Nazis, the Holocaust, and Archaeology as Reality TV

It’s ironic that while the new National Geographic reality TV show “Nazi War Diggers” has evoked howls of outrage from archaeologists all over the world for its happy-go-lucky desecration of human remains for tabloid documentary entertainment, the new Smithsonian show “Treblinka: Hitler’s Killing Machine,” has received interest, fairly positive reviews, and widespread (if ghoulish) curiosity.

Actually there is a lot more that links these two shows than distinguishes them.  They are both clear signs of how reality TV is transforming World War II and the Nazis into seductively entertaining documentary fare, rather than history that we really have to take seriously. Not only that.  Archaeology no longer plays the role of the handmaiden of history; it has become reality TV’s whore. Young people digging for the unexpected treasures can be quite photogenic and it’s fairly easy to turn into a narrative with breathless, cliffhanging teasers to keep us tuned in across the commercials.  Like so many “Secrets of the Bible” documentaries, archaeology has allowed itself to become a new medium of video trivialization.  Or in these cases, a medium for the banalization –or even outright denial– of the horrors of the Holocaust and the battles on the Eastern front.

"Nazi War Diggers" - National Geographic Channel

“Nazi War Diggers” – National Geographic Channel

What are the main objections to Nazi War Diggers?  Well, mostly disrespectful handling of human remains and poor archaeological technique.  The first objection is due to the positive influence of the passionate and effective ethical movement of indigenous peoples all over the world to stop the archaeological collection (or sometimes even discarding) of human skeletal remains as just things. There are many complex issues to be settled of course, especially in regard to ancient, unclaimed, or non-indigenous (if such a term can be used) human remains unearthed in excavations, but Nazi diggers, with its gleeful display of femurs and skulls as alongside the holsters, guns, and other military paraphernalia is just grotesque treasure hunting.  Its airing on the National Geographic Channel is a disgraceful blot on the NG brand, which anyway has sold away its reputation along with the management of the channel to the Rupert Murdoch empire.  What else do you expect when you sell your brand to the impresario of industrial-grade history porn?

The second objection to Nazi Diggers comes from the defenders of cultural property and the fighters against looting, another impact of the turn in archaeology and heritage practice to recognizing that artifacts and sites are not merely sandboxes for private treasure hunters or open pit mines for the private antiquities collectors’ market.  A valid point certainly, and cause for the condemnation of other cable reality shows like American Diggers on Spike TV, which valorize looting and make it into a sort of a video contest in which the digger who can rip the most valuable thing out of the earth is the winner.  But then, for that, the American Institute of Archaeology’s favorite mythic archaeologist, Indiana Jones, is the champion of the world.

So what is my beef with the “”Treblinka: Hitler’s Killing Machine,”?  It can’t be faulted in relatively greater respect shown to of human remains, or the sophistication of its archaeological technique.  The excavation is headed by Dr.Caroline Sturdy Colls, a forensic archaeologist who teaches at Stafforshire University and whose 2012 dissertation, “Holocaust Archaeology: Archaeological Approaches to Landscapes of Nazi Genocide and Persecution” eminently qualifies to lead such a dig.

Dr. Caroline Sturdy Colls, star of "Treblinka: Hitler's Killing Machine" - Smithsonian Channel

Dr. Caroline Sturdy Colls, star of “Treblinka: Hitler’s Killing Machine” – Smithsonian Channel

But what is the show trying to show through archaeology?  An admiring promo in credits the dig with being “The first-ever archaeological excavations at the Nazi death camp Treblinka [which has] revealed new mass graves, as well as the first physical evidence that this camp held gas chambers, where thousands of Jews died.”  Is this news to anyone?  Should not the remains of the victims be left in peace?  The camp, its purpose, its layout, and its mass extermination machinery has been extensively documented, not least by the history-conscious Nazis themselves. The archaeological finding that the Nazi’s did not quite obliterate all evidence of their crimes would hardly raise an eyebrow for most normal people.

But for the viewers, this scientific exercise provides a ghastly, voyeuristic entertainment.  Worse yet it actually provides holocaust deniers a kind of intellectual legitimacy.  Like the pseudo-scientific assertions of the Scientific Creationists who surf decontextualized scientific data and debates between scholars that evolution (and likewise in a different context, Global Warming) is just a theory, the comments have begun to roll in about the Treblinka dig:

Here are a few samples, questioning the archaeological interpretation of the site:

–Did a word search for “cubic” and “square”. No hits. Where are the numbers? How much area did they excavate, how many bodies did they find and / or estimate based on the grave volume?  How big were the mass graves? Compare that to other mass graves which are less politicized and we know the death count, and compare the sizes of the two to get an estimate. If you want to say, “well, we can’t find them all because most of them were incinerated. We got some Nazi to say that after pulling his teeth and crushing his balls a few times at Nuremburg.” – that’s conspiracy theorist logic based on confession extracted from torture.

