Deadly destinations: The 10 execution sites turned tourist haunts

Some of the world's most impressive tourist sites have a dark past behind them. Where now tourists enjoy fountains, terrace cafés and blingy buildings, other less fortunate souls have met their end. Some top tourist haunts were once execution sites, and the tales of the beheaded and hanged sometimes play a part in the visitor experience.

The Tower of London

Where? London, England

2DB9HND The historic castle Tower of London with a view of the Traitors Gate, Drone View David Whitley story on execution sites for Traveller.
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The Tower is the most notorious and impressive of London's former execution sites. The condemned would be brought in along the River Thames by boat, and taken into the Tower via the Traitors Gate. Nowadays a tasteful glass memorial, with a tassled pillow, stands amid the Tower's gardens. Back in less enlightened times, however, the heads of the executed would be placed on spikes as a warning to others. See hrp.org.uk

Old Town Square

Where? Prague, Czechia​

aerial view of old town square in Prague at sunset. Czech Republic David Whitley story on execution sites for Traveller.

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Old Town Square in Prague is now one of the most touristy places on Earth, brimming with food stalls, cafés and entertainers. The medieval Astronomical Clock on the Old Town Hall, with its moving figures, draws huge crowds.

In the 17th century, however, the crowds would come to watch something considerably less wholesome. In June 1621, for example, 27 Bohemian leaders were executed in one sitting by the vengeful Habsburg rulers. See prague.eu

The Vatican

Where? Rome, Italy

Vatican City, Vatican City State - August 21, 2008: St. Peter's Basilica at sunset from Via della Conciliazione. Vatican City State. Rome, Italy. David Whitley story on execution sites for Traveller.

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No-one's quite certain where St Peter was hanged, but tradition dictates it was the Vatican Hill in Rome. He was also buried there, and the HQ of the Catholic Church was built on the Vatican for this reason. St Peter's Square and St Peter's Basilica more than nod to this, although the major 21st century visitor highlights are arguably the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums. See Vatican.va

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Where? Jerusalem

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - CIRCA MAY 2018: Church of the Holy Sepulchre
 circa May 2018 in Jerusalem. David Whitley story on execution sites for Traveller.

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Golgotha, the site of Jesus' crucifixion, is now covered by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one of the holiest sites in Christianity. The church was consecrated in 335, though rebuilt in the 11th century. It also covers the site of Jesus' tomb, and is usually reached after walking the Via Dolorosa pilgrimage trail. This path through Jerusalem supposedly retraces Jesus' route to the cross after being sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate.

Place du Vieux Marché

Where? Rouen, France

2F7XKK0 Frankreich, Normandie, Rouen, 27.07.2019: volle Strassencafes auf dem alten Marktplatz, der Place du Vieux Marche, auf dem im Jahre 1431 Jeanne d´Arc David Whitley story on execution sites for Traveller.
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Nowadays, Place du Vieux Marché is a pleasant focal hub for the French city of Rouen, with a smattering of handsome buildings and café terraces. Back in 1431, though, it was the site of one of the world's most notorious executions. Peasant girl turned wartime leader Joan of Arc was captured by the English, and burned at the stake in the old market square. A cross marks where her stake was placed. See rouentourisme.com

Place de la Concorde

Where? Paris, France

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Perhaps the most notorious execution site in France, however, was the largest square in Paris. These days, Place de la Concorde brims with grand statues and fountains. But when the French Revolution came for the ruling classes, this was where the notorious guillotine got a good workout. Major figures who got the chop here include King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. See parisinfo.com

Proctor's Ledge

Where? Salem, Massachusetts, USA

Photo: salemwitchmuseum.com

Photo: salemwitchmuseum.com

In 1692 and 1693, the town of Salem went loopy, with everyone accusing each other of witchcraft. In just over a year, 20 people were executed after being found guilty of witchcraft. The exact site of the hangings is Proctors' Ledge in a residential area, but the whole town has basically become a shrine to all things witchy. The Salem Witch Museum tells the story, but there are dozens of other Witch Trials-themed attractions and tours to delve into. See salemwitchmuseum.com

Fremantle Prison

Where? Fremantle, WA

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Tours of the convict-built Fremantle Prison are crammed full of stories about prison life, hidden art and escape attempts. But it's the visit to the gallows that is most likely to stick in the memory. Tours tend to end there, and there's a palpable chill as everyone goes silent. The last hanging conducted at Fremantle Prison took place in 1964. See fremantleprison.com.au

Darlinghurst Gaol

Where? Sydney, NSW

Set for renovation: The historic walls of the former Darlinghurst Gaol

Photo: Supplied

The handsome stone entrance on Forbes Street now leads to the National Art School. But the site's previous incarnation was as the notorious Darlinghurst Gaol. Seventy-six people were executed here, many of them in hangings open to the public. Sydneysiders would crowd by the gates in the hope of watching. In non-lockdown times, tours are available of the prison buildings. See nas.edu.au

Old Melbourne Gaol

Where? Melbourne, Victoria

Interior from level 3  in Old Melbourne Gaol . Friday 11 November Picture by Craig Abraham The Age SPECIAL KELLY

Photo: Craig Abraham

Australia's most famous prison execution site, however, is the Old Melbourne Gaol. This is mainly because of one particular hanging – that of notorious bushranger Ned Kelly. The Old Melbourne Gaol is now a museum which somewhat revels in its gory history. The Hangman's Night Tour, which runs after the sun has gone down, particularly focuses on nasties and nooses. See oldmelbournegaol.com.au

The writer has been a guest of the Tower of London, plus the Salem, Czech and Australian tourist boards.

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