Three places in the world steeped in history that you may never get to enter.
An armchair art historian is defined as one who travels the whole world researching art and architecture without ever actually moving. Why leave the cushioned library chairs when there are books and computers instead? Unfortunately, every so often, it is necessary to drive a few miles, hop on a plane, and see something real with your own eyes.
However, there are some places that even the most keen traveller cannot enter, no matter how much they may wish to and even without the coronavirus pandemic. That is not to say that no human being may ever enter. These places often have restricted access, barring anyone who does not meet certain requirements. Perhaps looking on the Internet will have to be good enough for such locations.
3. Chung Ying Street on the border of Hong Kong and mainland China
Copyright © CGTN
Chung Ying Street used to be a river separating Hong Kong and mainland China. During the British colonisation of Hong Kong after 1899, the river dried up and allowed land access between the two regions. Throughout the nineties, a thriving black market was set up on the river bank, with mainlanders on one side and Hong Kong residents on the other. The mainlanders were particularly interested in trading for British goods from overseas, such as food, clothing, cosmetics, and jewellery. However, after the end of the Second World War, the British authorities closed down the border, reducing the once thriving community into a ghost town.
The mainland government has since successfully revived the street. Most notably, they built a museum dedicated to the history of the street, the material culture of the local Chinese Hakka people, and recording the British handover of Hong Kong back to China in 1997. Shops have reopened and many mainland citizens of Shenzhen still enter the street daily for shopping and general tourism. The name itself represents the border status of the street, with chung meaning China and ying meaning Britain.
There are several inaccurate sources on the Internet concerning modern-day entry requirements for the border town. From the Hong Kong side, it is virtually impossible to enter without a government permit. From the mainland side, only Chinese nationals holding hukou (a Chinese household and citizenship registration status) may enter. Nobody is allowed to cross further through the border into the other territory via this street.
2. The Apolistic archives of Vatican City
Copyright © CNS / Courtesy of Vatican Secret Archives
The entrance to the secret Vatican Apolistic Archives can be found next to the Vatican Library in Vatican City, also known as the Holy See. It is estimated that the archives span over fifty miles worth of books, records, state letters, and other papal documents. However, tourists cannot simply enter and peruse the history of the Roman Catholic Church. Before the 19th century, almost nobody could enter the archives and certainly not anyone of Protestant faith.
In the modern day, researchers from recognised universities and institutions may apply to enter the archives for academic purposes. They undergo a strict vetting process and, if approved, face a long waiting list. This is due to a quota of no more than sixty researchers in the archives per day. The approval does not last forever; it is valid for a maximum of three months, at which point the researcher must apply again should they wish to re-enter.
It is probably helpful for getting approval if you are a reputed clergyman in the Catholic Church. Most of the sources will be written in Italian, which further restricts those who may gain any academic. Even for those few who are approved and manage to enter the archives, any documents issued by the current Pope may not traditionally be accessed until seventy-five years after his reign ends. This is not surprising. Despite the lack of border controls with the Italian city of Rome, which encloses the state in its entirety, Vatican City is a sovereign state in its own right.
1. The city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Copyright © Bandar Aldandani / AFP / Getty Images
The city of Mecca is considered to be sacred in the religion of Islam. Mecca was the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad, and only Muslims are permitted to enter the holy city. It houses the kaaba, a box-shaped mosque considered to be central to the religion. The qibla, which is the direction to which all Muslims in the world pray towards, is defined by the location of the kaaba. It is considered a duty of all Muslims to attempt to make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime, which is known as the hajj. Every year, Muslims from around the world flock to Mecca for this purpose.
Until recently, tourist visas to enter Saudi Arabia at all were virtually impossible to obtain. However, even with the kingdom’s borders open for tourism, the entry of non-Muslims to holy cities such as Mecca and Medina is strictly forbidden. This is enforced by police guarding the entrances and the roads leading up to the cities. Road signs above the roads on the approach warn non-Muslims to change direction immediately. There have been instances of those who have attempted to sneak in being arrested, heavily fined, and even permanently deported.
Women under the age of forty-five attempting to make the pilgrimage are not normally allowed to make the journey without being accompanied by a male guardian, known as a mahram. They may travel with a tour group instead with written permission from their husband, son, or brother.
LIST OF IMAGE SOURCES
CGTN, China Footprint: Border town bears witness to colonial history. [online] Available at:
Our Sunday Visitor, Looking inside ‘Vatican Secret Archives’ clears up misconceptions about the Church’s history. [online] Available at:
Newsweek, What is the Kaaba? A Brief History of the Holiest Muslim Site Ahead of Hajj 2017. [online] Available at: