Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit

Aimee Heidelberg - March 6, 2024

A crowded coach bus navigates the narrow, winding streets of a small Italian village to see its historic cliffside architecture and picturesque views. The tourists file off the bus to roam the town, eat at local restaurants, shop in their stores, and use their services. But this boost to the local economy comes with a downside. The bus causes extra load on the historic stone street. The tourists, even unintentionally, leave litter and other debris in their tracks. There is greater demand on public services and the water supply. This is a concern felt by tourist destinations, with international travel having mostly bounced back from its 2020 pandemic slowdown. Historic sites bear a heavy impact of visitation. With the exception of disasters like the Notre Dame fire, tourist impacts have resulted in the throttling back, closing of access, or even removal of historic sites around the world.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
Stonehenge. garethwiscombe (2007, CC 2.0).


Stonehenge, the 5,000-year-old mysterious formation of stones in a circular post and lintel form once welcomed tourists to wander around the monument. In the 1890s, visitors would gather to celebrate the midsummer morning. In fact, visitors were handed chisels so they could take a piece monument back home. In 1900, chisels were prohibited. Sir Edmund Antrobus, who owned the Stonehenge lands, forbid the practice in order to protect the site from true ruin. Even so, with 815,000 people visiting Stonehenge each year, the grass was dying around the site. Tourists left all sorts of garbage behind defaced the monument. In 1977, Stonehenge was roped off; visitors could only view it from behind a barrier instead of walking among the stones. This hasn’t stopped vandalism. In 2008, a trespasser chipped off a piece of the Heel Stone. In 2013, another vandal decided to paint a smiley face on a stone.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
Lascaux cave paintints in a cavern. arzu çakır (2021). Public domain.

Lascaux Cave Paintings

In 1940, four French teens followed one of the boy’s dog Robo into a cavern. Deep inside the cave, they found paintings and engravings dating back to about 15,000 to 17,000 years ago. The paintings they found depict animals like deer, horses, cows, cats, and bovine animals using brown, black, red, and yellow hued paints. There was only one human-like form, a man with a bird’s head and an erection. There are about six hundred images on the Lascaux cave walls and 1,500 individual engravings in the 16-foot high, 66 feet wide space, which may have been a religious venue and hunting center. The caves were rigged with lights so people could visit the cave and gaze at the original artwork. The site opened to tourists in 1948, guided by Marcel Ravidat, whose dog found the paintings. It soon saw up to 1,500 people visiting the caves every day.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
Lascaux Cave Paintings. arzu çakır (2021). Public domain.

Lascaux Cave Paintings are Closed

Tourist access to the caves was cut off in 1963, a mere twenty years after its discovery, because the crowds were damaging to the site. The visitors were changing the cave’s ecosystem not because of behavior or garbage, but having so many people in a small space with very little air circulation meant a rise in the heat, humidity, and carbon dioxide levels in the caves. This led to mold and fungus growth, a natural threat to the original cave paintings. The lighting was making the paint fade, its bright, vibrant colors washing out after being exposed to light. The cave was sealed off. But a replica is available for visitors to explore. This lets them have the experience without threatening the very thing they wanted to see.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
Pluto’s Gate, Hierapolis, Turkey. Carole Raddato (2015, CC 2.0).

Pluto’s Gate, Hierapolis, Turkey

For two thousand years, The Pluto’s Gate temple in Turkey mystified people with its ability to kill by standing in the mists that arose in its chamber each night. Legend says the mist proved fatal to anyone trying to enter the space. It could kill a bull just by bringing it to the gate and having it stand the mist. Everyone who stood in the mist met the same fate, except (according to legend) the Eunuchs of Kybele. There is merit to the folklore about Pluto’s Gate. In 1965, scientists measured the carbon monoxide levels in the structure. As the air cooled at night, the CO2 gas becomes heavier than air and pools at the bottom of the Gate. In the early dawn, the concentration of CO2 is at its highest, becoming dangerously toxic, even deadly. When the sun rises, the air warms, and the gas leaves it deadly pool.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
Notre Dame, before and after the fire. Zuffe y Louis HG (2019, CC 4.0).

