Here are six must-see spots around the globe for any bona fide zombie enthusiast.
Discover Zombie Folklore
Image: Haitian dancers from the Souvenance community perform a voodoo ritual to demonstrate devotion to their ancestors and respected spirits.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MARIE ARAGO, REUTERS/ALAMY
Scholars believe the term “zombie” comes from the Kikongo terms “nzambi,” meaning god, and “zumbi,” an item that holds supernatural powers. The Bantu language is primarily spoken in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, and Angola today, but it spread to the Americas during the slave trade. In Haiti, African slaves kept this language and ideology alive, eventually merging them with others from West Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean to form the country's distinct culture and religion.
Many Haitian slaves believed death would reconnect them to their gods and homeland. If, however, they took their own lives, they would be forced to remain in their bodies, soulless, and continue to work the plantations. Later, this concept fused with the Haitian voodoo religion and developed into the belief that powerful shamans could reanimate the dead and compel them to do their bidding—an anxiety attached to the horrors of slavery. In this way, the shamans elicited more fear than the zombies themselves.
After years of being part of Haitian culture, this zombie lore was appropriated by American pop culture. It still holds deep roots in the Caribbean nation, though, and travellers can venture to the country to experience its unique communities, learn about voodoo, and discover the historic foundations of zombie obsession.
Tour a Zombie Film Set
Restaurants and shops line Main Street in Senoia, Georgia, where filming of The Walking Dead has helped revitalize local business.
PHOTOGRAPH BY COLLEEN JENKINS, REUTERS/ALAMY
For fans of the undead who prefer entertainment over history, a tour of The Walking Dead sets just might top the zombie bucket list. The show, which follows the lives of a makeshift family struggling to survive in a broken-down country overtaken by zombies, is filmed in and around Atlanta, Georgia.
There are plenty of companies who will gladly tour you through the show’s filming locations. Book an afternoon with one or find a map and do the drive yourself. You’ll find spots from the start of the show, like the quarry campsite where the characters first stay, and locations from later in the series, like the historic community in Senoia, Georgia, that functions as the group’s fictional home in Alexandria, Virginia.
When exploring the imaginary world of apocalyptic disasters, it’s important to stay well-fueled. Stop by The Walking Dead Café for a cup of coffee before your tour and end your day at Nic and Norman’s, a restaurant in Senoia owned by special effects artist Greg Nicotero and actor Norman Reedus.
Uncover Ancient Zombies
Image: The Temple of Athena sits high above the water on the southern coast of Sicily, where ancient Greek colonies left behind remnants of their culture and religion.
PHOTOGRAPH BY FOTOSTOCK/ALAMY
While historians link much of American zombie culture to its foundation in Haiti, archaeologists have discovered evidence of this belief system in other regions around the globe. For instance, Greek literature has often referenced the rising of the undead, like in Homer’s Odyssey, when Odysseus sacrifices a ram and a ewe to convince the dead to appear for his service. Since the concept of death was viewed as more fluid than concrete in ancient Greece, the belief that the dead could rise as revenants to fulfill their own agendas or the agendas of a conjurer was not uncommon.
Archaeologists have recently analysed a previously known site to better explain ancient ideas about Necrophobia, or the fear of dead bodies, and necromancy, or the act of conjuring the dead. The ancient city of Kamarina, a Greek colony, located in southeastern Sicily, is home to two, particularly unique burials. The remains in these graves were covered by large stones and pieces of pottery, which experts believe were placed to keep the deceased from rising—proving the ideology wasn't just written about, it was acted upon.
Interested visitors can head to Sicily to walk along the beach to the ancient ruins, visit the Temple of Athena, and see some of the preserved remains and pottery in the Archaeological Museums of Kamarina, Ragusa, and Syracuse.
Scope Out Your Escape Destination
Image:A horseback rider travels through the Village of Chaajash, one of the well-protected Ushguli communities in Georgia's Upper Svaneti.
PHOTOGRAPH BY AARON HUEY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
Any truly obsessed zombie enthusiast has spent time considering where to disappear to if these stories ever come to life. Some choose a high-rise penthouse. A few might head for the sea. Even more, prefer a remote cabin in the woods. Each of these spots have their merits, but the Towers of Svaneti in Georgia may have them all beat.
Settled high between the Caucasus and Svaneti mountains in the Inguri River Basin, the Ushguli community is home to over 200 nearly impenetrable dwellings. The region historically experienced frequent attacks from outsiders, so villagers developed a reliable system of protection. Because homes were widespread, it wasn’t possible to build a barricade encapsulating them all. Each one, therefore, had its own safeguards: a tall watchtower and a strong wall, both made of stone.
Today, you can visit the towered dwellings in the UNESCO-protected world heritage site by heading to Ushguli from Zugdidi. Minibuses and private taxis take travellers the 80 miles northeast to the historic district to climb the ancient towers, hike to Shkhara—the highest point in Georgia and scope out the world’s best zombie-proof digs.
Walk Among the (Un)Dead
Image: The sun shines onto grave sites in Pennsylvania's Evans City Cemetery—the film set of Night of the Living Dead, a cult classic among zombie and horror fans.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVE DICELLO
Though the term “zombie” isn’t uttered by any of the film’s characters, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is at the root of popular zombie culture today. The tragic story follows a group of strangers attempting to survive an uprising of reanimated corpses. While the black-and-white film received criticism in 1968 for being too graphic, it eventually became a cult classic for horror buffs.
Working with a small budget, Romero and the crew had to find nearby eerie locations that already existed. This led them to Evans City, Pennsylvania, a short thirty-minute drive from Pittsburgh, where the director attended Carnegie Mellon University. There they found an old farmhouse ready for demolition and the now-famous Evans City Cemetery.
Today visitors can first check out The Living Dead Museum then walk through the cemetery, stopping at the grave where the story begins and imagining the landscape slowly filling with the undead as it did for Romero’s characters.
Plan for a Sustainable Future
Image: The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, created to help protect the world's food supply in case of disaster, is carved into the Arctic permafrost to provide a natural freezer for the samples.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JIM RICHARDSON, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
Forward-thinking zombie fans know it’s not enough to just enjoy zombie entertainment and discover the history of our society’s zombie obsession. To prepare yourself for the possibility of a world filled with the undead, plan ahead and explore the Svalbard Global Seed Vault online. The safe protects and houses seeds from around the world as “the ultimate insurance policy for the world’s food supply”—crucial when apocalyptic disaster strikes.
The Vault is located in Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Circle and the northernmost point on the planet accessible by scheduled flight. This means it’s hard for scientists to reach but not impossible. The region also provides protections other seed banks in the world don’t—like natural permafrost, low humidity, and geological stability, so the vault will likely last long after the start of any natural or unnatural emergency.
While you can’t currently take a personal tour of the facility, you can go on a virtual visit. And even an online look at the depository will help ready you for a potential worldwide catastrophe.