By: Hollie Mantle
Our landscapes are littered with once-bustling towns where now nought but tumbleweeds rolls through the deserted streets. Where are these architectural mausoleums, and why were the left behind by those who once lived there?
The aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster still haunts newspapers, textbooks and those who suffered tremendously because of it. As the closest town to nuclear reactor No.4, Pripyat, in Ukraine, was the most vulnerable, and its 50,000 residents were forced to uproot instantly en masse to avoid contamination from radiation. To this day, the levels of radiation in the vegetation and away from the sides of the roads makes it too dangerous for people to live there. For dark-tourism travellers or photographers wanting to capture snapshots of this haunting memory book of a town, the best way to get there is by tour operator (of which Tourkiev is one of the best,most highly recommended).
In America’s Wild, Wild West it’s not a struggle to seek out abandoned ghost towns where the tools of bygone mining days are still assembled in sheds, or cars still parked in the driveway. Gilman in Colorado is one of those time-frozen towns – and has been a no-go land for the public since it was abandoned in 1984. Poisonous substances in the ground make it impossible for people to live there nowadays, and whilst the buildings remain intact almost every glass window or item has been smashed, making it look like the manifested version of a bull in a china shop.
If you search for Varosha on Google maps you’ll see a dark grey, apparently barren space. Not all of the world is detectable or accessible for the public, of course, but what makes this location particularly surprising is that it was once a buzzing resort (and not the Magaluf kind). Bridget Bardot, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton; in the 60s and 70s it was more of a big deal who wasn’tcoming here than who did fly over for the beaches and year-round sun.
In 1984, however, the UN seized control of the area, removing it from the hands of either side during the political struggles after the Turkish invasion. The closest you can get now to experience what drove the stars here in their hundreds is the next door town of Magosa, an equally lovely area (check out closest hotels to Varosha here).
During WW2 the Nazi invaders took charge of this small town, using the inhabitants as vessels for horror-inflicting punishments in order to signify their distaste for the French resistance. When the Germans finally surrendered, and France was back under the leadership of its people, Charles de Gaulle ordered that, though it was possible to rebuild the town of Oradour-sur-Glane, it be kept as a memory to those who suffered there. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture to go into the details, but the poor French inhabitants and their suffering are not forgotten thanks to this tribute-town. For travellers who want to visit, the closest city is Limoges, or it’s a five hour drive south of France.
Now often referred to as ‘the valley of death’, the crime of this abandoned town was asbestos – which was mined in spite of the fact that the evils of asbestos damage were well known at the time. The mines of Wittenoom produced 150,000 tonnes of asbestos between 1943 and 1946 – particularly blue asbestos, which is by far the most deadly variety. People today are still suffering in the aftermath of diseases associated with the dangerous chemicals, and this town lays largely abandoned, though is still possible to visit – the stunning gorges are still an attraction for travellers around the globe.
People often discuss the earthquake which rocked Japan in 2011 - yet the death toll and damage from the earthquake itself was nothing shocking. It was the devastating tsunami which followed that pummelled the coast line and caused the meltdown of nuclear reactors in Fukushima. Namie, the closest town to the reactors, had to be deserted, and residents were only allowed back for a brief 10 minute trip to grab precious belongings since leaving. Google has since mapped the current state of the town, allowing people to get a glimpse of the state of ruin it lies in – for who knows how long.