Notre Dame, Paris

Notre Dame Cathedral has enthralled visitors since the 12th – 14th century. Visitors could walk its aisles, get up close to the columns, statues, explore the crypts and tombs, and even climb 387 stairs to the top of the cathedral to look at the spectacular Parisian cityscape. The Gothic wonder has seen over a thousand years of human history, revolution, several wars, suffered its greatest blow in April 2019. A fire damaged the noted cathedral, destroying its roof, collapsing the spire and damaging priceless historic artifacts. The recovery effort has meant closing off large portions of the site to tourists. The towers and some of the site’s main treasures remain closed off to tourists. But restoration work continues. In December 2023, the spire was hoisted into place and its new cockerel of Notre-Dame de Paris installed. The cathedral is closed to visitors but anticipates reopening in December of 2024.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
Poveglia island hospital. Marco Usan (2012, CC 3.0).

Poveglia, Italy

On a small island in the Venetian lagoon sits an abandoned, decrepit complex of buildings, long abandoned and left to rot. This island once served as a quarantine district during various phases of Black Plague and its resurgences. Unfortunately, quarantine of victims did not slow the Black Death, as the quarantine patients were kept in large dormitories with others. Even those who weren’t infected when they arrived had a good chance of being infected while there. For many of the 160,000 infected patients who set foot on its shores, the island their final destination. After their death, the victims were buried in mass graves or cremated, ashes spread on the island where they lie to this day.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
A bulding on Poveglia island. Luca.favorido (2015). Public domain.

Post-Plague Poveglia

After its use as a quarantine station faded away, Poveglia opened an isolated mental hospital in 1922. The hospital reportedly tortured its patients. They were subject to unnecessary, barbaric procedures like electroconvulsive therapy and lobotomy. They were physically restrained, beaten, and sometimes left in a solitary cell for long timespans. The hospital closed in 1968, but the island remained accessible to the public. But the bleak reputation of the hospital continued, and the island closed to the public in 2014. Nobody is allowed to enter Poveglia. It is, according to legend, one of the most haunted places in Europe. That hasn’t stopped the landowners from trying to sell the island for development, possibly into a tourist destination, but so far nobody has wanted to buy an island whose soil may be comprised of human bones and ashes.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
Temple of Kukulkan. Daniel Schwen (2009, CC 4.0)

Chichen Itza – Temple of Kulkulkan, pyramid-top temple

Chichen Itza, the center of Mayan power and religion from 600 CE to 1200 CE, was abandoned and left to ruin. Rediscovered in the mid-1800s, it later opened for visitors. Tourists willing to brave the steep, nearly ladder-like staircase were permitted to climb the centerpiece of the site, the Temple of Kukulkan, also known as El Castillo. Officials provided a rope to guide visitors back down the staircase, to prevent accidents. But even this extra assistance didn’t help In 2006, an 80 year old tourist from the United States, Adeline “Indiana” Black, fell on the pyramid, dying from her injuries. As of 2008, tourists have been prohibited from climbing the stairs to the top of the Pyramid of Kukulkan. The official reason is not only the graffiti and garbage left behind by tourists, and the chiseling and scratching of the irreplaceable stonework, but it accelerated erosion on the temple.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
The decaying Jiankou section of the Great Wall of China. Sindarus (2017, CC 4.0).

Jiankou Section of the Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China is one of the world’s most famous tourist destination. So many people visit the wall, the popular Badaling section has had to restrict the visitors numbers to 65,000 people a day. One section, the Jiankou segment that winds up and down the mountainsides north of Beijing is accessible only after a forty-five-minute hike. Getting there is challenging, but this segment, built in the 16th-17th century CE, gives them an authentic experience. Unfortunately, this authenticity can be deadly. While other sections of the Great Wall are designed for tourist visits, the Jiankou section is remote and difficult to get there. Once explorers arrive at the spot, they are greeting with a crumbling, steep, slippery-when-wet and unforgiving relic of the Ming era section of the Great Wall.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
An eroded part of the Jiankou section of the Great Wall of China. Bairuilong (2016, CC 4.0).

