There are many reasons why cities are abandoned; some, like the ghost towns of the American West, have become tourist destinations while others have been condemned or simply forgotten. These 20 abandoned cities of the world share an eerie, haunted quality that is part of what makes them so fascinating.
1. The Kowloon Walled City was located just outside Hong Kong, China during British rule. A former watchpost to protect the area against pirates, it was occupied by Japan during World War II and subsequently taken over by squatters after Japan’s surrender. Neither Britain nor China wanted responsibility for it, so it became its own lawless city. Its population flourished for decades, with residents building labyrinthine corridors above the street level, which was clogged with trash. The buildings grew so tall that sunlight couldn’t reach the bottom levels and the entire city had to be illuminated with fluorescent lights. It was a place where brothels, casinos, opium dens, cocaine parlors, food courts serving dog meat and secret factories ran unmolested by authorities. It was finally torn down in 1993 after a mutual decision was made by British and Chinese authorities, who had finally grown wary of the unsanitary, anarchic city and its out-of-control population.
2. The small village of Oradour-sur-Glane, France, is the setting of unspeakable horror. During World War II, 642 residents were massacred by German soldiers as punishment for the French Resistance. The Germans had initially intended to target nearby Oradour-sur-Vayres and mistakenly invaded Oradour-sur-Glane on June 10th 1944. According to a survivor’s account, the men were herded into barns where they were shot in the legs so they would die more slowly. The women and children, who had been held in a church, all perished when their attempt to escape was met by machine-gun fire. The village was razed by the Germans afterward. Its ruins still stand today as a memorial to the dead and a reminder of the events that took place.
3. Kolmanskop is a small town located a few miles inland from the port of Laderitz in Namibia. Windswept sand has made its way into nearly every building in the town, which was once a diamond mining town and abandoned in 1956 as diamond demand declined and richer sources of diamonds were discovered in other areas. Its only residents are now birds, hyenas and other animals.
4. Humberstone, Chile was a booming town from the 1920s until the early 40s, enjoying the wealth and prosperity that came from mining and processing nitrate, also known as saltpeter. Once synthetic saltpeter was invented, the town began to decline and experienced a slow outpouring of residents until it finally lay empty in 1961. Since then, the blowing sand from surrounding deserts has made its way into the remaining buildings, which still house machinery and furniture. The town has been named a World Heritage Site and will likely be preserved as a historical monument.
5. Wittenoom, Australia was once home to 20,000 people in its mining heyday. The asbestos mining town effectively shut down after the health risks of asbestos became clear in the 60s, and 1,000 residents died of asbestos-related illnesses. The remaining residents left, aside from the 8 people who still live there today. The city is littered with the blue fibers of asbestos, which can be seen in the bottom left photo above.