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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

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15 Abandoned Cities Around the World

Oradour-sur-Glane, France (abandoned, 1944)
In the years and decades after WWII, one mantra echoed around the globe: never forget. In France, there’s a town called Oradour-sur-Glane that, to this day, refuses to bury its past. The small village was the site of one of the war’s most violent massacres; in 1944, the Nazis indiscriminately murdered 642 inhabitants, leaving only seven survivors. The town, with its crumbling buildings and rusting cars, was left exactly as it was found as a reminder of the terrible war crime. But the story doesn’t end there. In January, acting on evidence discovered in the files of East Germany’s secret police, Germany opened an investigation into six SS soldiers who are still alive and may have participated in the massacre.

Plymouth, Montserrat (abandoned, 1997)
In 1997, 19 people were killed when a volcano poured 30 feet of ash, mud, and rocks over Plymouth, the capital of the British-owned island Montserrat. The death toll remained comparatively low because of a smaller volcanic eruption two years earlier. After the first blast, the entire city—which served as the government and commercial hub of the island—was forced to evacuate under an exclusion zone set up by the government. The area was deemed uninhabitable, and two-thirds of the island’s small population fled abroad. Today, the city, which residents are still unable to return to due to continuous volcanic activity, lies in an arrested state, and is sometimes dubbed the “Pompeii of the Caribbean.” But a few photographers have been able to visit to capture the various stages of decay—from perfectly preserved photos on a desk, to a Catholic church so buried in debris, only the highest spire peeks out. With much of its infrastructure gone, the nation has slowly been getting back on its feet, finally opening a new airport in another part of the island in 2005.

Okuma, Japan (abandoned, 2011)
It’s been three years since a tsunami caused by an earthquake off the coast of Japan led to a devastating meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. But the levels of radiation still permeating the area make it impossible for residents to return to eight nearby towns, like Okuma, formerly population 11,500. After the disaster, some locals snuck back in, skirting roadblocks and patrols, to reclaim belongings, but the town remains virtually frozen as it was on March 11, 2010. In schools, book bags and gym uniforms are scattered in the building; homes are still filled with residents’ belongings; and streets are empty of cars—a testament to the rushed escape. Decontamination efforts continue, and former residents hope to return, but the reality remains that it could be years before safety is restored.

Varosha, Cyprus (abadoned, 1974)
Once an exclusive holiday playground for the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Brigitte Bardot, the Varosha quarter in Famagusta, Cyprus, is now a crumbling shell of its ‘60s and ‘70s glory. When Turkey invaded the island nation in 1974, the area was abandoned, and its high-rise resorts, restaurants, and blocks of shops were left to rot. Clothes from tourists still hang in hotel room closets, rows of then-brand new 1974 models remain lined up at a car dealership, and commercial jets sit abandoned at the decaying Nicosia International Airport.

Pyramiden in Svalbard, Norway (abandoned, 1998)
A bizarre USSR haven in Norway still boasts hammer-and-sickle signs and a statue of Lenin, frozen in temperature and time on the Svalbard Islands halfway to the North Pole. In 1927, Norway sold the coal-mining community of Pyramiden to a Russian state-mining company, and it was used as the world’s most northerly Cold War front for decades, until it was shut down in 1998. The sports center, library, school, hospital, and housing complexes remain standing, and could for a very long time—experts say that due to the freezing conditions, the major structures will endure for hundreds of years.

Kayaköy, Turkey (abandoned, 1923)
Some places almost look better in a state of decay. This gorgeous Greek-style community built in the mid-1800s was left behind in 1923 after Greece and Turkey agreed to a population exchange when the Greco-Turkish War shifted borders. The non-Muslim residents of the town were forced to relocate to Greece, leaving behind around 350 homes, two elaborate churches, and endless winding cobblestone streets. The roofless, crumbling stone structures, complete with a small population of wandering goats, make the town look ten times its age. Today, Greek Orthodox and Islamic leaders have held meetings in the once-divided Kayaköy, and it was named a World Friendship and Peace Village by UNESCO.

Pripyat, Ukraine (abandoned, 1986)
On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl reactor began its tragic meltdown. The incident was a huge blow to the viability of the nuclear energy platform, and still today, the town of Pripyat is an abandoned shell of a city frozen in a 1980's Soviet time-warp. While the failed reactor has been entombed in a an appropriate sounding casing called a "sarcophagus," the area remains unsafe for human life. The town has thrived in one aspect though. Wildlife has returned to the area in droves. Wolves silently hunt among the towering apartment buildings, and boars forage for food in the abandoned amusement park - which strangely opened the day after the reactor explosion in the midst of evacuation.