Jiankou section, Great Wall of China

Since the segment is so remote and not a tourism hotspot, it hasn’t had the continuous maintenance and preservation work seen on the Badaling section. Parts of it have dangerously eroded, some have collapsed completely. Project manager for the Great Wall Protection Project Ma Yao told the BBC, “Every year, maybe one or two people die hiking on this part of the wall. Some from hiking and falling down, dead. And some from being hit by lightning.” While visitors aren’t prohibited from visiting the wall, it’s not easy to get to, challenging to climb, and its steep design, narrow passages, and eroding architecture make it a particularly dangerous destination. It is out of reach for the casual tourist, recommended only for the most experienced hikers and climbers.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
Leondaro da Vinci’s Vinyard, c. 1920. Luca Beltrami. Public domain.

Leonardo daVinci’s Vineyard, Milan

In 1498, the Duke of Milan, Ludovico “Il Moro” gifted Leonardo daVinci sixteen rows of a vineyard just three years after the artist completed a commission for Il Moro to be displayed at the Santa Maria delle Grazie refectory. Il Moro was so pleased with the work- The Last Supper – he gifted daVinci sixteen rows of vineyard in the land behind his houses. daVinci is believed to have used the vineyards as a way to unwind after a day of work. Although the French imprisoned Il Moro in 1500 and confiscated the land, daVinci reclaimed the vineyards over time. He split the property between a student, Giacomo Capriotto, and a servant, Giovanbattista Villani upon his death. The vineyards continued to be passed down over generations, tended by local monks, until it disappeared from the records.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
Beltrami’s plotting of the location for da Vinci’s Vineyard. Public domain.

Leonardo DaVinci’s Vinyard today

In the early 20th century, scholar and architect Luca Beltrami conducted extensive research to discover where the vineyards lie. After identifying the site through historic documents, he excavated the vine roots, testing them to determine what type of grapes DaVinci cultivated (the malvasia di candia aromatica). Beltrami documented the position and photographed its remains, helping restoration efforts after World War II covered the site in debris. In 2015, the site opened as a museum, welcoming visitors to walk among daVinci’s original quiet haven. This cultural venture was short lived, as French billionaire Bernard Arnault purchased the property for private use in 2022, closing the site off to the public in 2023. Arnault has not made any statement about what he intends to do with the site, or if it will be open to the public for cultural tours again.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
Upper half of the Statue of Liberty. PrasanthR (2013). Public domain.

Statue of Liberty torch

When the Statue of Liberty opened to the public, visitors were welcome to climb up a steep ladder inside the arm, only twelve at a time, and step out onto the torch for a magnificent view of New Yorks’ skyline. If, that is, they were brave enough to withstand the shaking these climbers would feel from inside the arm. On July 30, 1916, nearby Black Tom Island suffered an explosion (later blamed on German agents) at the armaments production facility. When the Statue of Liberty was hit by some of the Black Tom shrapnel, officials closed the torch off for visitors. The National Park Service cites the Black Tom explosion as the reason the torch is closed but has not officially stated why it hasn’t reopened for over one hundred years. There may be concerns about deterioration from visitors making the climb, or its long-term ability to sustain the weight.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
1901 postcard of Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park. Detroit Photographs. Public domain.

Old Faithful – Up to the Geyser/ Yellowstone hot springs

Old Faithful, the reliable geyser in Yellowstone, has reliably spewed its steamy waters to the delight of the tourists. Early explorers in the area would get up close to the geyser’s opening to toss their clothes in the hole. The 350F (176.6C) steam and 204F (95.5C) would steam clean the clothes, launching them out of the geyser during its eruption. But one thing tourists forget about geysers like Old Faithful and Yellowstone hot springs is that they are, in fact, geothermal land features. They are literally heated by subsurface magma. After years of people falling into geysers and hot springs, scalding them to death and dissolving their flesh, the National Park Service constructed dedicated paths and a viewing platform for these features including Old Faithful. Visitors are repeatedly instructed to stay on the path to avoid a painful, burning or dissolving death.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
Vance Creek Bridge, Mason County, Washington. Noll-S (2016, CC 4.0).

