Throughout history, Europe has had too many bodies and too little land for burial. The solution? Mass graves, of course. But why pile up the bones and hide them away, when you could use them as construction material? The ossuaries of Europe are the final resting places of hundreds of thousands of dead, whose bones were used to create the structure and furnishings of their own tombs.
Resourceful but creepy, these crypts are popular tourist attractions. The most popular and well-known ossuary is the Paris Catacombs, but it’s far from the only one worth visiting. Check out these creepy yet beautiful tombs on your next trip through Europe!
Sedlec Ossuary (Czech Republic)
Beneath the grounds of the Cemetery Church of All Saints in Sedlec lurks a smaller and more sinister chapel called the Sedlec Ossuary. The ossuary contains the bones of between 40,000 and 70,000 people. The chapel’s macabre decorations and furnishings are made almost entirely from bones, and the impressive chandelier hanging from the ceiling contains at least one of every bone in the human body. The bones were interred in the ossuary in the 15th century, but they were neglected until being reorganized into a chapel in the 18th century. You’ll have to pay extra to take photos here, but it’ll be worth it—so long as your friends and family have the stomach to see your pictures.
Capuchin Crypt (Italy)
Beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini in Rome is a small space called the Capuchin Crypt, home to several tiny chapels that contain the bones of nearly 4,000 skeletons. The bones are said to belong to friars of the Catholic Capuchin order who died between 1528 and 1870. Several skeletons are complete and draped in Capuchin habits, but the majority of the bones went into the religious ornamental designs on the walls and ceilings. A plaque on the wall reads “What you are now, we used to be. What we are now, you will be.” The Catholic church insists that the crypt is not meant to be creepy, but a reminder of our mortality. It may not be as old as the Roman ruins, but it’s certainly a part of Catholic history worth visiting.
Skull Chapel (Poland)
From the outside, this tiny chapel doesn’t look like much. But on the inside, it’s the final resting place of about 3,000 casualties of war and disease, not including the 21,000 skeletons stored in the basement beneath a trapdoor. Starting in 1776, a single priest collected, cleaned, and arranged skulls and leg bones on the walls and ceilings of the chapel—and when he died in 1804, his own bones were added to the collection. The arrangement is surprisingly beautiful, and several interesting skulls are on display on the alter, including a skull with a bullet hole and another with defects caused by congenital syphilis. The chapel is a peaceful and thought-provoking reminder of mortality, and also an incredible photo opportunity.
Skull Tower (Serbia)
The Skull Tower in Nis, Serbia was built during the First Serbian Uprising, the first stage of the Serbian Revolution against the Ottoman Empire fought between 1804 and 1813. During the 1809 Battle of Cegar, 10,000 Serbian Revolutionary Forces soldiers launched a siege against the Turkish-held Nis Fortress, but were quickly defeated by Turkish forces. Rather than be captured and executed by impalement, a commander ignited barrels of gunpowder, killing all soldiers, both Serbian and Turkish, in the trenches. After the battle, nearly 1,000 skulls of the Serbian soldiers were used to build Skull Tower. Today the tower is housed inside a chapel, and just 54 skulls remain in the wall, but the wall still serves as a reminder of the horrors and human costs of war.