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TOURISM

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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MONEY

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

If you're visiting Italy from outside the EU you risk running up a huge phone bill in roaming charges - but there are ways to keep your internet access while avoiding being hit by extra charges.

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

Travelling without access to the internet is almost impossible these days. We use our phones for mapping applications, contacting the Airbnb, even scanning the QR code for the restaurant menu.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone registered in an EU country then you don’t need to worry, thanks to the EU’s cap on charges for people travelling, but people visiting from non-EU countries – which of course now includes the UK – need to be careful with their phone use abroad.

First things first, if you are looking to avoid roaming charges, be sure to go into your settings and turn off “data roaming.” Do it right before your plane lands or your train arrives – you don’t want to risk the phone company in your home country starting the clock on ‘one day of roaming fees’ without knowing it.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Italy this summer

But these days travelling without internet access can be difficult and annoying, especially as a growing number of tourist attractions require booking in advance online, while restaurants often display their menus on a QR code.

So here are some techniques to keep the bills low.

Check your phone company’s roaming plan

Before leaving home, check to see what your phone plan offers for pre-paid roaming deals.

For Brits, if you have a phone plan with Three for example, you can ask about their “Go Roam” plan for add-on allowance. You can choose to pay monthly or as you go. Vodafone offers eight day and 15 day passes that are available for £1 a day.

For Americans, T-Mobile offers you to add an “international pass” which will charge you $5 per day. Verizon and AT&T’s roaming plans will charge you $10 per day. For AT&T, you are automatically opted into this as soon as your phone tries to access data abroad.

READ ALSO: Seven things to do in Italy in summer 2022

These all allow you to retain your normal phone number and plan.

Beware that these prices are only available if you sign up in advance, otherwise you will likely be facing a much bigger bill for using mobile data in Italy. 

Buy a pre-paid SIM card

However, if you are travelling for a longer period of time it might work out cheaper to turn off your phone data and buy a pre-paid SIM card in Italy.

In order to get a pre-paid SIM card, you will need your passport or proof of identity (drivers’ licences do not count).

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Why now’s the best time to discover Italy’s secret lakes and mountains

Keep in mind that you will not be able to use your normal phone number with the new SIM card in, but will be able to access your internet enabled messaging services, like WhatsApp, Facebook and iMessage. Your phone will need to be ‘unlocked’ (ask your carrier about whether yours is) in order to put a new SIM card in.

Here are some of the plans you can choose from:

WindTre

WindTre, the result of a 2020 merger between the Italian company Wind and the UK network provider Three, currently offers a “Tourist Pass” SIM card for foreign nationals. For €24.99 (it’s sneakily marketed as €14.99, but read the small print and you’ll see you need to fork out an additional €10), you’ll have access to 20GB of data for up to 30 days.

The offer includes 100 minutes of calls within Italy plus an additional 100 minutes to 55 foreign countries listed on the WindTre website. Up to 13.7GB can be used for roaming within the EU. The card is automatically deactivated after 30 days, so there’s no need to worry about surprise charges after you return from your holiday. To get this SIM card, you can go into any WindTre store and request it.

A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.
A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.

Vodafone

Vodafone has had better deals in the past, but lately appears to have downgraded its plan for tourists, now called “Vodafone Holiday” (formerly “Dolce Vita”), to a paltry 2GB for €30. You get a total of 300 minutes of calls and 300 texts to Italian numbers or to your home country; EU roaming costs €3 per day.

Existing Vodafone customers can access the offer by paying €19 – the charge will be made to your Vodafone SIM within 72 hours of activating the deal. 

READ ALSO: MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

The Vodafone Holiday offer automatically renews every four weeks for €29 – in order to cancel you’ll need to call a toll-free number. The Vodafone website says that the €30 includes the first renewal, suggesting the payment will cover the first four weeks plus an additional four after that, but you’ll want to double check before buying. You’ll need to go to a store in person to get the card.

TIM

TIM is one of Italy’s longest-standing and most well-established network providers, having been founded in 1994 following a merger between several state-owned companies.

The “Tim Tourist” SIM card costs €20 for 15GB of data and 200 minutes of calls within Italy and to 58 foreign countries, and promises “no surprises” when it comes to charges.

You can use the full 15GB when roaming within the EU at no extra charge, and in the EU can use your minutes to call Italian numbers. The deal is non-renewable, so at the end of the 30 days you won’t be charged any additional fees.

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

To access the offer, you can either buy it directly from a TIM store in Italy, or pre-order using an online form and pay with your bank card. Once you’ve done this, you’ll receive a PIN which you should be able to present at any TIM store on arrival in Italy (along with your ID) to collect your pre-paid card. The card won’t be activated until you pick it up.

Iliad

Iliad is the newest and one of the most competitive of the four major phone companies operating in Italy, and currently has an offer of 120GBP of €9.99 a month. For this reason, some travel blogs recommend Iliad as the best choice for foreigners – but unfortunately all of their plans appear to require an Italian tax ID, which rules it out as an option for tourists.

Contract

Though buying a pre-paid SIM card is a very useful option for visitors spending a decent amount of time in Italy, as mentioned above, there’s a significant different difference between buying a one-time pre-paid SIM versus a monthly plan that auto-renews.

Make sure you know which one you’re signing up for, and that if you choose a plan that will continue charging you after your vacation has ended, you remember to cancel it.

UK contracts

If you have a UK-registered mobile phone, check your plan carefully before travelling. Before Brexit, Brits benefited from the EU cap on roaming charges, but this no longer applies.

Some phone companies have announced the return of roaming charges, while others have not, or only apply roaming charges only on certain contracts.

In short, check before you set off and don’t assume that because you have never been charged extra before, you won’t be this time.

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