Vance Creek Bridge, Mason Co., Washington, Second Tallest Railway Bridge

Vance Creek Bridge, one of the tallest bridges in the US at 347 feet tall and 800 feet long, opened in 1929 for train passage. It crossed a river through a dense forest with Mount Ranier in the background. Decommissioned in 1950, it faded into the realm of nearly forgotten local landmarks. But its picturesque setting became a popular spot for social media photographers. The photographs became more and more daring. People sat along the ends of the bridge over the 300-foot drop. Graffiti and vandalism, even arson, became more problematic. Out of concern for public safety and problems with visitor behavior, the bridge was closed off and the wood removed from the tracks. While the ties have been removed, the bridge still stands with no current plans to demolish it, but it is closed off to the public by the current landowners, Green Diamond Resource Company.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
New York Hippodrome, c. 1918. Public Domain.

New York Hippodrome

Near the New York Public Library, on Sixth Avenue between 43rd and 44th Street, the New York Hippodrome loomed over the city. The Hippodrome opened in 1905. With 5,200 seats, it was twelve times larger than any other theater in the world. Audiences flocked to the Hippodrome for vaudeville performances or (after 1925) to watch a motion picture accompanied by a Midmer-Losh 2 manual 5-rank organ. It attracted acts like Harry Houdini and vast circuses. But the facility was expensive to maintain and operate, and with the advent of talking pictures, the audiences weren’t flocking to the Hippodrome’s theater. The Hippodrome went from the shining jewel of amusement to a defunct, extra-large facility. The amusement center closed in 1929, opening briefly for a performance of Billy Rose’s Jumbo circus in 1935. It closed again after six months, rarely opening its doors again. The Hippodrome was demolished in 1939.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
South Western Hotel (now South Western Hos, where many Titanic passengers stayed. Colin Park (2017, CC 2.0).

Southampton – South Western Hotel

On April 9th, 1912, wealthy patrons of the South Western hotel retired to their rooms, making sure to get some rest before their big voyage the next day. The hotel’s luxuries offered guests three options for restaurants porters to help them get to and from the ships, and soft beds. The next day, on April 10th, the guests went to the White Star Dock, to be part of the Titanic’s maiden voyage. Many of these guests were first class passengers on the ship. They would never set food on land again. The grand hotel today is a privately owned apartment complex. The luxurious hotel rooms that housed prestigious Titanic passengers has been divided into ninety-four luxury apartments and fifteen studio apartments. It is still available to host events, but it is no longer the grand hotel Titanic passengers would have seen on their last night on land.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
The now closed Haiku Stairs in Oahu, Hawaii. Kalen Emsley (2016). Public domain.

Haʻikū Stairs, Oahu, Hawaii (1942)

On mountain peaks of Oahu, a narrow, 3,922-step Haʻikū staircase leads visitors on a path exploring the ridges and city overlooks. In 1942, the US Navy built the stairs to transmit radio signals to ships on Pacific Ocean routes. The stairs were opened to tourists, but after reports of injuries, the stairs officially closed to visitors in 1980. Storm damage in 2015 further deteriorated the condition of the stairs. Despite it now being illegal to walk on the stairs, 118 people have been rescued from them since 2010. A guard is posted to inform visitors it is illegal to be on the stairs, and if caught, there is a $1,000 trespassing fine. Plans for demolition were slated for 2022. Despite a grass-roots effort to preserve the stairs, they are still scheduled for demolition. Visitors can still see the extraordinary view; they must simply take the Moanalua Middle Ridge Trail instead.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
Pripyat, Chernobyl’s abandoned city, in the winter. (WT-en) Kadams (1970). Public domain.


In April of 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded, sending dangerous levels of radiation billowing into the sky. The nearby city housing the families of Chernobyl workers, Pripyat, mobilized a mass evacuation of the city, telling residents they would only be gone for a short time. They were never allowed to return. Over nearly forty years, nature has slowly overtaken the city. Trees grow through the once vibrant streets. The buildings are crumbling, victims of water damage and neglect. Pripyat’s ‘ghost town’ has since attracted visitors and tourists. Tourists must apply for permission to go to Pripyat with a guide. While there are some permitted tourists in the city, many go there without permission and stalk about illegally, They dodge security (including helicopters!) and constantly have the threat of capture over their heads.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
Pont de Arts bridge before the locks, c. 1889. Public domain.