–Oy vey, look at this picture of us digging in the ground. Obviously this proves that the Nazis holocausted over 60 trillion people. Don’t ask for any specifics, like about how much of the area was actually excavated, or how many bodies were actually exactly found.”

–So they found a brick wall and some tiles. Let’s rush out an article saying its gas chambers. Cheap journalism.
When will an archaeologist do work on the millions of German civilians that were fire bombed to death by the Allies, or the 25 million Christian Ukrainians killed by the Bolsheviks in the 30’s? Or the Japanese that we held in concentration camps and nuked. They get no memorials, no museums, no reparations, no constant media articles, no Hollywood movies. It would be nice to have more balance in the world.

Yes, archaeology can raise as many questions as it asks.  But they are often the wrong ones when archaeologists allow themselves to be packaged for fast-food, channel-surfing cable TV.

Winner Announced: The Worst Museum Concept of 2011

Well it’s only January but I’m ready to declare the newly opened multimedia exhibit at the Yad Mordechai Kibbutz Museum in Israel as the most tasteless, insensitive, and utterly banal attempt at heritage presentation of 2011.

And the award for the most outstanding purveyor of trashy heritage goes to Mr. David Gafni, chief designer of such politically and religiously loaded heritage sites as Tel Aviv’s Beth Hatefutsoth, the Museum of the Jewish People (former the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora ); Jerusalem’s Western Wall tunnels museum; the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum, in Kibbutz Lohamei Hageta’ot, the Illegal Detention Camp Museum in Atlit, the Historical Museum of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, and the museum at the memorial site for the fallen of the Israeli intelligence community. In addition, he was the house designer of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.  Despite– or perhaps in light of– his long career of packaging history and culture into”visitable” attractions, Gafni should be seriously considered for a lifetime kitsch achievement award.

Of course, the idea of using multimedia to make history and heritage more exciting and attractive has always courted the danger that trivialization and entertainment would be the inevitable outcomes.  But now with immersive environments and interactive experience the watchwords of the museum biz, the Past– to paraphrase David Lowenthal’s famous epigram that “The Past is a Theme Park”–is well on its way to becoming a video game.

The following report from the Israeli daily Haaretz speaks for itself.  Gafni and his team of concept developers and exhibit designers who accepted money for this truly awful multimedia presentation ought to be ashamed of themselves.

From Haaretz – January 20, 2011

Experience the Warsaw Ghetto

Visitors to a new exhibit at the Yad Mordechai Museum can take a virtual train to a virtual death camp, and feel the cannon-fire in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Is the Disneyland approach the only way to interest today’s kids in Holocaust history?

By Yuval Saar

One of the first stops made by visitors to the new Warsaw Ghetto Uprising exhibit in the Yad Mordechai Museum, in Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, is the projection of a yellow star on their clothing. By moving your body, you put the virtual patch in the place where it belongs. It’s part of the concept of bringing viewers into the experience.

A day in the Virtual Holocaust: Yellow stars are projected onto museum visitors. Photo: David Gary

Later on, in order to peek at a model of the Warsaw Ghetto one takes a virtual journey on a railway car to a death camp. After the doors shut, with a realistic-sounding noise, the trip begins. A subwoofer speaker under the car simulates the sounds of traveling by train, while images of the ghetto, and then of the extermination camps, go past the barbed-wire-covered windows.

The freight car doesn’t actually move. Its “journey” leads to two of the exhibit’s high points.

The first is a huge, 1:100 scale model of the Warsaw Ghetto, with all the buildings as they were prior to its destruction. As stories from the ghetto are projected onto a background screen, walls and buildings in the model are lit in accordance with the narrative.

The second high point is the sound-and-light show of the main stages of the ghetto revolt and the recreation of a room in Mila 18, the famed bunker headquarters of the Jewish resistance. Against a background wall of burned bricks, the events play out, with museum visitors in the middle: Cannons fire shells, houses explode and fall down, guns are fired, planes are bombing, sirens, shouts and the crying of babies – fire and death all around. All in order to thrill audiences and make them part of the experience. The jury is still out as to whether this Warsaw-Ghetto Disneyland, whose official public opening is tomorrow, is the only way to make the history of the Holocaust real to young viewers.

