Indonesia, Italy: Chilling secret in ‘town of the dead’


Visiting unusual cemeteries on your travels can be a great insight into different cultures. But these are some of the most intriguing – and downright unsettling.

Here’s just a few that caught our attention.

1. The Burial Caves of Toraja, Indonesia

In this particular cemetery, the dead are not buried, but are interred in the walls of a steep cliff face.

This family is still on display. Picture: GettySource:Supplied

Nearby, lifelike wooden sculptures of the dead stand in neat rows in little crevices, very much like the windows and balconies of a house. Nothing spooky about that at all.

2. The ‘Merry Cemetery’, Sapanta, Romania

Who said burial grounds had to be dreary and grey? Not the people of Sapanta, Romania, that’s for sure. This particular cemetery is known for its cheery disposition.

Who said that burial sites needed to be dreary and grey? Picture: GettySource:Getty Images

Each gravesite has a brightly coloured wooden marker, which features a portrait, and a memorial epitaph of the diseased, giving a charming backstory of their life. For example, that guy there seemed to really like his tractor.

3. The Museum of the Mummies, Ferentillo, Italy

This is not a photo of yours truly with a particularly bad hangover … though it is a startlingly accurate representation. Under the Church of Santo Stefano is a 24-metre long crypt dating from the thirteenth century.

This is a shot of the Museum of the Mummies. Picture: GettySource:Getty Images

Upon discovering the crypt and the amazingly preserved bodies, scientists explained their preservation came down to a combination of particular elements – the type of microorganisms characterising the soil of the area and the airy space of the crypt.

The museum now exhibits about twenty of the mummified bodies.

4. Hanging coffins, Sagada, Philippines.

Too bad if live in Sagada and you’re afraid of heights. Years ago the people of this province decided not to bury their coffins, and instead suspend them off a cliff one above another.

Yep, these coffins are all hanging off a cliff. Picture: GettySource:Getty Images

Originally, this was done to keep animals from getting to the bodies, but over time it has become a tradition.

5. Neptune memorial reef, Florida, USA

If you really, really like the ocean, this one is for you. Not content with just having your ashes flung into the brine-y depths, those who are memorialised at the man-made Neptune memorial reef (about 40 feet under the sea, 5.2km off the coast of Florida) have their remains cremated, mixed with concrete, and turned into a statue.

If you really like the ocean, this is for you. Picture: WikipediaSource:Supplied

Neptune’s “underwater city” design also involves underwater roads leading to a central feature with benches (?!) and statuary.

6. Chiesa dei Morti, Urbania, Italy

Chiesa deiI k Morti translates to “Church of the Dead” and it’s a description you can’t argue with. Here you’ll find 18 incredibly well preserved mummies, dating from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance period.

Chiesa deiI k Morti translates to "Church of the Dead". Picture: GettySource:Getty Images

They have been on display behind the altar since 1833. What is truly remarkable is that they have all been naturally mummified – scientists believe that there is a particular mould in this region that absorbed all of the moisture from the bodies meaning they didn’t decay in the usual manner. Tours run regularly and your guide can tell you how each person died: one died of heart failure, another died while in labour, one was murdered.

7. New Lucky Restaurant, India

The owner of the New Lucky restaurant faced a conundrum when he purchased the property. The floor was covered in exposed sarcophagi – reportedly dating back to the 16th century.

This restaurant is built around an exposed sarcophagi. Picture: TripAdvisorSource:Supplied

But that didn’t stop him from following his dream of becoming a restaurant proprietor. He just built the dining room around it, and now people eat their meals attempting to ignore the fact that there are bodies on the ground.

8. Catacombs, Paris

No idea what to do with your remains when you pass on? Ever considered having your bones stacked into a macabre structure? The French were way ahead of you.

Ever considered having your bones stacked into a macabre structure like this when you die? Picture: GettySource:Getty Images

The Catacombs of Paris are underground ossuaries that hold the remains of more than six million people in a small part of a tunnel network built to consolidate Paris’ ancient stone quarries. It was created in 1786 to eliminate the city’s overflowing cemeteries. It’s now a hugely successful tourist attraction. Picture: Getty

9. Burial Houses, Alaska

Here’s another cemetery that refuses to be drab and solemn. The graveyard at Nicholas Orthodox Church in Eklutna, Alaska, is filled with more than 100 colourful burial sites. These “spirit houses” are about the size of a large dollhouse.

Here’s another cemetery that refuses to be drab and solemn, with this Alaska graveyard filled with colourful "spirit houses". Picture: Martha de Jong-Lantink/Flickr.Source:Flickr

After Russian Orthodox missionaries started arriving in the native village of Eklutna in around 1830, burial traditions of the two groups started co-mingling. Before the missionaries’ arrival, the Athabascans cremated their deceased — a process that would allow their spirits to make their journey onward. Because Orthodoxy forbid cremation, it became common practice for their family members to instead construct a house above the grave so that the spirits would have a place to go until they were ready to make the next step in their final journey.

10. The Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, Italy

In the tunnels below this Italian church you’ll find 8,000 mummified bodies, dating back to the seventeenth century and continuing until the end of the nineteenth century.

In the tunnels below an Italian church you’ll find 8,000 mummified bodies. Picture: GettySource:Getty Images

The moderate climate conditions of this burial site and the methods used by the friars to embalm the corpses allow the bodies to be well-preserved. They are propped up around the walls, almost intact and recognisable. It’s … super creepy.

11. Tree graves, Toraja, Indonesia

In this particular village in Indonesia, when a baby dies they are buried inside the trunks of living plants so they can be absorbed by nature.

In this Indonesian village, when a baby dies they are buried inside the trunks of living plants so they can be absorbed by nature. Picture: Getty.Source:Getty Images

Villagers hollow out holes in huge tree trunks before wrapping the deceased child in cloth and then placing the infant inside.

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