The world and society we live in have been shaped by the past, through victory and defeat, stories learned by the living through the dead. Travel gives us the privilege of experiencing the past and histories outside textbooks, the opportunity for us to see, to question and to broaden our understanding of what makes us.
For those with a curiosity for bygone years, here is a selection of finalists in the British Guild of Travel Writers International Tourism Awards 2020 to inspire your next journey into the past.
The Box, Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy
The year 2020 celebrated the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim Fathers’ historic voyage from Plymouth to North America in 1620. The Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy exhibition at The Box in Plymouth, in Devon in south west England, is the largest commemorative Mayflower exhibition in history. It tells the story both from the white privileged perspective and the native American’s perspective, and explains the inevitable conflict that occurred with the new settlers at Cape Cod.
Created in partnership with the Wampanoag Advisory Committee to Plymouth 400 in Massachusetts, this is an exhibition that is honest, and tells of the shared history with some uncomfortable truths.
Peterhead Prison Audio Tour
Built in 1888 and known as Scotland’s Alcatraz, Peterhead Prison in the north east of the country, has housed some of the country’s most notorious criminals. The prison boasts a fascinating history of having had the first state owned railway in the UK.
It was also the location for the only time the SAS (Special Air Service) was used to end a domestic siege in mainland Britain. The audio tour, available on the Geotourist smartphone app, allows visitors to ‘meet’ former prisoners and staff and experience life as it was through ‘real life’ recordings.
The town of Bishop Auckland
The town of Bishop Auckland in County Durham, in north east England, undertook an ambitious project – the Auckland Project – to transform the town into an historical and heritage tourist attraction.
The project comprises seven attractions, including the 900-year-old Auckland Castle and the beautiful Deer Park offering some open space country air. Also worthy of a visit is the town’s Mining Art Gallery where artworks relating to the region’s industrial heritage are displayed. The Spanish Gallery (art museum), Faith Museum and the castle’s Walled Garden are currently under development as additions to the town’s attractions.
The Secret Rooms of Hotel Jama, Slovenia
Until 1991, Hotel Jama led a double life. Deep inside the hotel are secret rooms that conducted activities for the secret services of the former regime, so secret that these rooms remained hidden until their discovery in 2016 during the hotel’s renovations. This new, hour-long tour of the secret rooms of Hotel Jama in Slovenia reveals the truths behind the lies.
Visit authentic communications centre rooms and listen to original eavesdropping recordings of the State Security Service, and learn how the hotel could continue to be used as a cover for these activities.
Villa dei Mosaici di Spello, Italy
When the town of Spello needed a new car park 15 years ago, the residents did not expect to find a 2,000-year-old Roman villa with stunning mosaics under their feet. Instead of a car park, the town of Spello now has a museum – Villa dei Mosaici di Spello – with 20 rooms, whose beautifully-restored floors are decorated with wild animals, mythical beasts, hunters and servants pouring wine.
This interactive museum allows visitors to marvel at the original mosaics with the opportunity to create their own mosaics with hands-on experiences. The museum is built using recycled materials and powered by renewable energy, you could say it is ancient history coming alive with modern technology.
Nelson Mandela Capture Site Museum and Visitor Centre
At the same location where Nelson Mandela was captured by apartheid police on 5 August 1962 near Howick in South Africa now stands the Nelson Mandela Capture Site Museum and Visitor Centre. This multi-purpose visitor centre commemorates Mandela’s life, decades of struggle and the birth of new South Africa. It has a ‘long road to freedom’ pathway and a spectacular sculpture made from steel poles which line up to recreate Nelson Mandela’s profile.
Not just a tourism attraction, the aim of the museum is to generate reflection and understanding within South Africa itself, promoting school visits with educational and training programs.
Partition Museum, Amritsar
After independence from Britain, a segregation of Hindu and Muslims led to the largest mass migration in human history, where millions were killed and displaced when India was crudely separated into two countries in 1947, India and Pakistan.
The museum reveals how Partition was experienced, not through the distant lenses of the world, but through the stories told by Partition-affected families and Partition survivors. Created as a People’s Museum with community input, the museum also has an outreach programme that aims to arm India’s school children with a greater understanding of their country.