The Yad Mordechai Museum is not the first one in Israel or abroad to tackle the challenge of conveying history in a way that will grab the attention of today’s “instant thrills” generation, for whom the Holocaust is not a top priority. That is apparently also the reason that the museum staff often use words like “exciting,” “unique” and “experiences,” demonstrating a surrender to trends that are problematic at best, or populist at worst. A press release boasts that the new exhibit “has not yet been seen in museums that deal with the Holocaust in Israel and the world over.”

The designer of the exhibit, David Gafni, doesn’t hesitate to say that among his sources of inspiration were Epcot Center in Orlando, Florida. “I wanted to cause people who come from far away to say that there’s something very special here that doesn’t exist anywhere else, something that’s impossible to send in a picture or by email,” he explains.

Read more– if you have the stomach to do so– by clicking here.

The Archaeology of “Degenerate Art”

Here’s a fascinating excavation (and exhibition) in Berlin that I somehow missed at the time and just came across– that speaks volumes about both the creators and the dumpers.  The artifacts here show that high cultural tastes are weapons of both domination and resistance– that the archaeology of modernity is as important as the archaeology of antiquity– and that used as a means of telling alternative stories, archaeology has the power (eventually) to expose the banality of even the most violent cultural purification programs.

A journalist looks at a sculpture that was discovered during archaeological excavations in central Berlin and is now on display in the New Museum in Berlin November 8, 2010. The sculpture entitled "A Likeness of the Actress Anni Mewes" by Edwin Scharff is one of 11 pieces of art that were found during archaeological excavations in Berlin and initially thought to be of ancient origin. Research revealed that the pieces were part of the 1937 travelling exhibition "Entartete Kunst" (Degenerate Art): a collection of art the Nazis deemed un-German or Jewish and which they displayed in a manner that derided the works and their authors. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

From Der Spiegel Online November 8, 2010

Buried in a Bombed-Out Cellar

Nazi Degenerate Art Rediscovered in Berlin

By Charles Hawley

The works were thought to have been lost forever. Eleven sculptures, all of them shunned by the Nazis for being un-German, have been found during subway construction work in the heart of Berlin. But how did they get there?

An archeologist uncovers a bronze head by the artist Otto Freundlich in front of the Berlin city hall in August. The remains of the buildings on Königstrasse were simply bulldozed to make way for reconstruction. Photo: Landesdenkmalamt Berlin/ Manuel Escobedo

Digging new subway lines in Europe is no easy task. It’s not the excavating itself that is so problematic; modern machinery can bore through the earth with surprising speed these days. Rather, in places that have been inhabited for centuries, if not millennia, no one really knows what one will find. The delays for archeological research can be significant.

In Berlin, that hasn’t often been a problem. Aside from significant numbers of unexploded bombs dropped on the city during World War II and a few long-forgotten building foundations, construction tends to be relatively straightforward. The city, after all, spent the vast majority of its 770 year history as a regional backwater.

This autumn, however, an extension to Berlin’s U-5 subway line means the city can gloat over a world-class delay of its own. Workers in the initial phases of building a subway stop in front of the Berlin city hall stumbled across remains of the city’s original city hall, built in 1290. Archeologists were ecstatic.

On Monday, however, Berlin’s Mayor Klaus Wowereit announced a new series of finds that has generated even greater enthusiasm. In digs carried out throughout this year, archeologists have unearthed 11 sculptures thought to have been lost forever — valuable works of art that disappeared during World War II after having been included on the Nazis’ list of degenerate art. Most of them have now been identified and have been put on display in Berlin’s Neues Museum.

‘A Minor Miracle’

“We hadn’t expected this confrontation with this period of time, with these samples of degenerate art — it is a minor miracle,” Wowereit said at a press conference on Monday. “It is unique.”

The finds were made among the ruins of Königstrasse (King Street), a formerly bustling street in the heart of prewar Berlin. Allied bombs decimated the quarter, however, and much of the rubble was simply buried after the war to make room for reconstruction. Much of the archeological work currently under way consists of sifting through the rubble that remains in the intact cellars of the structures that once lined the street.

In early January, workers discovered a small bronze bust in the shovel of a front loader that was cleaning out one of those cellars.

“We thought it was a one-off,” said Matthias Wemhoff, director of the Museum of Prehistory and Early History in Berlin and a member of the archeology team looking into the finds. “It wasn’t immediately clear that it was linked to degenerate art.”

