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6 Famous Ghost Towns and Abandoned Cities - HISTORY

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UPDATED: APR 3, 2020 · ORIGINAL: MAR 10, 2015
6 Famous Ghost Towns and Abandoned
From the infamous nuclear disaster zone near
Chernobyl to Henry Ford’s doomed jungle paradise,
learn the stories behind six of the world’s most famous
vacant towns and villages.
STR/NurPhoto/Getty Images
1. Pripyat, Ukraine
Students chairs stand on rotting floorboards in an auditorium of an
abandoned school on September 30, 2015 in Pripyat, Ukraine. The city
lies in the inner exclusion zone around Chernobyl where hot spots of
persistently high levels of radiation make the area uninhabitable for
thousands of years to come.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
At 1:23 a.m. on April 26, 1986, a catastrophic meltdown took place
inside reactor number four at the Soviet nuclear power plant at
Chernobyl. The explosion that followed sent flames and radioactive
material soaring into the skies over Pripyat, a nearby city built to
house the plant’s scientists and workers. It took 36 hours before
the town’s 49,000 residents were evacuated, and many later
suffered severe health effects as a result of their brief exposure to
the fallout.
Soviet authorities later sealed off an 18-mile exclusion zone
surrounding Chernobyl, leaving Pripyat an abandoned ghost town.
The city has since languished for nearly three decades as a chilling
reminder of the disaster. Its buildings have decayed and been
partially reclaimed by the elements, and wild animals roam through
what were once bustling apartments, sports complexes and an
amusement park. In the town post office, hundreds of letters from
1986 still sit waiting to be mailed. While radiation levels in Pripyat
have dropped enough in recent years to allow urban explorers and
former residents to make brief visits, scientists estimate that it
could take several centuries before the town is once again safe for
2. Oradour-sur-Glane, France
Ruins of the martyred village Oradour-sur-Glane, photographed in 2014.
Andia/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
On the afternoon of June 10, 1944, the village of Oradour-sur-Glane
was the scene of one of the worst massacres of French civilians
during World War II. In what is believed to have been an act of
revenge for the town’s supposed support of the French Resistance,
a Nazi Waffen SS detachment rounded up and murdered 642 of its
residents and burned most of their houses to the ground. The men
were taken to barns and machine-gunned, and the women and
children were locked in a church and killed with explosives and
incendiary grenades. Only a handful of people managed to survive
by playing dead and later fleeing to the forest.
A new Oradour-sur-Glane was built nearby after the war ended, but
French President Charles de Gaulle ordered that the burned-out
ruins of the old town be left untouched as a monument to the
victims. The facades of dozens of brick buildings and charred
storefronts still remain, as well as graveyards of rusted cars and
bicycles, scattered sewing machines and unused tram tracks. The
site is also home to a museum, which holds a collection of relics
and mementos recovered from the rubble.
3. Hashima Island, Japan
The ruined buildings of Hashima, famous as the nickname "Gunkan jima
(Warship Island)", are seen on July 13, 2009 in Nagasaki, Japan.
Sankei/Getty Images
Today, Hashima Island is a vacant labyrinth of crumbling concrete,
sea walls and deserted buildings, yet it was once among the most
densely populated places on the planet. The small island off the
coast of Nagasaki was first settled in 1887 as a coalmining colony.
It was later purchased by Mitsubishi, which built some of the
world’s first multistory, reinforced concrete buildings to house its
bursting population. Hashima remained a hive of activity for the
next several decades, especially during World War II, when the
Japanese forced thousands of Korean laborers and Chinese POWs
to toil in its mines. By the 1950s, the 16-acre rock was packed to
the gills with more than 5,200 residents. Most workers found the
cramped conditions unlivable, and the city was promptly
abandoned after the mine closed in 1974.
Forty years of neglect have left Hashima a dilapidated ruin of
collapsed staircases and condemned apartments. Many of its highrises are still filled with old televisions and other relics from the
mid-20th century, and its once-teeming swimming pools,
barbershop and school classrooms now sit in shambles. The island
was officially opened to tourists in 2009, and it has since served as
the inspiration for the villain’s hideout in the 2012 James Bond film
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4. Varosha, Cyprus
Famagusta's coast with the deserted hotels of the tourist area of
Varosha in the background, fenced off out of bounds in the Turkish
occupied north of the island December 13, 2003.
