People want what they can’t have, or so the old cliché goes. This applies to what people cannot see, as well. Secret places, whatever the reason they’re closed off to the public, elicit fascination, with people wondering why those with privileged access would want to keep them out.
Of the variety of reasons for keeping places secret, the foremost is national security. This sometimes serves as a cop-out for more nefarious government activities, some proven, some alleged. Other times, however, places are restricted for less obvious reasons or for no clear reason at all, other than that they’re secret. Such places have inspired accusations of aliens, cover-ups, satanism, and being the staging ground for the creation of a one-world government called the New World Order. Let’s delve into some of the lesser-known places that are forbidden to the public, in addition to some of the classics, like the infamous Area 51.
No list of secretive places would be complete without Area 51. This subsection of the Nellis Air Force Complex has hosted numerous experiments, including but not limited to the U-2 spy program and the F-117 stealth fighter. However, Area 51 is better known for a more esoteric reason — the U.S. government supposedly hiding evidence of alien contact there.
In 2019, a campaign on Facebook appeared called "Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us." This event, which may have been a joke, proposed a run on Area 51 using sheer numbers. USAF spokeswoman Laura McAndrews issued an ominous threat, according to CNET, which suggested the U.S. government would respond with force to protect it. Hence, it was feared that the event could potentially turn into a humanitarian disaster. But what exactly is there to protect? According to the BBC, at minimum, the U.S. government is allegedly hiding the Roswell wreckage and the bodies of the alien pilots.
Although the event failed to materialize, per NPR, it seems that Area 51 aficionados may have been vindicated. On June 17, 2020, former Nevada senator Harry Reid, in an interview with ABC affiliate KNTV Las Vegas, stated that the government had covered up "hundreds and hundreds" of UFO sightings, although he did not comment on the alleged experiments on alien life that some claim occur in the base. With this information, it definitely seems like there is more to Area 51 than spy programs and nuclear testing.
Ethiopia boasts a rich Christian history going back to the fourth century A.D., when King Ezana of Aksum embraced Christianity. But Ethiopia was also intricately linked with Judaism, which allegedly resulted in the greatest treasure of the Judeo-Christian tradition making its way into East Africa.
According to the Biblical Book of Kings, the Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon to learn his wisdom. Ethiopian tradition claims that she left with a son named Menelik (ancestor of the Solomonid dynasty), whom Solomon anointed as ruler of the Ethiopians. However, either out of nostalgia for their homeland or due to the Jewish people’s abandonment of God, some Israelites accompanied the Queen of Sheba with the Ark of the Covenant to Yemen and eventually Africa.
Over 3,000 years later, the Ark of the Covenant allegedly rests in the Church of Our Lady of Mt. Zion in Aksum. Per Smithsonian Magazine, only one virgin monk, who may never leave the grounds, can see it. Everyone else is forbidden to be anywhere near it.
The story has its skeptics, most famously Professor Edward Uellendorf, who claimed to have seen the Ark during World War II. He told the LA Times that it was a medieval forgery or reproduction. However, when pressed for proof, Uellendorf refused, not wanting to offend his Ethiopian friends, including then-emperor Haile Selassie. Because of strong religious beliefs and the lethal consequences if the Ark is indeed in there, the question remains a matter of faith.
A tribe against the world
In the Bay of Bengal, isolated until very recently from much of the world, are the Andaman Islands, whose inhabitants are believed to be among the first people to settle South Asia. Their unique languages, such as Aka-Bea, Onge, and Jarawa, are unrelated to any existing languages. Today, the islands are part of India, whose administration is present on the whole archipelago — almost.
The one exception is North Sentinel Island, which lies west of the main archipelago. According to Survival International, the islanders are among the last uncontacted peoples in the world. The Sentinelese refuse all contact with the outside world, showering any intruders with hails of arrows. American missionary John Chau was killed in 2019 after attempting to preach Christianity to the inhabitants. In 2018, a Hong Kong ship ran aground near the island and was attacked, too. This pattern has been observed since 1867, when the Indian merchant ship Nineveh fought off Sentinelese attacks before being rescued.
According to Forbes, the Sentinelese live a hunter-gatherer existence and speak a language not mutually intelligible with other Andaman tongues. In January 1991, an Indian team was able to make cordial contact with them by floating coconuts, but this wasn’t enough to learn their language or lifestyles in depth.
As it stands now, it is unlikely the Sentinelese will give up their secrets anytime soon. Contact is rife with ethical ramifications. The islanders lack immunity to everyday diseases of the developed world due to their millennia of isolation. Any contact would likely kill off most of the islanders.
The secret subway
Moscow’s alleged "Metro-2" line is unique among the places on this list in that it is unknown if it exists. According to the BBC, it officially does not, but that has not stopped Muscovite underground enthusiasts from trying to find it and other underground secrets. The FSB even had one journalist questioned for writing about it. But why is it such a big deal?
