The proverbial red button, the elusive forbidden fruit, the lands untouched by civilisation, modern humans are like moths to a light when it comes to forbidden things. How can we resist temptation, right? If you are anything like us, read on to learn about these seven places restricted for most people, and succumb to the itch of curiosity.
LASCAUX CAVES, FRANCE
Another Unesco World Heritage site on the list, the Lascaux caves have been closed to the public since 1963. You will find 2,000 incredibly detailed and anatomically sound cave paintings dating back 17,000 years. Discovered in 1940, the centuries of nearly air-tight conditions had preserved the mineral pigments which gave colour to the symbols, animals and people painted on the walls.
This Upper Paleolithic site is the most impressive in all of western Europe as the depictions are not just static, but also show people and animals in motion. The bulls are charging, horses galloping, and the bison, cattle and felines are all moving in form.
Up until the 1960s, the cave was open to thousands of daily visitors, which led to fungus and mold damaging the ancient paintings. A limited number of researchers are allowed in now — one at a time — to oversee the preservation efforts.
NORTH BROTHER ISLAND, NEW YORK CITY
Governor’s Island, Liberty Island, Staten Island... New York City is peppered with islands that top the list of international tourist destinations. Some could argue that Manhattan itself is also an island surrounded by the East River, the Hudson and the Atlantic Ocean. Among all these little swathes of land — on the East River by the Bronx — lies the North Brother Island. once home to Typhoid Mary.
Uninhabited until 1885, the island was purchased to build a hospital to house patients with contagious diseases. Among its residents was a woman named Mary Mallon, who was the unfortunate patient zero for the country’s typhoid fever epidemic.
More recently — in 1905 — the island was used by survivors of a General Slocum steamship fire. It was also a home for World War II veterans after the war came to an end, and later, a kind of rehabilitation centre for heroin addicts. The island closed shop in 1963.
It’s now restricted to the general public and functions as a bird sanctuary for nesting colonies of Black-Crowned Night Herons.
NORTH SENTINEL ISLAND, INDIA
A part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal, the North Sentinel island is cut off from modern civilisation and only inhabited by the Sentinelese. This untouched island has managed to remain so as it is protected by the Indian government.
According to the 2011 census, between 80 and 150 people live on the island, although the actual number could be vastly different. From the little research that does exist, it is believed that the Sentinelese speak a language unlike any other in the region, live in huts with slanted roofs, build narrow outrigger canoes to get around, and carry bows and arrows, and iron-tipped spears. They are hunter-gatherers and live off the island’s bounty, along with fishing and harvesting crabs.
The Sentinelese don’t like being disturbed and make a point of showing it with their crafty weapons when anyone dares to get too close for comfort. The Indian government has banned anyone from visiting the island and this protection is probably for the best since the Sentinelese do not have the required immune system to withstand modern diseases.
HEARD ISLAND, AUSTRALIA
Technically located in Australia, this island’s closest continent is Antarctica and the nearest landmass is a two week-long sail away. Needless to say, Heard Island — in the Southern Indian Ocean — is one of the most far-flung areas from modern civilisation.
The island is almost entirely covered in glaciers and is home to the continent’s highest peak — Maswon Peak — which is also one of only two active volcanoes in Australia. The island was first inhabited in 1855 for seal hunting. It was abandoned about three decades later, after nearly wiping out the seal population in the area.
This Unesco World Heritage site is a marine and nature reserve today, and the Australian government has restricted entry to the island.
ILHA DA QUEIMADA GRANDE, BRAZIL
This island is most commonly known as “Snake Island,” and the reason it’s restricted is, well, snakes! More specifically, pit vipers. Even more specifically, golden lanceheads, one of the deadliest species of snakes to crawl this earth.
With a density as high as one to five snakes per square metre, this aptly named island is a haven for lanceheads, whose venom is famed for even melting the skin around the bite site. There are at least 4,000 of them here.
The government has banned visitors to the island — for good reason, we say — and even the researchers who are allowed in are required to have experience in how to handle snakes. They are also required to have a doctor in the team.
Surtsey is often considered the world’s newest island. Formed through volcanic eruptions in 1963 that lasted four years, this tiny island is named after a black fire giant from Norse mythology. The eruption presented scientists with a unique opportunity to observe the very beginnings of life on a volcanic island. As a result, entry to Surtsey was restricted and even today, researchers need approval from the government. Once on the island, there are strict rules that researchers need to follow in order to avoid contamination.
Legend has it that one researcher unknowingly carried a tomato seed in their stomach, which then germinated on the island through fecal matter. As soon as the plant — and its colourful origins — were discovered, it was removed.
Surtsey was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 2008.
GLOBAL SEED VAULT, SVALBARD
This Doomsday Vault in Norway, opened in 2008, holds seeds from all over the world in order to have the ability to restore the earth’s vegetation in case of the (cough) apocalypse. The vault currently holds about 100 million seed samples.
The building is designed to survive two centuries, and the outer façade is built to withstand earthquakes and explosions. Furthermore, perched on the side of a mountain in the Arctic Svalbard archipelago, the vault will remain above sea level even if all the world’s ice was to hypothetically melt.