Soon, however, more artworks were discovered — all sculptures, all from early 20th century artists and all bearing clear indications of having been fire-damaged. Only at the end of September did it become clear that all of the art pieces — by such artists as Otto Freundlich, Naom Slutzky and Marg Moll, among others — were on the list of artworks branded as undesirable by the Nazis. All were thought to have been lost forever.

For the rest of this amazing story, click here.

For a slideshow of the recovered artworks, click here.

The Nazi leadership and their sneering cultural advisors visit the 1937 exhibition.

Restoring Ebenezer Scrooge’s Good Name

Historical deconstruction, iconoclasm, or just plain contrarianism?

Another ideologically inspired heritage icon bites the dust? Jim Carrey as Scrooge in the 2009 Disney film.

Scroggie Scrooge was not so tight after all, find historians

The Scotsman 19 December 2010

By Brian Ferguson

BAH humbug no more. The Scottish merchant who inspired one of the most famous Christmas characters of all time is finally to be recognised for his place in literary history.

Ebenezer Scroggie was a hugely successful Edinburgh merchant renowned as much for his generosity and jovial nature as his wild parties.

But a misreading of his gravestone by novelist Charles Dickens turned Scroggie into Scrooge, and a mean-spirited Christmas legend was born.

Now historians, tour guides and heritage chiefs want to raise awareness of how one of the most festive stories was triggered – and the intriguing character whose grave now lies unmarked just yards off the city’s Royal Mile.

Dickens was thought to have created the character of Ebenezer Scrooge after stumbling across the wealthy trader’s tombstone in the Canongate kirkyard while killing time on a lecture visit to the capital in 1842.

He was shocked by the apparently hard-hearted inscription, “Meanman”, later writing in a notebook: “To be remembered through eternity only for being mean seemed the greatest testament to a life wasted.”

What Dickens, who published A Christmas Carol the following year, had failed to realise was that the tombstone had actually read “Mealman” in recognition of Scroggie’s successful career as a corn trader.

Many historians and literary experts are unaware of the city’s claim to be the origin of the story, with the tombstone which inspired Dickens removed in the 1930s to make way for a redevelopment of the graveyard, best known as being the final resting place of economist Adam Smith.

Now a memorial may be erected, along with interpretation panels charting Scroggie’s fascinating life story. Scroggie, who died in 1836, may also feature in material promoting Edinburgh as a Unesco World City of Literature.

Edinburgh World Heritage, the Cockburn Association, the Edinburgh City of Literature Trust and tour guides all want to see more done to raise awareness of Scroggie’s claim to fame. Marion Williams, director of the Cockburn Association, said: “These kind of stories are part of the cultural heritage of the city and of course it should have greater recognition, particularly at the graveyard.

“Characters like this should not be hidden away or forgotten about.”

Swords into Ploughshares– 21st Century Style

Anyone who has visited Vietnam in the last twenty years knows how the notorious “Tiger Cages” and underground tunnels used by the Vietcong forces during the Vietnam-American War have become enormously popular tourist attractions.  They are part of the official national narrative of determined resistance against external foes. 
But now we are beginning to see the development of war-related sites developed for tourism for their sheer creepiness alone.  The horrors of war are muted.  The only narrative that seems to really matter is the promise of a unique visitor experience.

Underground Bunker Tourism in Indonesia. Next stop Taiwan.


From the China Post – August 22, 2010 

TAIPEI — Four unused ammunition depots on a small islet in Penghu County built during Japanese colonial rule should be rehabilitated and turned into new tourist attractions, three Control Yuan members said. 

The three members — Lee Ping-nan, Yu Teng-fang and Chou Yang-shan — made the recommendation after completing an extensive study of the century-old ammunition depots in Penghu’s remote Siyu township near Nisin Bay in the Taiwan Strait. 

Three of the depots, built close together on the islet, had bronze plates as their inner walls and were equipped with airtight windows and two iron gates at each of their entrances. 

Those features had led some to believe that the depots were toxic gas chambers or biochemical weapon research labs, Lee said, but an extensive study showed the speculation to be unfounded because their design and equipment did not live up to the standards for such facilities. 

Moreover, samples of air, soil, water and 10 other items collected at the location did not test positive for traces of any toxic gases or chemicals, he added. 

After extensive discussion with military historians and ancient ammunition experts, Lee said they concluded that the three depots were used to store smokeless ammunition. 

“They have existed since 1907 when Taiwan was under Japanese colonial rule,” Lee said, noting that they are the only depots of their kind ever to be found in Taiwan. 

