When you travel, do you find yourself drawn to the history of a destination as a way of really getting to know it? While visiting memorials can unnerving and upsetting, it can also be fascinating and moving.

After WWII, Winston Churchill said “We must draw a veil over all the horrors of the past.” It is easy to understand why – the wounds seemed too fresh, the horror unspeakable. But much earlier, on the other side of the Atlantic, the American philosopher George Santayana was of a different opinion, one which has become almost universally accepted: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Here is a short list (in no particular order) of some famous memorials worth visiting:

Robben Island
Used as a prison from the early days of the VOC right up until 1996, Cape Town’s Robben Island, a UN World Heritage Site, is preserved as a memorial to those such as Nelson Mandela who spent many years incarcerated there. In addition to being Mandela’s unwanted home for 27 years, the prison had been used to bully and oppress political troublemakers for almost 400 years. Now it is a symbol of triumph over apartheid and oppression.

Taj Mahal
India’s Taj Mahal is a moving memorial for all the right reasons. It is about a man missing his wife. Emperor Shah Jahan was so bereft when his beloved Mumtaz Mahal died that he constructed the most beautiful building in the world to house her body. 

Hundreds of thousands were killed and tens of thousands of women were raped in 1937 when the Japanese army took control of the Chinese city of Nánjīng (Nanking). The Memorial Hall of the Nánjīng Massacre has a gruesome viewing hall of some victims still in their mass grave. 

The death toll from the first atomic bomb is estimated at 200,000 (five years after the blast). Inside the Peace Memorial Park, the A-bomb museum, commonly known as the Peace Memorial Museums, narrates the events previous to, during and after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. For many it is an overwhelming experience and a potent symbol of the idiocy of war. Opened in August 2002, the Peace Memorial Hall is a contemplative hall of remembrance and a register where the names and photographs of atomic-bomb victims are kept, along with their testimonies.

Jallianwala Bagh
To gain an understanding of what made India the place it is today, go to Amritsar to the spot where British troops, without warning, blocked off a square before firing 1,650 rounds into a crowd of 5,000 peaceful protesters. Near the Golden Temple, this poignant park commemorates those Indians killed or wounded here in 1919. Some of the bullet marks are still visible, as is the well into which hundreds desperately leapt to avoid the bullets.  

Tuol Sleng
S-21, the old schoolhouse used as the Khmer Rouge torture centre in Cambodia, is a memorial to the atrocities that left 1.7 million people dead. The controversial map made of skulls and bones was deemed too macabre and has now been replaced.

The article 'Famous memorials worth-visiting' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.