeggio sul Mincio.