Ghost Towns

Some famous ghost towns in the world

Tina S
Tina S
Apr 15, 2010
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A ghost town is a completely abandoned town or city, often because the economic activity that supported it has failed, or due to natural or human-caused disasters such as flood, government action, uncontrolled lawlessness or war. The term is sometimes used in a depreciated sense to include cities, towns, and neighborhoods which, while still populated, are significantly less so than in years past.

Ghost towns in varying conditions can be found all over the world, but some have become particularly famous. Famous ghost towns become well-known either because they are extremely well preserved, or because of the reasons which led to their abandonment. Some famous ghost towns are ancient, like Angkor Wat in Cambodia, which was once surrounded by a large settlement, while others are much more recent.

Some ghost towns are tourist attractions, Tombstone, Arizona; Jerome, Arizona;Oatman, Arizona; Bannack, Montana; Kolmanskop; and Elizabeth Bay among them. This is especially true of those that preserve interesting architecture. Visiting, writing about, and photographing ghost towns is a minor industry.


Factors leading to abandonment of towns include depleted natural resources, railroads and roads bypassing or no longer accessing the town (as was the case in many of the ghost towns along Ontario's historic Opeongo Line), economic activity shifting elsewhere, human intervention such as highway re-routing, river re-routing (the Aral Sea being one example of this), and nuclear disasters such as Chernobyl. 

Natural disasters can also create ghost towns. After being flooded more than 30 times since their town was founded in 1845, residents of Pattonsburg, Missouri, had enough after two floods in 1993. With government help, the whole town was rebuilt three miles (5 km) away.

Ghost towns may also occasionally come into being due to an anticipated natural disaster — for example, the Canadian town of Lemieux, Ontario was abandoned in 1991 after soil testing revealed that the community was built on an unstable clay bed. Two years after the last building in Lemieux was demolished, a landslide swept part of the former townsite into the South Nation River.

Land contamination can also create a ghost town.

Ghost towns may also be created when land is expropriated by a government and residents are required to relocate. An excellent example is the village of Tyneham in Dorset, acquired during World War II to build an artillery range. Another example is when NASA acquired land to build a rocket propulsion testing center.

Construction of dams has produced ghost towns left underwater. Examples include the settlement of Loyston, Tennessee, inundated by the creation of Norris Dam. 

Famous ghost towns around the world:

In the Americas, most famous ghost towns are old mining towns which were abandoned as resources were exhausted. Centralia, Pennsylvania is a ghost town more recently abandoned, after an underground fire started in the town's coal mine in 1961.

Once a flourishing gold-mining town with a population of nearly 10,000 souls, Bodie is now a decaying ghost town left at the mercy of the elements. Founded in 1859 as a mining camp by gold prospector W. Bodye, the town attracted gold diggers from all over the world but because it had little groundwater resources it was deserted at the beginning of the 20thcentury.

Bodie is recognized as a National Historic Landmark and the remaining houses have been preserved with their original interiors.

Centralia was never a large town, at its peak it only had about 2,000 residents out of which just 18 remain today. The downfall of this American borough started in 1962 when the authorities ignited a town landfill that was atop an unsealed coal mine. The coal started burning underground causing damage and endangering the lives of locals.

Centralia was literally sitting on a powder keg and when gas stations started registering high temperatures in their fuel tanks the authorities decided to evacuate the town. The underground fire still burns and scientists say it could be burning for another 250 years.

In South America, Jonestown, Guyana was abandoned after a mass murder-suicide in 1978. In Chile, workers left the town of Humberstone to decay in the 1960s, and parts have been very well-preserved under layers of sand. Ojuela, a former mining settlement in Mexico, was abandoned in the early 21st century after a series of political struggles over control of the site.

Crossing the pond to Europe, some famous ghost towns include: Balestrino, Italy, abandoned after a series of earthquakes in the 1950s; Prypiat, Ukraine, abandoned after the Chernobyl disaster; and Tyneham, a village in Dorset, England, which was taken over by the Ministry of Defense in World War II and never returned to the citizens.

In France, visitors can see Oradour-sur-Glane, a village which witnessed a horrific massacre in the Second World War. Although the Germans tried to destroy the city to cover up the evidence, the French left the ruins in place as a memorial.

Africa has some very interesting famous ghost towns, including Chellah, a site in Morocco abandoned in the 12th century, and Kolmanskop, a formerly thriving site of a diamond mine in Nigeria which is slowly being covered in sand. 

Asia and the Middle east also host several famous ghost towns, ranging from ancient sites like Mandu, an Indian city abandoned in the 1600s, to Agdam in Azerbaijan, abandoned due to war in 1993. 

In Turkey, people can see Kayakoy, a well-preserved Greek village abandoned by its residents when they were expelled in 1923, and the tourist quarter of Famagusta in Cyprus has been abandoned since the Turkish invaded in 1974.

Australia and Antarctica also have a few ghost towns. Wittenoom in Australia, a former asbestos mine, was abandoned due to health concerns, while Deception Island in Antarctica has a number of abandoned structures, although parts are still used for seasonal research camps.

There are many ghost villages in Iran, Syria and Lebanon abandoned as a result of migration to major cities. Most of these towns are in ruins and a few serve as tourist attractions. In addition, the Syrian city of Quneitra has become a ghost town after the 1967 Six Day War and subsequent Yom Kippur war in 1973. As of today, the city remains destroyed. Syria has left the ruins in place and built a museum to memorialize its destruction a symbol of Israeli aggression. It maintains billboards at the ruins of many buildings and effectively preserves it in the condition that the Israeli army left it in.


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