6 Famous Ghost Towns and Abandoned Cities

Many 19th and 20th-century villages were left to decay after natural disasters, wars, or economic depressions drove their populations to evacuate.

These ghost towns serve as haunting reminders of bygone periods, and some have even found new life as tourist attractions and movie sets. Learn the story behind six of the world’s most renowned abandoned cities and villages, from the infamous nuclear catastrophe zone near Chornobyl to Henry Ford’s lost jungle paradise.

1. Pripyat, Ukraine

Pripjat Panorama. Source

Pripyat is a ghost town in northern Ukraine, close to the Belarussian border.

Pripyat, named after the neighboring Pripyat river, was established on 4 February 1970 as the Soviet Union’s ninth nuclear city to service the nearby Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant. It was incorporated as a city in 1979 and had a population of 49,360 people when it was evacuated on the afternoon of April 27, 1986, the day after the Chornobyl accident.

The Chornobyl Nuclear Station exploded on April 26, 1986, during a test to see how much power was required to keep the No. 4 reactor operating in the event of a blackout, releasing extremely dangerous amounts of radioactive chemicals into the air, contaminating millions of square miles in dozens of European nations over time. The IAEA thinks that the explosion instantly killed around 30 individuals.

The town’s 49,000 people were evacuated after 36 hours, and many later experienced serious health problems as a result of their brief exposure to the fallout. Later, Soviet authorities established an 18-mile exclusion zone around Chornobyl, leaving Pripyat an abandoned ghost town.

In 2009, over two decades after the Chernobyl incident, the Azure Swimming Pool shows decay after years of disuse. Source

There were 15 elementary schools, five secondary schools, and a technical college in the town. A hospital, two sports stadiums, and an amusement park were all present. Pripyat is now a ghost town, with overgrown streets and abandoned apartment buildings.

The schools and kindergartens are littered with books and toys, a reminder of how rapidly they were evacuated.
While radiation levels in Pripyat have reduced sufficiently in recent years to allow urban explorers and former inhabitants to pay brief visits, scientists believe that it will take generations before the town is safe for habitation.

2. Oradour-Sur-Glane, France

Burned out cars and buildings still litter the remains of the original village. Source

Oradour-Sur-Glane is a European first: a completely restored destroyed town that was the location of the biggest Nazi slaughter of civilians on French territory. On June 10, 1944, 642 individuals, including 247 children, were shot or burned alive in an unfathomable act of barbarism.

The men were brought to barns and machine-gunned, while the women and children were confined in a church and slaughtered with explosives and incendiary grenades in what is considered to be retaliation for the town’s alleged assistance of the French Resistance.

Only a few individuals survived by pretending to be dead and fled to the wilderness.

Wrecked hardware – bicycles, sewing machines etc. – are still left in Oradour-Sur-Glane. Source

After the war, General Charles de Gaulle determined the community should never be restored and instead serve as a testament to the Nazi occupation’s cruelty.

After the war, the new community of Oradour-Sur-Glane (population 2,375 in 2012) was created northwest of the killing site. The original village ruins remain as a tribute to the deceased and as a representation of comparable locations and occurrences.

In a 2013 speech, Robert Hébras, one of just six persons to survive the carnage (hiding behind a mound of dead bodies) and one of two still alive, described how women and children were asphyxiated, machine-gunned, and burned alive. They undoubtedly saw the crushed pushchair, which had been abandoned near the altar.

3. Hashima Island, Japan

Battle-Ship Island. Source

Hashima Island, also known as Gunkanjima, is an abandoned island in southern Japan, about 15 kilometers from Nagasaki. It is one of the prefecture of Nagasaki’s 505 deserted islands. The most prominent aspects of the island are its abandoned concrete structures, which have been left alone save by nature, and the surrounding sea wall.

While the island represents Japan’s fast industrialization, it also serves as a reminder of the country’s grim history as a location of forced labor prior to and during WWII. The 6.3-hectare island was famous for its underwater coal mines, which were founded in 1887 and functioned during Japan’s industrialisation. In 1959, the island’s population peaked at 5,259 people.

Mitsubishi bought the island and developed some of the world’s first multi-story reinforced concrete structures to house its burgeoning population. For the following few decades, Hashima remained a hive of activity, particularly during World War II, when the Japanese forced thousands of Korean workers and Chinese POWs to work in its mines.

Hashima Island. Source

With the coal supplies reaching exhaustion, the mine was stopped in 1974, and all of the population left shortly after, completely abandoning the island for the next three decades. Because of its intact medieval remains, interest in the island resurfaced in the 2000s, and it gradually became a tourist destination of sorts.