Agdam, Azerbaijan (abandoned, 1993)
Once home to 40,000 people, Agdam is now an empty buffer zone operated by the Armenian military in the middle of Azerbaijan. Located in Nagorno-Karabakh—an autonomous region of Azerbaijan that has sought independence from its home country and has been supported by nearby Armenia—years of tension came to a boiling point in 1993. Azerbaijan was using Nagorno-Karabakh as a protective base against Armenian troops, who teamed up with local rebels and, in an effort to make the region strategically useless, bombed everything in sight. The death toll reached 10,000, and 120,000 civilians escaped the area. Agdam now is a hollowed-out city, with livestock living in the grand, old mosque, and skeletal building remains pillaged for construction materials.

Kadykchan, Russia (abandoned, 1996)
Kadykchan was one of many small Russian cities that fell into ruin when the Soviet Union collapsed. Residents were forced to move to gain access to services like running water, schools and medical care. The state moved as many people as they could out over a period of two weeks, and they were taken to other towns and provided with new housing. Once a tin mining town of 12,000 people in 1986, the population quickly declined over the proceeding decades. An explosion at the mine in 1996 killed six people, which lead to a decision to close the mines altogether and for the government to subsidise residents to move elsewhere. As of 2010, the settlement was officially completely depopulated.

Balestrino, Italy (abandeond, 1953)
 Balestrino, Italy is just as picturesque as many other medieval Italian towns, with its stunning hilltop location 70 km southeast of Genoa. Once owned by the Benedictine abbey of San Pietro dei Monti, Balestrino began losing its population in the late 19th century as earthquakes struck the region and damaged property. In 1953, the town was abandoned due to eœgeological instability. The part of the town that has remained untouched since that time is currently undergoing planning for redevelopment, so it won’t remain abandoned for much longer.

Bodie, California (abandoned, 1940s)
The poster boy for a ghost town, Bodie is absolutely stunning in its dereliction. The boom-town over 8,000 feet up in the Sierra Nevadas was a gold rush outpost, and, at its height in the 1880's, allegedly one of the largest cities in California, with over 10,000 residents. 65 saloons lined the dusty mile long main street, meaning the saloon to resident ratio was definitely high enough to keep the sheriff busy. Beyond the swilling of brews though, Bodie developed into a city filled with big town characteristics like churches, hospitals, four fire departments, and even a Chinatown district. Despite the decline after the boom, Bodie had permanent residents through most of the 20th century, even after a fire ravaged much of the downtown business district in 1932. A post office operated at Bodie from 1877 to 1942. After that closed, the down was virtually depopulated. Only a small part of the town still stands today, but what remains has been well preserved. Today, visitors are free to to walk the deserted streets of this town built on gold and hope.

Ghost Island, Japan (abandoned, 1974)
During the industrial revolution in Japan, the Mitsubishi company built this remote island civilization around large coal deposits in the Nagasaki islands. The island is home to some of Japan's first high rise concrete buildings, and for almost a century, mining thrived on the island. At its peak, the 15 acre island housed over five thousand residents - coal workers and their families. Today, a post-apocalyptic vibe haunts the abandoned island and the dilapidated towers and empty streets exist in a creepy industrial silence. In 2009, the island opened to tourists, so now you can take a trip to explore the Ghost Island's abandoned movie theaters, apartment towers, and shops.

Craco, Italy (abandoned, 1963)
It was first inhabited by the Greeks in 540 AD. From then until 1959, the town saw an average 1,500 inhabitants living in its grounds. However, from then on, until about 1972, landslides due to earthquakes damaged much of the structures in Craco.  After being rocked by these earthquakes and subsequent landslides, Craco was abandoned for lower ground. Today, the empty village is great for exploration and houses a number of interesting old world churches such as Santa Maria della Stella.

San Zhi District, Taiwan (abandoned, 1980)
This area called Sanzhi was originally a vacation resort catering to U.S. servicemen north of Taipei. The architecture could be called UFO futuro chic, and the abandoned resort community had difficulties from the beginning. During construction, many workers perished in car accidents, and other freak accidents were common. The urban legend online search trail places the death count close to twenty. The deaths were attributed to supernatural causes. Some speculated that the resort was built on a Dutch burial ground while others attributed the misfortunes to a dragon statue destroyed during construction. Either way, the ruins never took their first guest, and the stillborn project was abandoned.

Quneitra, Syria (abandoned, 1974)
Located in southwestern Syria, this destroyed city used to be the capital of the region.Quneitra was captured by the Israel military forces on June 10, 1967, the last day of the Six-Day War. It was briefly recaptured by the Syrian forces in the 1974 Yom Kippur War, but was quickly taken back by the Israeli counter-offensive. The city was destroyed in June 1974 as the Israeli forces left Quneitra. The Syrian government to this day actively dissuades resettlement and rebuilding Quneitra.


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