Pont des Arts Bridge (Love Lock Bridge)

The arches of the Pont de Arts bridge in the heart of Paris have carried couples across the Seine since the early 1800s. Its original design included trees, floral beds, benches and other park-like amenities. But between boat collisions and two world wars, the plans for the bridge changed, but its romantic intent and stunning views of the Eiffel Tower attracts visitors from around the world. It also attracted romantic gestures, but it is a relatively new tradition. Starting in 2008, visitors engraved their names on a padlock, and affixed it to the bridge. The key gets romantically tossed into the river to prove an unbreakable love. While officials thought it might be a fad that would quickly die out, in 2017 there were about 700,000 padlocks secured on the bridge, and it earned the nickname Love Lock Bridge.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
Pont des Arts Bridge, Paris, France. Jorge Lascar (2014, CC 2.0).

Love’s Locks Removed

Unfortunately, the fad not only caught on, but it also exploded. Officials estimate there were over a million locks on the bridge. A section of the bridge collapsed under the weight of the extra load in 2015. The bridge carried nearly 50 tons (45 tonnes) above and beyond its intended load capacity due to the weight of the metal locks, or as Forbes notes, roughly the weight of twenty elephants. Concerned for public safety, the city removed the locks. While visitors are welcome to cross the bridge and take in the views of Paris, they are prohibited from putting locks on the bridge to declare their enduring love. While this hasn’t stopped some visitors from trying to add new locks to Pon des Arts bridge, they are removed as soon as they are spotted. Visitors are encouraged to take selfies or find less destructive declarations of love.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
Riverside Hospital ruins at North Brother Island, New York. Reivax (2006, CC 2.0).

North Brother Island’s Tragic Past

In the river between New York’s most densely built communities lies a 22-acre forested island, sitting desolate, undeveloped, dotted with rotting buildings and infrastructure. This island, North Brother Island, housed the notorious Riverside Hospital complex from 1881 to 1943. During Riverside’s tenure, it served as a tuberculosis sanitarium and respite for typhoid victims, including Mary Mallon, the original “Typhoid Mary,” who lived and died at Riverside. The island experienced even more tragedy in 1904 when the steamship General Slocum caught fire and sank along its shores. 1,021 people died in the sinking, washing onto the North Brother Island for days after the disaster. From 1946 to 1951, it served as housing for World War II veterans, until officials converted it into a youth drug rehab center between 1952 and 1963, when it closed to the public.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
An eroded dock and derrick at North Brother Island. H.L.I.T (2012, CC 2.0).

North Brother Island Is Off Limits

Now only the birds explore the abandoned buildings. The island is now a bird sanctuary, part of the Harbor Herons Region due to the marshlands and lack of urban development. Years of vacancy and neglect have led to the buildings crumbling and falling into disrepair. The site is difficult to get to and hazardous to visitors, accessible only by boat. Visitors need to have official permission from the City of New York to visit North Brother Island. Officials don’t grant many permits. Permits that are granted are mainly to scientists and academic researchers with a compelling need to study the flora, fauna, or remains of architecture and infrastructure on the island. It is illegal to go to the island without a permit from the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
Discovery Island at Disney World, closed off to guests. BestofWDW (2007, CC 2.0).

Disney’s Discovery Island

Visitors to Walt Disney World will notice how the employees (called ‘cast members’) go out of their way to make visitors’ day at the theme parks and resorts special. But there are limits to this friendliness and willingness to bend over backwards for guests. Some areas of Walt Disney World that are strictly off-limits to guests, who face banishment from the parks and other consequences if caught. One of these places is the original Discovery Island in Bay Lake near the Magic Kingdom. Discovery Island opened three years after Disney World as a Treasure Island-themed adventure park accessible by boat, a refuge from the busy theme parks. Walkways wove through forested areas, where exotic birds and animals wandered among the trees to the delight of visitors. The island had its own concession stand, office spaces, maintenance facilities, even a hospital and nursery for its animal and avian ‘residents.’

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
Discovery island no longer attracts attention. Sam Howzit (2014, CC 2.0).