After World War II, the Republic of China government took control of the depots, which continued to serve as depots for a nearby army base and are now abandoned. 

There is another abandoned depot in their vicinity, which was also built by the Japanese during their period of colonial rule, Lee said. The depot has brick outer walls and wooden inner walls and its floor stands one meter high, a design believed to be helpful in fighting humidity. 

According to Lee, cultural heritage experts from the Council for Cultural Affairs and the Penghu County government who joined his team in surveying the four structures agreed that the depots should be designated national historic sites subject to special protection for their historical and cultural value. 

“Given their rarity, special architectural features and building technologies, they should be preserved and refurbished to serve as tourist attractions and as a resource for studying World War II history,” Lee said. 

For complete article, click here

Wi-Fi, Latte, and Amnesia at the Grassy Knoll Cafe


There was a time when everyone who could remember November 22, 1963 felt a cold, creepy feeling at the mention of the Texas School Book Depository.  It was from its sixth story corner window– so the official narrative related– from a “sniper’s nest” of cardboard boxes littered with the remains of a fried chicken lunch that Lee Harvey Oswald trained his rifle on the limousine in which President John F. Kennedy rode.   

Over the years, conspiracy theories and conspiracy experts about the JFK assassination flourished.  They flourished despite of– or because of– the official verdict of the Warren Commission, eight dour establishment figures who failed to calm the nation at a very anti-establishment time.  But whether one accepted the narrative of the deranged (?), radical (?), or soviet programmed (?) lone assassin, or whether one clung to the idea of a vast mafia, CIA, or industrial-military conspiracy, The Texas School Book Depository and its surroundings in Dealy Plaza became names to conjure with.  The “Grassy Knoll,” “the Railroad Bridge,” and the “Stockade Fence,” where shadowy figures that may or may not have been accomplices or additional gunmen were reported to have lurked, became an enchanted mythic landscape.  

It is indeed Hallowed Ground for our collective national experience.  It is and has been since 1963 the focus of fascination, not about what kind of monument should be erected there or what political or religious group should not be allowed to be there– but about the enormity of the event and what difference it made to the country, whatever one happened to believe that might be.   And while today the debate rages about the siting of an Islamic Cultural Center near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, it might be useful to toss away that red herring for a moment and consider what kind of memorial commemoration we will likely see where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood.  

In the last couple of years, I’ve become interested in the worldwide transformation of historical sites and museums into leisure time venues– that are (functionally speaking) part multimedia entertainment attractions and part themed shopping opportunities.  I have blogged here the debate over the propriety of a casino at Gettysburg; about the marketing of Cold War kitsch in Berlin; and about the slash-and-burn urban renewal underway in Luxor.  I could even mention– and may do so at greater length one of these days– the role of Auschwitz in Poland package sightseeing tours.  All of these are somehow motivated by economic factors– jobs, tourists, merchandise, extra hotel nights per capita– for in an age of ever-decreasing public budgets for culture and its frequent outsourcing to heritage management companies, no museum or site executive worth their salt (on either hallowed or unhallowed ground) would dare to neglect the economic aspect of its own sustainability.  

It has certainly happened in Dealy Plaza where the permanent exhibitions (sponsored by American Airlines) have transformed an abandoned building with a grotesque history into a multimedia, experiential tourist attraction, complete with interactive screens, slick graphics, and a meticulous reconstruction of the “sniper’s nest” of cardboard boxes, protected from the tourists by a wall of thick plexiglas.   

As a sightseeing attraction for visitors to Dallas, it’s so neatly arranged and unthreatening (but surely a bit enjoyably creepy like Madam Tussaud’s or Alcatraz Island) that one wonders what happens to the memories.  

That’s why the following article from Dallas got me thinking not about the “Mosque at Ground Zero” but about the kind of memorial we are likely to have as the years roll on from September 11, 2001.  For despite the Fox News/Sarah Palin/Glenn Beck babble about honoring this site of American tragedy and resolve, we have gotten to the point where our forms of historical commemoration are so naturally meant to be economically self-sufficient– and their forms so uniformly designed for that purpose– that hallowed ground has all too often become just an another opportunity to direct traffic flow to the cafe and the gift shop– and turn visitors into consumers of souvenirs, snacks, and hot drinks.  I’m not sure that the new forms of edu-tainment and stylishly marketed refreshments necessarily encourage serious reflection.  Will the visitors remember anything except the visit itself?  