According to Atlas Obscura, under Stalin’s rule, the Moscow metro system was built using the remains of churches and other Tsarist buildings that the Bolsheviks destroyed during their persecution of the USSR’s Christians. Stalin allegedly built a secret line that went between Moscow’s military facilities and his dacha in the countryside, but it was not completed.
Allegedly, the Soviets and the Russian Federation have built up Metro-2 along with numerous bunkers and an underground city. According to Russia Beyond, Metro-2 exists, but no one with access is ever given clearance to the entire line. Because this metro line is so vital to the Russian government’s security, though, we will not be learning the truth anytime soon.
The CIA’s tropical torture paradise
In the Indian Ocean’s Chagos Archipelago lies the remote island of Diego Garcia. According to the BBC, the inhabitants of this beautiful island, along with the rest of the archipelago, suffered eviction from 1967 to 1973. Recent attempts for resettlement were denied for financial reasons, but the real reason is more likely the presence of a top-secret American base on Diego Garcia.
Diego Garcia is a typical American naval base in many respects. Business Insider has noted that although the base resembles a small American town, with the highlights of American life, the island has been a major launching point for air operations in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan. However, unlike the better-known U.S. bases, only naval personnel and civilian contractors directly involved in the daily operations of the base are permitted on Diego Garcia. Spouses and all other outsiders are barred from entering the base.
The key to Diego Garcia’s secrecy is likely its alleged CIA black ops and "extraordinary rendition" site. Bush administration official Lawrence Wilkerson told Vice that the CIA had flown terror suspects to the island for interrogations, which likely included torture. Hence, the island is part of a network of secret CIA prisons, which would explain the secrecy around it. If Mauritius is successful in pressing its claim to the island, though details about the U.S. base may end up being revealed.
The Okolnaya Bay
Russia is famous for closed cities and secret underground constructions that make the country legendary in the conspiracy world. As Russia reasserts its hegemony in the post-Soviet era, it has begun the militarization of the entire Kola Peninsula in the Arctic. The buildup has drawn attention to a particular military base near Okolnaya Bay, where Russia is believed to possess a deadly weapon.
According to The Barents Observer, Russia has staged a massive military buildup in Okolnaya Bay, with missile launchers, a submarine harbor, and bunkers. A triple layer of barbed wire suggests that the facility is top secret. But why is Okolnaya Bay so important? Apart from a potential flashpoint for conflict with NATO in the Arctic, The Barents Observer has suggested a second reason: In 2018, a Pentagon report claimed (via Newsweek) that Russia had developed unmanned underwater drones that could carry nukes virtually undetected, even to the U.S. East Coast. The Barents Observer proposed that Okolnaya Bay was the base for Russia’s nuclear submarines capable of launching these automated torpedoes, referred to as "Poseidon" drones. According to Naval News, as of 2021, Russia was one year away from completing a base to launch them, but the location, for obvious reasons, is not known. However, given the Russian interest in the Arctic, the Kola Peninsula and Okolnaya Bay are excellent candidates.
The Bohemian Grove
This redwood grove in Sonoma County, California, is notorious in conspiracy circles. It is accessible only by invitation and is managed by the Bohemian Club of San Francisco. Rumors about this place are anything but positive, including that it is guarded by snipers and that the grove serves as a place to conduct satanic rituals before a giant owl statue. But what is known for sure about this place?
All that can be said with absolute certainty about the Grove is that it serves as midsummer retreat for the global elite. U.S. presidents including Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, and both Bushes have visited the retreat alongside politicians from around the world, bankers, financiers, royalty, Ivy League academics, and industrialists.
According to The Washington Post, it is a place where the world’s wealthy go to get drunk, blow off steam, and generally misbehave. According to Britannica, there are also lectures and policy discussions that take place away from the public. However, an exposé called "Dark Secrets inside Bohemian Grove" by Jon Ronson and Infowars chief Alex Jones back in 2000 showed the Grove’s members dressing up in pagan costumes for "the Cremation of the Care" ceremony, although Ronson accused Jones of grossly exaggerating what they saw.
So is it a secret society or a summer camp? Richard Nixon claimed that Bohemian Grove was the "most f*ggy goddamned thing" he had ever attended. Due to the sensitive nature of the place and the presence of so many important powerful people, it is unlikely that anyone outside will be finding out much more. But who doesn’t like a good conspiracy theory?
The papal library
The Papal Libraries are restricted but not necessarily secret, at least not in the same way that the Bohemian Grove or Area 51 are secret. According to History, the name is a mistranslation of the Latin secretum, which means "private" and hence inaccessible to non-owners. The name derives from the archive’s status as the pope’s personal archive until 1881, when scholars were granted access under Pope Leo XIII. Nevertheless, its secrecy has spawned theories that the Church is hiding aliens, Jesus’ true bloodline, and even a time machine, per the BBC.