Discovery Island is off Limits

But in 1999, when Disney World opened its gate at Animal Kingdom, the resident birds were moved to the new park. Discovery Island closed its port to guests, and has sat abandoned ever since, save for covert urban explorers who root through the ruins, taking video for social media. Guests – or even cast members – are prohibited from roaming Discovery Island. The illegal explorers venture through the abandoned animal buildings and walkways, all the while dodging security staff and the infamous Florida alligators that roam even the Happiest Place on Earth. They record the deteriorating conditions of the site, documenting the changes to the facilities as they fall victim to the effects of time. Animal Kingdom theme part has a nod to the defunct island facility; the island that encompasses its showpiece, the Tree of Life, is called Discover Island.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
Visible wheel ruts in the stone of Italy’s Via Appia. NIcholas Hartmann (2019, CC 4.0).

Taking Steps to Preserve the Past

Heritage tourism is a multi-billion-dollar industry. For communities near major tourist sites, it can generate staggering amounts of money that can be reinvested in the community itself, paying for amenities and improvements. But being a famous tourism destination comes at a price. Hordes of tourists wear down footpaths. Every touch of a stone contributes to the erosion of a historic site. The debris, litter, and trash tourists generate can be a challenge for those trying to keep the site pristine. Increases in traffic, pollution, and the need for public services like police, firefighters, and medical services at historic sites can burden a community beyond their capabilities. Recently, the rise of social media and people’s desire to post the perfect picture or have a selfie to prove they were there has led to injury and death at some of the world’s most popular destinations.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
A rose memorial outside Auschwitz. (c) C. Puisney (2004, CC 3.0).

Social Media at Tourism Destinations

A study in the Journal of Travel Medicine published a study shows 379 tourists have died during a 13-month study period in the pursuit of a selfie, falling off cliffs, being hit by trains or cars, or by trying to capture their encounters with wild animals. But aside from the physical dangers, social media photos have resulted in people climbing on the historic features to pose. Visitors have disrespected the tone and intention of sites by shockingly inappropriate behavior, like visitors to Auschwitz posing for beauty shots in front of the gates or smiling in front of crematorium. While some sites, like those cited above, have closed off to visitors to protect the site and tourists to preserve its integrity and protect tourists from their own behavior, some sites are simply throttling back the number of tourists to a more manageable level.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
A llama grazes the grass around Machu Picchu. Gmakarla (2015). Public domain.

Machu Picchu, Peru

The mountainous historic royal retreat Machu Picchu, laced with tiers for farming and its stone colca and kancha once seemed so remote and mysterious, only 400,000 people made the trek each year. Since 1998, despite an interruption for the 2020 pandemic, about 1.4 million people have visited the archaeological site. Visitors were allowed to wander through the buildings and anywhere on the site. The only restrictions were based on safety and maintenance. The increase in visitors has resulted in increased litter, erosion of footpaths and anything within reach. After its UNESCO World Heritage designation, and subsequent placement on the UNESCO “List of World Heritage in Danger” list, Peruvian government officials took action. They limited access to tourists starting in 2017, with two timed entrances per day. Guests must be accompanied by a designated guide, and they must stay on specific trails.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
Angkor Wat central structure. Jakub Hałun (2017, CC 4.0)

Angkor Wat

One of the sites throttling their visitors is Angkor Wat in Cambodia. This temple complex near Siem Reap, Cambodia, started its life as a 12th century Hindu temple, built to resemble the peaks of Mount Meru. In the 17th century, it converted to a Buddhist temple, was never fully abandoned, but its use decreased and the buildings became neglected, left to let nature take over. In 1843, French explorer Henry Mouhot found the site and introduced it to western audiences, saying it is “grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome.” During the French occupation of Cambodia in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the site opened for tourists. It closed again during the Cambodian Civil War and rise of the Khmer Rouge, which aside from some bullet damage to the site, left very little major damage to the structural or historic integrity of Angkor Wat.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
Crowds file in to the Angkor Wat historic site. Mid Gilbert (2018, CC 2.0).

Angkor Wat Threatened by Overtourism

Angkor Wat’s picturesque towers and stunning setting have made it an ever-increasingly popular tourist destination. Roughly four million people visit the temple each year, and those numbers are expected to grow. While this yields financial benefits, it is taking its toll on the temple. Tourists leave graffiti and garbage. Visitors have been caught posting nude or semi-nude among the temples to show off on social media. But worse, the increasing tourism is taking its toll on the Siem Reap water supply and soil. The Siem Reap Water Supply Authority has tapped into the groundwater to try to keep up with the water supply needs of the area’s population, although this causes complications to the ground the temple sits upon. Tourism has caused practical problems in the area around Angkor Archaeological Park.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
Tourists climb down the eroded steps of a temple building. Gerd Eichmann (2007, CC 4.0).

