Article by Rachel Greenberg, originally written for NileGuide
Full of history, intrigue and mystery, these 9 places would make for the ultimate travel destinations…if only we could get in. Maybe it’s the fact they contain priceless religious artifacts, strict state secrets, or have an incredibly exclusive membership, these spots are off-limits to most of the world’s population. Unless you’re a high ranking government official or royalty, there are just some places us regular-old folks can’t go – even though we really, really want to.
1. Vatican Secret Archives – Vatican City, Italy
The Vatican Secret Archives were created in the 17th century after Pope Paul V separated many of the Church’s, ahem private, documents from the collection in the Vatican Library. Although the contents of the archive were actually secret until 1881, today that term is a bit of a misnomer.
Currently some of the documents within the archives are available for viewing, but documents have to be specifically requested from a massive index of selected items. (And seriously, we mean massive. The selected index alone contains an astounding 35,000 volumes) – and not everything is listed in the index.
In addition to wrangling the massive-yet-incomplete index, the only people who can request a document are professional researchers who can prove the document they want to see is essential to a project they are working on. This means there’s absolutely no browsing and almost no one is allowed within the archives themselves, making the inner working and secret contents a huge mystery.
So what kind of docs are in there and why does the Vatican not open the archives themselves up to the public? Other than the logistical nightmare, there is serious worry about the preservation of incredibly old and precious items. Everything from personal correspondences from Michelangelo, to Henry VIII’s marriage annulment request, to the Vatican’s financial records are kept in there. It is estimated that the full collection is housed on 52 miles of shelving, so it’s hard to imagine what kind of treasures are hidden on forgotten shelves.
Even in modern times important documents are “found” in the archives, lost for centuries amid the clutter. We sure wish we could get a peak!
2. Club 33, Disneyland – Anaheim, California
Image: Jesus & Kristle/Flickr
Disney and ultra-exclusive-alcohol-serving-bar don’t usually go together, but Club 33 is the exception. Originally built to entertain corporate VIPs and investors, the club is located behind a nondescript door in the New Orleans Square section of the park. Marked only by the number “33”, a green door leads to two private dining halls accessible only by individuals somehow able to attain, and then pay for, a membership.
Currently there’s a 14 year (yes, ONE-FOUR) waiting list to be one of the club’s 487 members. Even after the wait is up, being a member of Club 33 isn’t cheap. An individual membership will cost you around $11,000 to join and $4,000 a year.
Image: Loren Javier/Flickr
So what do you get for that kind of cash? Other than bragging rights, you have the ability to eat at one of the club’s two restaurants, access to the only alcohol-serving bar in the park, as well as free reign to ogle Walt’s private collection of antiques and memorabilia housed in the club. You also get valet parking when visiting, as well as six line-cut passes per-day to use on busy rides.
3. RAF Menwith Hill – North Yorkshire, UK
Image: Tim Green aka atoacha/Flickr
This electronic monitoring station is believed to be the largest in the world, with incredibly secret inner-workings that have spawned hundreds of conspiracy-theory debates. The site has a massive satellite network that intercepts signals from all over the world. Although it is a UK owned and controlled by the Royal Air Force, the United States National Security Agency has a presence at RAF Menwith Hill.
So what exactly are the conspiracies? Since the public isn’t privy to what exactly is being intercepted at RAF, the theories are endless. One of the most well known is that ECHELON, a world-wide, multi-country government monitoring of civilian communication, is based here. And you thought all your cell phone convos were private…
4. Kotaijingu in Ise Shrine – Ise, Japan
The Ise Shrine complex is one of the most holy places in the world for people of the Shinto religion. Although there are 125 sub-shrines that make up Ise Shrine, some are more important than others.
The most holy of them all is Kotaijingu, or the main shrine, which supposedly holds one of the most sacred items in Japanese history, the Sacred Mirror. We say supposedly because no one can verify if it’s there or not, since entrance is restricted to Priests and Priestesses of the Shrine. To top it off, only members of the royal family can become Priests and Priestesses, so admittance is pretty darned limited.
In Shinto tradition, every 20 years the sacred shrine is demolished, and a new one is built next to it. Other than the construction workers, visitors aren’t even allowed near the shrine. There’s a tall fence in front of the building, and people are allowed only to the gate where they can glimpse the shrine from afar. One of the most amazing spectacles in Japan is the building of the new shrine (watch the video to see it happen!). It involves the ceremonious cutting of sacred wood, ceremonious transportation of the wood down river, and then the ceremonious construction of the shrine, all done with incredible precision and according to ancient tradition. The next rebuilding will happen in 2013.
