Brussels

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Brussels

Laeken's aboveground attractions include the beautiful Royal Greenhouse; below ground, however, lies a long-abandoned crypt complex.

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Big draw: Abandoned crypt, Laeken

Certainly Europe has no shortage of abandoned grave sites, but the town of Laeken, near Brussels, has a particularly good one (as far as these things go).

A series of tunnels runs beneath a cemetery in the village -- tunnels housing nearly 100 years of the city's dead in vault-lined walls. The crypt was abandoned decades ago when authorities determined the maintenance was too expensive, or so the story goes [source: Colette].

Crypts are eerie places. This crypt is remarkably so. Icicles hang from streaky skylights. Hazy light falls on inscribed names and dates of the dead, most still entombed there. Some vault covers are absent; dark, empty, coffin-sized spaces dot the walls. Flowers, most dead, some plastic, lie where family members left them on their last visits, lending the place a creepy sense of unexpected abandonment [source: Colette].

More to explore:

  • Fort de la Chartreuse, in Liège: An abandoned fort constructed in the early 1800s, but never used for defense. It was taken over by the people during the Belgian revolution, became a German prison during the world wars and then an American military hospital after Germany's second defeat [source: Forbidden Places].
  • Hasard collieries, in Cheratte: Coal mine built in the mid-1800s and abandoned in the 1970s, especially noteworthy for its gothic architecture and the mining equipment left behind [source: Forbidden Places].

Now, to the American West ...

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