Angkor Archaeological Park Restrictions

To help preserve the integrity of the temple, Angkor Wat officials have increased the cost of tickets. To combat the rise of ‘social media stars’ posing without clothing and disrespecting the still-sacred Buddhist site, there is now a dress code. And to keep the site from being overwhelmed by the ever-increasing swarms of tourists, they have limited the number of visitors allowed at the central tower to 100 people at a time. Visitors are welcome to explore the site, but they cannot climb or lean on the ruins, thwarting even more social media stars who want to pose on the sacred archeological sites, unintentionally contributing to its deterioration. Visitors trying to avoid the crowds of tourists photographing the Angkor Wat towers can try taking the photo from the nearby Phnom Bakheng temple, although this temple, too, limits visitors to 300 at a time to protect its historic integrity.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
Cliff side village in Cinque Terre, Italy. Life On Manual, public domain.

Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre, the picturesque chain of five Italian villages on the coast of the Gulf of Genova, was being overrun by tourists. Cinque Terre saw roughly 2.5 million tourists per year, usually from cruise ships docking for day excursions. The villages saw overwhelming crowds in communities not designed to accommodate them. The streets are overcrowded, the paths eroding, and To combat the problems caused by being a popular tourist destination, Cinque Terre proposed only allowing 1.5 million visitors each year. Cruise ship passengers would have to buy tickets to the cliffside community ahead of time. Roads into the village would be fit with devices to count the number of people coming in to the community. Once the threshold is reached, the road would be closed off. While these plans didn’t play out, it shows the desperate measures of communities trying to protect their historic integrity by throttling tourist crowds.

Historic Sites That You Can No Longer Visit
Line to enter the Greek Acropolis. Bryan Ledgard (2006, CC 2.0).

Research is Critical to Tourist Success

Interest in visiting historic places is on the rise. This presents challenges to historians and preservationists. Protecting a historic site requires careful planning, sometimes intentionally decreasing profits to protect the historic integrity of the site. But when safety concerns and problems with the site itself become a concern, there is no other choice for officials than to throttle the visitor numbers, close down the site, or in extreme cases of danger, remove the site altogether. The historic and architecture community have pondered whether historic sites should be open to the general public at all. Most of these places still exist, but tourism access has been carefully limited. Visitors need to research a site and understand the limits they might face at their intended destinations, and the consequences if they decide to test those limits or break the rules.

Where Did We Find This Stuff? Here Are Our Sources:

20 forbidden places around the world we can never set foot in. Julia Korneva, 5 July 2022.

Angering Old Faithful in Yellowstone Park with a load of dirty laundry in 1877. M. Mark Miller, Yellowstone Gate, 10 October 2012.

Angkor Wat nearly doubles its daily ticket prices. Lilit Marcus, Conde Nast Traveler, 1 February 2016.

Can you still put a love lock on Pon des Arts in Paris? Aaron Spray, The Travel, 6 August 2023.

Disney World mysteriously closed an island 20 years ago and left it in ruins. Take a look inside. Frank Otto, Business Insider, 4 April 2019.

Here’s why you can’t visit the Statue of Liberty’s torch. Jessica Spitz, NBC News, 30 July 2018.

History and little known facts about Old Faithful. Adam Lackner, Brushback Wildlife Tours, 25 May 2016.

Lady Liberty’s torch; How to see it and why it matters. Gabriela Hammond, Statue of Liberty Tour, 5 January 2021.

On the Vance Creek Bridge demolition. Joy Geerkens, The Daily, 2 August 2017.

Poveglia Island and its haunting history. Doug MacGowen, Historic Mysteries, 8 November 2017.

Stonehenge visitors used to be handed chisels to take home souvenirs. Rose Eveleth, Smithsonian Magazine. 5 March 2014.

Which popular sites have been ruined by mass tourism? Rosie Lesso, The Collector, 31 July 2023.