In reality, the library contains a treasure trove of fascinating documents, such as Martin Luther’s bull of excommunication, the papal bull absolving the Templars, and Henry VIII’s request for an annulment. But because it is only open to scholars whom the Vatican vets, the Holy See has been accused of hiding damaging material from the 20th century.
Cardinals’ personal documents from 1922 onward are restricted, as are documents pertaining to papacies after 1939. However, the Vatican has taken steps towards greater transparency by digitizing the documents to make them accessible to the greater public. The latest collection concerns Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust, as the Church aims to dispel accusations of papal complicity in the bloody 20th-century genocide.
The Riems BSL-4 lab
On the German Baltic island of Riems is a large compound protected with high walls, armed guards, and barbed wire. These fortifications are not to guard a military base but instead the secrecy of a Biosafety Level 4 lab. According to the Federation of American Scientists, Biosafety Level 4 (or BSL-4) facilities must be completely isolated and walled off to ensure that the dangerous pathogens being studied and manipulated within do not escape.
The Reims lab was originally a Nazi bioweapons research facility that today houses the Friedrich Loeffler Institute, the oldest virology lab, founded in 1910. According to Insider, access to the island and the facilities requires a special permit and compliance with strict security and hygiene protocols. Since the pathogens studied in the BSL-4 lab are considered some of the most dangerous in the world, the island is only connected to the mainland with a dam. In the event of a suspected leak, the dam can be quickly closed off to prevent the spread. The lab is fairly well-known, and there doesn’t seem to be much speculation surrounding it despite its restrictions. This may be in part because another BSL-4 lab in Wuhan has been hogging all the headlines since 2019.
322: The Order of Death
The 2004 U.S. presidential election pitted George Bush against John Kerry. Although the two were political rivals, they ultimately came from very similar backgrounds. On Meet the Press, the host noted that both were members of Yale’s most exclusive secret society, Skull and Bones. This society, like the Bohemian Grove retreat, has attracted mostly negative attention for a host of accusations, which range from the theft of Geronimo’s Skull (by none other than Prescott Bush) to crippling America’s education system.
There is no doubt that Skull and Bones is a highly influential society. It boasts three presidents (Taft and both Bushes) and numerous members of industry, finance, and politics. Yale juniors are tapped and initiated into the society, but no one knows exactly what happens in their meeting house, which is known as "the Tomb." In 2001, the Yale Daily News reported that ABC and several Yale students caught aerial footage of a Skull and Bones initiation in the courtyard of the tomb in which "neophytes" were acting out murder. Former Bonesmen claimed that this was definitely not in the tradition of the society, but there is no way to corroborate because no one outside the society is allowed in to see what is happening. As President George W. Bush said, what goes on in there is so secret that it cannot be discussed.
Hell in Italy
Referred to as "hell, but in Italy" by HuffPost, Poveglia island forms part of the Venetian archipelago. Unlike the rest of La Serenissima, however, it is completely off limits to both locals and tourists. It is unclear why the Italian government forbids travel to the island, but because Poveglia is abandoned, there are numerous legends that speak of an island haunted by its grisly history.
According to Atlas Obscura, Poveglia was a quarantine site for the sick when it was part of the Republic of Venice. Undoubtedly, numerous people perished here from plague and isolation. Under Napoleon, it was a weapons depot, and later an insane asylum. With such a history, it is no surprise that the island has its share of gruesome ghost stories, a reputation augmented by the ban on all visitors.
Among the legends of Poveglia, one stands out. According to Venetian locals (via the Daily Mail), a doctor at the asylum performed lobotomies and other experiments on the inmates, killing many. Eventually, he either committed suicide, driven mad by the ghosts of his victims, by jumping off the bell tower, or he was thrown from it. The bell tower is said to still ring on dark nights to this day, even though the bell was removed decades ago after the center closed in 1975. Because of its horrific reputation as a mass graveyard of society’s most vulnerable, the island is known as the world’s most haunted place.
The Coca-Cola Vault
Rounding out the list is a place not steeped in conspiracy theories, ghost stories, or legend. The Coca-Cola Company is headquartered in Atlanta and even offers tours of the facility for soda history aficionados everywhere. However, there is one part that is off limits to virtually everyone.
According to CNN, the Coca-Cola recipe was passed down orally until a group of investors insisted to founder John Pemberton that it be written down. Originally kept in a high-security vault in a bank, the company decided to turn the recipe into its central marketing gig, moving it to a heavily secured vault at company headquarters that tourists can pass and see but cannot enter. The tour, complete with sound effects and attractive visuals, takes tourists so tantalizingly close to one of the beverage world’s greatest secrets. As CNN notes, this is an excellent promotion tactic, and it seems to have worked, as Coke has been around for over 125 years. All that can be said about the Coca-Cola recipe, is that hopefully, it does not contain cocaine anymore.