Tarik Tinazay/AFP/Getty Images
In the early 1970s, the immaculate beaches of Varosha, Cyprus
served as one of the most popular millionaires’ playgrounds in the
Mediterranean. The suburb boasted a thriving tourism economy,
and celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor and Brigitte Bardot were
known to take in the sand and sun at its high-class beachfront
hotels. All that changed in August 1974, when Turkey invaded
Cyprus and occupied its northern third in response to a Greek
nationalist-led coup. Varosha’s 15,000 residents fled the city in
terror, leaving their valuables and livelihoods behind. Most
assumed they would return once the fighting stopped, but ongoing
political strife has seen Varosha waste away behind a heavilyguarded barrier ever since.
The few intrepid explorers who have ventured into the no man’s
land describe the resort as a crumbling ghost town. Trees have
grown through the floors of restaurants and homes, and most of
the former residents’ belongings have been looted or destroyed.
What is left stands as a spooky time capsule of the 1970s, including
bellbottoms in shop windows and 40-year-old vehicles still parked
at car dealerships. In recent years, Greek and Turkish Cypriots have
held talks regarding reopening the former jet-setters’ haven, but
experts estimate that it would take upwards of $12 billion to make
its decrepit buildings livable again.
5. Bodie, California
The old Standard Company ore mill is a landmark at Bodie, a goldmining ghost town from the late 1800's in the Sierra Nevada mountain
range in California. The mining town is preserved in a state of "arrested
decay" by the California State Parks System.
Robert Alexander/Archive Photos/Getty Images
Bodie, California was officially founded in 1876, after miners
stumbled upon rich deposits of gold and silver in its hillsides. Goldcrazed prospectors flocked to the settlement at a rate of more than
two-dozen per day in the late-1870s, and its population eventually
soared to some 10,000 people. Thanks to larger-than-life accounts
of whiskey-fueled shootouts, the outpost soon earned a reputation
as a “sea of sin” filled with rough men, prostitutes and opium dens.
Like most boomtowns, Bodie eventually went bust. By the 1880s, it
had outgrown its meager infrastructure, and a succession of harsh
and deadly winters convinced many of its prospectors to move to
more profitable locales. The population dwindled until the 1940s,
when the last residents finally shipped out. Since then, Bodie has
become known as one of the nation’s most well preserved ghost
towns. Its 200 ramshackle buildings are kept in state of “arrested
decay” by park rangers, and tourists flock to the site to explore its
1880s Methodist church, saloons and post office as well as the
ruins of a burned-out bank vault.
6. Fordlandia, Brazil
The remains of the Fordlandia hospital on July 6, 2017 in Aveiro, Brazil.
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images
In 1927, Henry Ford began work on “Fordlandia,” a massive rubber
plantation in the jungles along Brazil’s Tapajós River. The
automotive magnate needed the town as a steady source of rubber
for his car tires and hoses, but he also saw the venture as a chance
to bring small town American values to the Amazon. Having already
left his mark on cities like Dearborn, Michigan, he designed a
company town complete with swimming pools, a golf course,
suburban-style bungalows and weekly square dancing sessions.
Unfortunately for Ford, his experiment was doomed almost from
the start. Fordlandia’s rubber trees fell victim to leaf fungus, and its
employees chafed under the town’s strict regulations, which
included a ban on alcohol. Clashes between Brazilian laborers and
American managers soon became a common occurrence. During
one riot over cafeteria rules, Fordlandia’s employees destroyed
most of their mess hall with machetes and pushed the town’s
trucks into the river.
Henry Ford eventually sank $20 million into his would-be workers’
paradise, but the town failed to produce any latex for his
automobiles. Having never visited the city himself, he finally sold it
to the Brazilian government in 1945 for pennies on the dollar. The
wilderness has reclaimed large portions of Fordlandia’s campus in
the years since, but many of its buildings are still standing, and the
town has become a minor tourist destination for backpackers and
curiosity seekers.
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