5. Room 39 – North Korea
Image: Radio Nederland Wereldomroep/Flickr
Everything about North Korea is pretty gosh darn secretive – most foreigners aren’t even allowed in – but the organization Room 39 is just the icing on the secret-cake. Rumored to be government-run and located inside a Worker’s Party building in the country’s capital Pyongyang, Room 39 has been accused of organizing the mass production of counterfeit American one hundred dollar bills, which they in turn use to buy weapons and fund the country’s nuclear program.
And this isn’t just a few dollars here and there. In 2006 a report by the Congressional Research service identified that at least $45 million dollars in circulation within the US was of counterfeit North Korean origin. Currently it is believed the organization has amassed around $5 billion, and isn’t close to being shut down. As long as Kim Jon-il is in power, there wont be much hope for many people to see the interior of Room 39, or even North Korea for that matter.
6. Area 51 – Southern Nevada
When it comes to Area 51, it’s pretty hard to separate fact from fiction. Every Sci-Fi or alien movie has got a nod to this military base, as does almost every extraterrestrial conspiracy theory.
Here are the facts: Area 51 is a US military base located in southern Nevada, about 80 miles outside of Las Vegas. It’s in a very remote part of the desert, and has a large military airfield – and that’s about all the US government is willing to say about it. The base doesn’t appear on any US government maps, and civilian and normal military traffic is restricted in a large perimeter around the area.
It is generally accepted that Area 51 is used for experimental aircraft testing, although claims that the area is everything from a UFO crash site to a weather-control development center have been made. Whatever goes on there, the US government clearly doesn’t want people to know, and entrance is restricted to only the most restricted of visitors.
8. Mount Weather Emergency Operations – Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia
Image: Lindsay Sorensen/Flickr
Although none of us regular Americans (Ed. note: or us sole Canadians!) will probably ever see this place, let’s hope no high ranking officials ever do either. Mount Weather Emergency Operations was constructed in 1958, just one year after Sputnik was launched by the Soviets, as a kind of glorified “safe house” in case of a massive disaster. Although the US government’s official position on the area is “no comment”, it is referred to in FEMA’s internal telephone directory as “SF”, for “Special Facility”.
Hidden in a heavily wooded mountain range 48 miles from Washington DC, the compound has an above-ground portion, Area A, as well as a below ground portion, Area B, which has at least 600,000 square feet of underground living space. It also has a high frequency radio that connects to most military bases in the US and federal public safety agencies.
9. Skull and Bones Tomb at Yale – New Haven, Connecticut
Founded in 1832, the Skull and Bones secret society has been the subject of speculation and rumor since its inception. Maybe it’s because of the exceptional secrecy of their practices or maybe the fact that so many of its alumni go on to hold high political and financial positions, but people have been dying to get a peek at the inner workings of this society for a long time. Unless you’re one of the 15 seniors at Yale, however, chosen because of well connected families or exceptional athleticism, chances are you’ll never see in the inside of the Skull and Bones meeting room, nicknamed the “Tomb”.
Although there’s speculation abound about what goes on inside the “tomb”, famous members of the Skull and Bones like George Bush (both Senior and “W”), John Kerry, and President Taft, have kept secret up till now.
BONUS: Moscow Metro 2
There isn’t much proof Moscow Metro 2 even exists except in folklore and conspiracy theory, but given the off-chance it does exist, it unquestionably deserves to be on the list. MM2 was supposedly built under Stalin to provide an alternate mode of transportation for the KGB elite, connecting government buildings and subterranean living quarters. Constructed below Moscow’s other metro, the MM2 was built to serve as a safe house for government officials in case of nuclear war, and would mean Russia could operate a kind of satellite government from underneath its own country in the event of an attack.
Today, the Russian government won’t confirm or deny the rumors. The MM2’s existence is chronically down-played, but it does still surface occasionally. In 1994 members of Diggers of the Underground Planet said they found an entrance and were able to explore the system, and in 2006 the NZ Herald reported a hotel construction project unearthed a section of the metro system, but it was quickly covered up by the Russian government.
Know of a ridiculously cool secret place we left off the list?