The 10 Most Famous Abandoned Places in the World

Abandoned places have their own charm and mystery. Even the decaying and the derelict has its own form of beauty that cannot be found in structures still intact. Aside from beauty, abandoned places also mirror the human spirit; stubborn, unyielding and willing to stand up against the test of time and the elements. What are some of the most famous abandoned places in the world today?

10 Pripyat

The name may not be immediately familiar to many, but the name Chernobyl certainly is. Pripyat is the Ukrainian city where the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant is located. In 1986 a meltdown at the CNPP forced the evacuation of Pripyat, which had a population of 50,000, practically overnight. Entire communities were forced to drop everything and leave homes, schools and businesses, with no word of when, or if, they could return.

After measures were put in place to make sure the radioactivity no longer posed an immediate threat, the surrounding area was declared an exclusion zone and no one was allowed to return. The abandoned city, and the alleged unusual phenomena resulting from residual radiation, has spawned countless urban legends, not to mention movies and video games.

All may not be lost for Pripyat as it seems more famous now than when it was lively and bustling. Experts agree wildlife is thriving among the ruins, and some operators offer the hardiest tourists a tour of the abandoned city and outlying areas. Standard issue during such a tour is a radiation badge.

9 Machu Picchu

You may think this World Heritage Site does not belong on this list, but it does. Perched high up in the Cusco Region of Peru, this ancient city is perhaps the most recognized icon of Incan civilization. Ancient Incans chose its location taking into consideration the trade routes and its easily defensible position, and by all indications (i.e. recovered artifacts) it was settled by a thriving population.

So why would its residents just abandon a structure like this? That’s just it; no one knows why the city’s residents just up and went. There was no indication of crop failure or famine, disaster, or war. The reason for its abandonment remains a topic of debate for experts, historians, and, of course, conspiracy theorists.

8 Gunkanjima Island

Also known as Battleship Island, this one square-kilometer island off the coast of Nagasaki, Japan, once housed six thousand people, making it at one time the island with the highest population density on Earth.

In the early 1900’s the Mitsubishi Corp. started mining the rich submarine coal deposits under the island. Miners came and the population grew. Buildings were built on the island, some as high as ten stories, to accommodate miners and the restaurants, gambling houses and schools and other facilities that their families could not live without.

Building after building was added, making the island a virtual maze of streets, alleys, walkways and living spaces. When the coal ran out in the 1950's the island lost its value and the residents sought jobs elsewhere. Now it stands abandoned as a testimony to how easily fortune can make a man rich and then take everything away from him.

7 Kolmanskop

A ghost town in the Namib Desert in Southern Namibia, this former town was named after an American, Johnny Coleman, who abandoned his ox wagon there after a sandstorm. In 1908 a diamond mining boom saw the rise of the town from a small German burg to a bustling settlement with structures built to German architecture and taste. Before long the fancy houses were followed by a hospital, a power station, a school, even a ballroom and a theater.

The diamond yield started declining in the 1920's but it was only in 1954 when it was totally abandoned, leaving the desert to slowly reclaim the land once taken from it. The ghost town is now a tourist attraction run by a local firm.

6 Centralia

This coal-mining town in Pennsylvania, U.S.A., was abandoned after a fire hit the underground coal deposits. That was in 1962 and today the fire is still burning, giving the place the surreal appearance of hell on earth with smoke rising from the occasional cracks in the ground.

The town is not entirely abandoned as a few people are willing to brave the persistent smell of carbon monoxide and ever-present danger of the underground fire and sinkholes. Centralia is reportedly the inspiration for the 2006 movie Silent Hill about a town trapped in limbo after a disaster cuts it off from the rest of the world.

5 Humberstone

Founded in 1862, this once-thriving mining town in Chile was the official source of nitrate for the Oficina La Palma. Nitrate was a big business at the first quarter of the twentieth century as it was an essential part of fertilizer. However, by the 1930’s a cheap substitute to nitrate had found its way into the market and business in the town started dropping.

Even after the mining industry died there, a few hardy residents were still stubborn enough to stay, and all in all it took the town three decades of struggling before finally closing down in 1961. Houses, buildings, machines and other facilities were left behind wholesale, as if waiting for people to just come back and use them anytime.

Humberstone and the nearby town of Santa Laura eventually became tourist attractions as ghost towns and in 2005 both were declared as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. 

4 Craco

This quite picturesque medieval village, which includes a church, a castle and a university, was built on a hill in the Basilicata Region of Matera, Italy. First settled in by Greeks who moved there in 540 AD, it changed hands and changed heads often before eventually becoming big enough to be declared as a town in 1815.

After the unification of Italy, it fell on hard times and became a known stronghold of brigands who plagued the area until the 1860's. Just when that was over another problem took its place; the settlement was falling apart due to the instability of the hill and the weight of the buildings. The constant earthquakes were not helping either.

The town’s population of 1,800 finally abandoned it in 1963. So you can say Craco was actually abandoned due to cracks.

3 The Salton Riviera

In 1905 the Colorado River overflowed and water ran into and settled in the lowest, hottest part of the California desert, forming an artificial lake. When the lake didn’t dry up enterprising opportunists immediately marketed it is as the Salton Sea, a miracle in the desert and the ultimate resort destination.

A resort town was quickly built, as were schools, markets and other facilities. Vast neighborhoods were planned and for a while it seemed this paradise would last forever. Then the fertilizer in runoff from surrounding farms began to take its toll on the lake. It began with a fishkill, millions of fish floating dead to the surface and shores of the lake, birds that ate the fish became sick and also died. The air became permeated with the smell of dead fish, birds and the rapidly deteriorating lake.

People left in droves and the town was abandoned in a hurry as if overnight. Today, empty neighborhoods and abandoned resorts, homes, offices and RVs still litter the desolate landscape in what one observer describes as a glimpse of the apocalypse.

2 Wonderland Amusement Park

This sprawling amusement park/mall complex outside Beijing, China, was abandoned halfway through its construction in 1998. Now it stands empty in the middle of a field otherwise good for crops.

Finished fairytale facades housing empty spaces as well as huge hollow buildings dot the complex, a giant metal skeleton of a mall rusts next to completed walkways and food kiosks. Even the giant Disneyland-like castle at the entrance to the park was unfinished, making the structure look like a cross between an eerie missile silo and a cathedral of brutalist architecture.

1 Ordos City

When the Chinese developers built this huge city in Inner Mongolia they hoped one million residents would come and move in. Almost none did. Now, high-rise buildings, posh subdivisions and middle-class homes sit empty and bare upon miles and miles of developed land and lonely streets.

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