Next year, the Czech Republic chapel known as the “Church of Bones” will enforce stricter rules to curb a rise in inappropriate and derogatory photographs, Czech news agency CTK reported. According to the Sedlec Ossuary’s parish director, Radka Krejci, tourists have been taking insensitive selfies and manipulating bones to stage more interesting photos, desecrating a holy site that draws hundreds of thousands of tourists annually.
The crackdown is part of a trend that’s likely only to grow at the planet’s main points of interest as people travel internationally more than ever.
“The tour guide told us not to take selfies. Just to have good taste in taking photos,” Eric Chao, who visited the chapel from Taiwan this week, wrote in a message. “So out of respect I did not.”
Chao isn’t much of a selfie person, anyway — his Instagram account is filled with portrait, urban and travel shots. Instead of a selfie, Chao captured Sedlec Ossuary’s most striking details: a Schwarzenberg coat of arms constructed with bones; a chandelier made of bones and skulls. The restrictions on photos didn’t bother him.
“To be honest, for places like this I think it’s necessary to ban photography to preserve the site by preventing tourists from taking ridiculous pictures,” Chao said, noting that he saw one tourist take a selfie licking one of the chapel’s skulls. “The chapel is a tiny place. If photography is banned, it can also help with the traffic. And photographers can truly enjoy the moment instead of thinking about how to take better photos.”
Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, in Poland, is another sensitive site that has to deal with questionable photography. Press officer Pawel Sawicki said he does not endorse taking selfies at the concentration camp, although he warns against making character assumptions about those who post them.
After all, he notes, cultural norms are changing.
“We have to be careful not to judge good people,” Sawicki said. “I can see that people use it as their language of expression. For a generation of teenagers, this is the language they use. You can see from the caption that people are showing the memorial was important to them."
Europe is filled with historic places that forbid photos outright. Three of the more famous are the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City (first because of photography and video rights, and later to prevent damage from camera flashes), the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam (with the exception of the entrance hall and a few “selfie walls”) and London’s Westminster Abbey.
“We want you to take in its unique beauty and history without the distractions that widespread photography would bring,” the Westminster Abbey website reads. “We want to retain the sacred and intimate atmosphere of a building which is, above all, a living, working church.”
Like at the Van Gogh Museum, visitors to the abbey are told of a few specific areas for photo-taking, such as the Cloisters, Chapter House and College Garden. There’s also a photo gallery where visitors can download souvenir pictures for free.
Yet photography bans are just one part of broader efforts to combat unwanted visitor behavior at the world’s biggest tourist attractions. All over Italy, tourists are facing fines for infractions such as stealing sand, jumping into fountains and picnicking in inappropriate places. And certain destinations, such as Maya Bay in Thailand and Boracay in the Philippines, even have to close periodically to recover from tourist damage.
As overtourism continues, travelers will have to hope that the enforcement of rules and fines is enough to keep Earth’s wonders open.