The carefully reconstructed "sniper's nest." Photo: The Sixth Floor Museum


 If it has happened at Dealy Plaza, it can happen at Ground Zero, with or without a “mosque.”  Musealized commemoration has become a technique for attracting paying crowds and keeping them occupied.  It’s also about selling a decontextualized vision of the past along with the themed merchandise.  Just follow the inescapable logic that site managers are now trapped in– and see if you agree that the kind of modern museum infrastructure that will likely furnish the future Ground Zero Visitor Center really makes visitors “feel inspired from the moment they walk through the door.”  

From AOL News – July 22  

JFK Assassination Museum Beckons With Lattes, Wi-Fi

by Linda Jones  

…With 325,000 visitors annually, the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza is the most popular tourist attraction in Dallas, yet it’s often overlooked by locals. Less than a third of its visitors, in fact, are from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  

Now, officials are seeking to remedy the landmark’s relative obscurity among natives by luring them with a new store and coffee shop right across the street.  

Opened on July 1, the Museum Store and Cafe represents a “strategic opportunity” to increase the visibility of the historic site, said Liza Denton, director of public relations.  

“We believed this corner location, with commanding views of Dealey Plaza, would increase visitors’ overall engagement to the museum and historic site,” she said, “as well as attract those who live and work downtown.”  

Kennedy was assassinated Nov. 22, 1963, as his presidential motorcade traveled past the former Texas School Book Depository Building, which is now owned and operated by the Dallas County Historical Foundation, a private nonprofit. The museum is housed on the building’s two upper floors.  

Across the street, the new store and cafe — outfitted with contemporary, loftlike decor — is already receiving a steady stream of traffic and positive responses from the local community, with many residents paying return visits, Denton said.  

The cafe at the Museum Store and Cafe, across the street from the Sixth Floor Museum, a repository of documents and artifacts from the Kennedy era, at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, offers coffee, snacks and Wi-Fi. Photo: The Sixth Floor Museum


Like the shop inside the museum itself, the store here is stocked with 1960s-themed merchandise, such as reproductions of Jacqueline Kennedy’s three-strand pearl necklaces, as well as books and souvenirs. It also has a variety of items from local artisans that make statements about Dallas today, including jewelry and handbags.  

Visitors can refuel with gourmet coffee, sandwiches and pastries at the cafe, which also aims to lure local workers with pre-ordered boxed lunches. Organizers hope that the cafe’s free Wi-Fi will further draw in residents, and that the large wall screen showing continuous Kennedy film footage and photos will compel locals and visitors alike to settle in for a while.  

“We want our guests to feel inspired from the moment they walk through the door,” Denton said.  

For complete article, click here.

The Heritage of Death and Dancing

Medellin, the Colombian city once notorious for its drug cartel and violence, has apparently cleaned up its act.  Part of the change is an aggressive if unlikely heritage marketing campaign, featuring an unlikely duo of elements of the physical and cultural landscape that are new to the “official” heritage world.

From Colombia Reports:

Tour buses and tango in Medellin’s cemeteries


Medellin is embarking on a new venture to introduce visitors to the city’s historically fascinating network of cemeteries, with organized tours by day and full-moon tangos by night.

San Pedro Cemetery

The city’s tour bus company, Turibus, will be working together with one of the city’s most popular museums – situated within the San Pedro cemetery – to provide tourists and locals with an insight into the historical and cultural importance of the burial sites.

Supported by the San Pedro Cemetery Foundation and bus company Seditrans, Turibus will on March 13 launch a new bus route for tourists, running every Wednesday and Saturday and serving each of Medellin’s major cemeteries, including San Lorenzo, San Pedro and Universal.

Participants on the tour will be provided with information about each of the cemeteries, learning about their relevance to Medellin’s history.

The director of the San Pedro Cemetery Museum, Patricia Garcia Zapata, told Colombia Reports that the project is designed to be “both cultural and educational,” aiming to create “a better use of [Medellin’s] cultural heritage.”

She explained that the cemeteries can offer a compelling cultural experience, which in her experience has led them to be a popular attraction among foreign tourists, as well as with Colombians.

To complement the cemetery tours, Garcia Zapata announced the introduction of the San Pedro Museum’s “Full Moon Nights.”

The museum will host performance-filled nights aiming to teach visitors about the artistic heritage of the city, with a particular focus on tango dancing – harking back to the favorite practice of Medellin’s 1950s cultural crowd.

To read the full story click here.

*   *   *

Tango was inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural heritage list in 2009 (Argentina – Uruguay).  For more on Medellin’s distinctive Tango subculture, click here.