According to Wikipedia, a ghost town is “a once-populated but since-abandoned village, town or city, which contains substantial visible remains.” Based on that, you’d expect all of them to be off the beaten track, pretty far away from civilization. But you’d be wrong; for example, did you know that Seattle is built on top of another Seattle?
The Seattle Underground is a network of passageways under what has become downtown Seattle. These spaces were the actual streets of the city, till the Great Seattle Fire of 1889 occurred. After 31 blocks of the mostly wooden town were destroyed, the city was rebuilt with bricks, and elevated the streets by 22 feet.
But Seattle isn’t the only town with secret tunnels; Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan also has miles of tunnels criss-crossing beneath the surface. They were used for rum-running during the Prohibition Era, and also harbored immigrant Chinese railway workers. These days, both sites have been restored and have been turned into tourist attractions.
The U.S. is dotted with these ghost towns; in Texas alone, there are 450 of these abandoned settlements. But America is one of the few places where ghost towns are usually left behind when major economic activity in the area ceases. One exception is the Centralia mine in Pennsylvania, where a fire has blazed since 1962. The environmental impact has led to an evacuation of Centralia and Byrnesville, its closest neighbour to the south.
In other parts of the world, once-bustling towns have been rendered uninhabitable due to the forces of nature, civil disturbance or man-made disasters. One example is the abandonment of the Central African town of Paoua. Following clashes between rebels and government forces in 2007, all 17,000 residents fled to save their lives and the town has remained abandoned since then.
The Earth is littered with many of these abandoned settlements; below are ten of these once-bustling towns that have now been reduced to creepy, yet fascinating ghost towns.
10. Tawergha, Libya
As recently as 2006, this town still had a population of 24, 223; but today, it’s totally uninhabited. Located 38 km from Misrata, it was once famous for its palm trees, date fruits, and its idyll location only a few miles from the sea. The peace was shattered when anti-Ghadaffi forces descended on the town in 2011 and accused the residents of aiding Ghadaffi’s forces.
Despite the townspeople’s denial, they were given a 30-day ultimatum: get out of town or face ‘ethnic’ cleansing. The rebels wasted no time in decimating the entire town in what has since been branded a war crime. These days, apartment blocks stand empty with broken glass and anti personnel mines strewn around.
9. Consonno, Italy
Italian entrepreneur Mario Bagno had a lofty dream to create the City of Toys, a mini version of Vegas in Italy. He appeared to have found the ideal location in Consonno, a small village of 200 residents located an hour outside Milan. Paying 22.5 million lire in 1962 (about $ 16, 600), he bulldozed the entire village to create space for his futuristic amusement park.
Consonno was so quaint that, at the time, there was only one road leading to it. However, this proved to be the downfall of Bagno’s dream. In 1972, a landslide covered the road and blocked access for bulldozers and other heavy equipment. At this point, Bagno was running low on funds, so he abandoned the project. The site was was briefly re-opened in the 1980s to serve as a care home, but as many of the buildings and amenities had fallen into disrepair, it was closed for the last time in 2007.
8. Oradour-sur-Glane, France
The entire village of Oradour-sur-Glane serves as a lasting reminder of the horrors of World War II. In 1944, acting on intelligence that a Waffen-SS officer was being held at the village, a battalion of Nazi soldiers descended on the village. Under the ruse of examining their identity papers, they locked women and children in the local church before proceeding to loot the village.
Leading the 190 men of the village into a large barn, the Nazis executed all of them and set the barn alight. Moving back to the church, they placed an incendiary device beside it and set it off. As it exploded and set the church ablaze, some people tried to escape. Those who made it out were gunned down by Nazi soldiers; 247 women and 205 children died in that attack.
What was left of the village was burnt to the ground. General Charles de Gaulle declared that the village should never be rebuilt as a lasting memorial to the dead and a reminder of Nazi cruelty.
7. Varosha, Cyprus
Following the explosion of tourism in 1970s Cyprus, the government constructed a complex of high rise buildings and hotels close to one of Cyprus’s beaches. Designed to attract the wealthier Cypriots and tourists, the complex had every amenity imaginable – car dealerships, shopping centers, bars, nightclubs and the beach was only a stone’s throw away. It quickly became a go-to holiday destination for celebrities Liz Taylor and Brigitte Bardot.
But the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus changed all that, very quickly. On July 20, with the Turkish army advancing, residents had only a few hours to pack up and flee what had suddenly become a war zone. The Turkish army fenced off the entire area and hasn’t allowed any of the residents back since then.
Urban explorers who have managed to sneak into the complex report that it’s eerily like a time capsule from the 1970s. Shops still have 70s fashion in their windows, 40-year old cars are still parked in the streets and some apartments still have dishes on tables.