Certain fallen outer walls have now been rebuilt, and visitor access to Hashima reopened on April 22, 2009. As interest in the island grew, a movement was launched to safeguard it as an industrial historic site. In July 2015, the island was formally designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

4. Varosha, Cyprus

Varosha in 2006. Source

Varosha, a Famagusta resort, was thriving before to Cyprus’s partition in 1974. Some of the greatest beaches on the island drew the affluent and famous. Elizabeth Taylor was claimed to have preferred the Argo Hotel on JFK Avenue, which was frequented by Richard Burton and Brigitte Bardot.

The beaches are deserted today. So are the hotels that border the sandy beach. The beach is surrounded by corrugated iron and barbed wire. Signs say “No Man’s Land,” “STOP,” and “No Photos Allowed” on the roadways near the beach.

All of that changed in August 1974, when Turkey invaded and captured Cyprus’s northern third in response to a Greek-led coup. The city’s 15,000 citizens fled in panic, leaving their goods and livelihoods behind. Most people expected them to return once the conflict ceased, but Varosha has been wasting away behind a carefully guarded fence ever since.
However, the resort was surrounded by Turkish soldiers and has been a ghost town ever since. A UN resolution from 1984 asks for the return of Varosha to UN authority and forbids anybody other than those who were forced to leave from resettling there.

Crumbling hotels in Varosha. Source

Trees have grown through the floors of restaurants and residences, and the majority of the goods of former occupants have been robbed or destroyed. What remains is an eerie time capsule of the 1970s, complete with bellbottoms in store displays and 40-year-old automobiles still sitting at car dealerships.

In recent years, Greek and Turkish Cypriots have discussed reviving the old jet-setters’ hideaway, but experts estimate that it would cost up to $12 billion to make its dilapidated structures habitable again.

5. Bodie, California

Bodie, California, as seen from the hill. Source

Bodie, California was incorporated in 1876 after miners discovered significant quantities of gold and silver in its hillsides. In the late 1870s, gold-crazed prospectors rushed to the community at a pace of more than two dozen per day, and its population eventually grew to almost 10,000 people.

Back then, Bodie had a reputation for being one of the Mother Lode’s most irate, vociferous, aggressive, and lawless communities. Law and order took a back place to doing whatever inspired the moment, including shooting someone as the only way to end an issue.

Following the discovery of gold in 1859 by a group of prospectors led by W.S. Bodey, Bodie began as a little mining settlement. The finding of gold at Bodie coincided with the discovery of silver at Aurora (thought to be in California, but subsequently determined to be in Nevada) and the distant Comstock Lode under Virginia City, Nevada.

While these two towns grew in popularity, Bodie remained unpopular. Only two corporations had erected stamp mills at Bodie by 1868, and both had failed.

Inside the gymnasium building – August 26, 2012. Source

The production of the last Bodie newspaper, The Bodie Miner, in 1912 signaled the beginning of an official decline.
It had outgrown its small infrastructure by the 1880s, and a series of severe and terrible winters prompted many of its prospectors to go to more profitable areas.

The population declined until the 1940s, when the remaining occupants were evacuated. Bodie has now been regarded as one of the country’s best-preserved ghost towns. Park rangers keep its 200 rickety structures in “arrested degradation,” and tourists rush to the site to examine its 1880s Methodist church, saloons, and post office, as well as the wreckage of a burned-out bank vault.

6. Fordlandia, Brazil

The main warehouse at Fordlândia. Source

A cartel of Dutch and English rubber barons controlled the great bulk of the world’s supply of rubber in the early twentieth century. The only source of rubber at the time was the South American tree Hevea brasiliensis, the sap of which is natural latex.

By the late 1920s, Henry Ford, the iconic vehicle magnate, set out to break the back of this rubbery monopoly. His hundreds of thousands of new automobiles required millions of tires, which were too expensive to create when raw materials were purchased from established rubber barons.

To that aim, he constructed Fordlândia, a small piece of America transplanted into the Amazon rain forest with one goal in mind: to develop the world’s largest rubber plantation. Despite being tremendously ambitious, the project was ultimately a spectacular disaster.

Ruins of Fordlândia, circa 2005. Source

After making his imprint on towns such as Dearborn, Michigan, he created a business town equipped with swimming pools, a golf course, suburban-style houses, and weekly square dance sessions. Unfortunately for Ford, his venture was doomed from the beginning.

Fordlandia’s rubber trees succumbed to leaf disease, and its employees were frustrated by the town’s stringent restrictions, which included a prohibition on alcohol. Clashes between Brazilian employees and American management were all too regular.

During one fight over cafeteria restrictions, Fordlandia employees used machetes to damage much of their dining hall and pushed the town’s trucks into the river.

Henry Ford finally invested $20 million in his planned workers’ paradise, but the community failed to generate latex for his autos. Despite never having visited the city, he eventually sold it to the Brazilian government in 1945 for pennies on the dollar.

In the years afterwards, the forest has reclaimed much of Fordlandia’s campus, but many of its structures remain, and the town has become a small tourist destination for backpackers and curious visitors.

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