Lenin’s body was taken to the Red Square and displayed shortly after his death in 1924. It is remarkably unchanged because of the preservation methods used on the corpse. Lenin had black spots on his skin, and these various imperfections were treated with a mixture of acetic acid and vodka. Under the Soviet Union, the government paid the staff responsible for continual preservation efforts. After Stalin’s death in 1953, his embalmed body was put next to Lenin’s, and it remained there for eight years until it was removed in an effort to de-Stalinize the country. Lenin’s body is still in the Red Square today and open to the public.
Red Square, Moscow, Russia, +7 495 623 55 27
When Kim Jong-Il died in 2011, North Korean officials summoned Russian scientists to help with the embalming. You could say the whole Lenin corpse display thing made Russia a bit of a trendsetter in this regard. His body now rests in a glass sarcophagus where it serves as a major tourist attraction. The glass is filtered so that it keeps North Korea’s beloved dictator’s complexion rosy. A bright red blanket is draped over him, and the sarcophagus is surrounded with matching crimson flowers. Kim Jong-Il’s father, Kim Il-Sung, was also embalmed and placed on display nearby.
Mao Zedong was the leader of the Communist Party of China, and he served as its chairman for nearly 30 years. He is certainly a controversial figure that is often compared to Stalin. While Mao hugely contributed to the creation of a unified, modernized China, the lengths to which he was willing to go in order to achieve his goals are undoubtedly brutal. His body remained on display for one week after his death. It was then encased in a crystal coffin and moved permanently to his mausoleum, which was built on Tiananmen Square. It is guarded by heavily armed military personnel but remains a popular tourist destination to this day.
Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, Beijing, China, +86 10 6513 2277
Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s controversial socialist president died in 2013. In the fashion of his socialist and communist predecessors, Chávez was supposed to be embalmed so that his devotees could view his body on a permanent basis. Unfortunately, there were complications involving the process, and the body was not prepared quickly enough. For a body to be successfully preserved, the embalming process must begin within the first few hours after a person dies. Further, the warm Venezuelan climate made preserving the corpse even more difficult. Still, it is possible to visit Chávez’s tomb at the Military Academy in Caracas.
St. Bernadette was a French girl of humble origins that bore witness to apparitions of Mary, the mother of Jesus or ‘Our Lady of Lourdes.’ Following her death, religious members of her community, as well as two doctors, observed that her body appeared incorrupt from decomposition. This was regarded as a miracle and ultimately contributed to her canonization. Eventually, a wax cast of her head and hands were superimposed over her real face and hands, which were beginning to decay. The body was then placed in a crystal coffin and remains on display at the Chapel of St. Bernadette in Nevers, France.
Chapel of St. Bernadette, 34 Rue Saint-Gildard, 58000 Nevers, France, +33 3 86 71 99 50
Probably one of the most iconic preserved human corpses available to visit is that of King Tutankhamen. His tomb was discovered in 1922, and inside, there were many gold items and other treasures. The unearthing of King Tut’s tomb spawned a wave of renewed interest in ancient Egypt. King Tut’s mask is a popular symbol of ancient Egypt, and it has enormously impacted popular culture ever since. King Tut himself was a sickly boy king who died around the age of 18. His body is currently on public display at the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, and many of his funerary items are on circulation at museums around the world.
Commonly nicknamed ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ Rosalia Lombardo is an Italian toddler who died of pneumonia at just two years old. Her father, a wealthy official in their home of Palermo, was so heartbroken after her death that he had her embalmed to preserve her body. She is extremely well preserved, and all of her organs are still intact, but her body is beginning to show some discoloration. Due to an optical illusion involved the way light filters into the glass coffin, many have observed that Rosalia opens and closes her eyes. The body is located in the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, where the public can view it via guided tour of the catacombs.
Piazza Cappuccini, 1, 90129 Palermo, Italy, +39 091 652 7389