6. Chaitén, Chilé
Chaitén was a Chilean town that also served as the former capital of the Palena Province. In May 2008, all 3, 347 inhabitants of the town had to abandon the area as the nearby Chaitén volcano erupted for the first time in over 9, 000 years.
The ensuing plume of ash rose to over 30 km high, with the resulting ash blowing across to Argentina and farther into the Atlantic Ocean. Following the eruption, a flow of debris, known as a lahar, ran through the town. These muddy “streams” flow very fast, run deep and destroy anything in their path. In this case, it caused the banks of the local river to overflow by 2 meters on either side. The extra volume caused the course of the entire river to change, forcing it through the town and destroying the buildings in its path.
Till date, a large portion of the town is still buried by ash from the eruption. The government is attempting to rebuild the town, but for now, it remains an eerie “white” ghost town.
5. Lukangol, Sudan
This town in South Sudan was obliterated almost overnight in the ethnic wars of 2011. The resident Murle tribe, all 20, 000 of them, fled when they were suddenly attacked by members of the Lou Nuer tribe. This attack was reported to be in retaliation for one on the Lou Nuer four months before. In the fight over grazing lands and water rights, the village was burnt to the ground and 30 tribesmen lost their lives.
Those that escaped to nearby Pibor were pursued and were only saved when the government deployed 6, 000 soldiers to the area. The continuous threat of communal violence in the Jonglei region has since led to abandonment of many of its towns.
4. Plymouth, Montserrat
These days, it would be hard to believe Plymouth was once the capital of Montserrat. It was also the only port of entry to the island, but due to heavy and deadly volcanic activity, the population of Plymouth currently stands at 0.
In 1995, the Soufrière Hills volcano started to spew dense smoke for the first time since the 19th century. The sulfuric smoke was also accompanied by unpredictable eruptions of fragmented volcanic material.
After one evacuation in August, the threat was perceived to be over. But a few weeks later, rivers of hot, fast-moving gas and rock started to run through the island causing widespread panic among its residents. The lava flowing through town resulted in 19 deaths and further eruptions covered 80% of the town in ash four feet deep. Since then, the pyroclastic flow is said to have ruined the soil, causing residents to totally abandon the island.
3. Agdam, Azerbaijan
Dubbed the “Caucasian Hiroshima”, Agdam was once a 40,000 resident town in the southwest part of Azerbaijan. In July 1993, as part of the Summer Offensives, Armenian forces invaded the town and forced its entire population out. At the time, the town was used as a buffer zone between the warring armies.
As the fighting subsided and the Armenians were retreating, they decided to destroy what was left of the town, so the Azerbajanis couldn’t inhabit it anymore. A campaign of heavy shelling and artillery fire destroyed most of the buildings in the town. Over the next decade, sustained looting of what was left of the buildings further rendered the town inhospitable. Through all the fighting and looting, Agdam’s once-impressive mosque was spared and it’s still standing. These days, the region is inhabited by cows, the offspring of the cattle that were abandoned many years ago.
2. Namie, Japan
When the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster occurred in 2011, one of the towns that was obliterated was the 120 year old Namie. The tiny town of 21,000, was one of the closest locations to ‘ground-zero’, being only 6 km away from the plant. Even though the village is within the 20 km exclusion zone and the entire town was advised to evacuate, not everyone left. Some couldn’t bring themselves to leave their homes, others couldn’t abandon their farm animals.
Since the disaster, the Japanese government has pledged to return residents to the area, but the process of decontamination is a slow and expensive (up to $10,000 per home) one. While residents can now visit their former homes, they are not allowed to spend the night. Despite all this, many of the former inhabitants of Namie still hope to return to their homes one day.
1. Villa Epecuén, Argentina
This Argentine tourist resort was once home to over 200 businesses and around 1, 500 residents. The major attraction was the saltwater Lake Epecuén, but this also proved to be the cause of its eventual ruin.
In 1985, a freak weather pattern caused the formation of a seiche (a standing wave in an enclosed space), which broke the city dam. The water unleashed, smashing through the dike that sheltered the town. This watery domino effect caused the waters of the lake to overflow and for the next 20 days, the town was submerged in 10 meters of highly corrosive water. It took another 25 years for the waters to recede enough for the former resort town to become visible again.
These days, its empty streets are dotted with rusty shells of cars, twisted trees and the deafening sound of silence.
What makes most of these creepy is the circumstances that led to their abandonment, the fact that you can’t legally visit many of them, and the haunting thought that they may never be inhabited again. What do you think of our list? Would you be up for an adventure at any of these places?
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