The story of the ruined city of Pompeii is one of the best-known examples of a city that suddenly ceased to exist. One moment it was a thriving metropolis, then an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 buried the city in volcanic ash. It was accidentally rediscovered in 1749 and excavated, revealing a time capsule of city life during the era of the Roman Empire.
It’s not just ancient cities that vanish, however. The following collection includes a city that disappeared just this past August. Even as the seven billion residents of Earth begin to run out of physical space to populate, there are virtual places to be abandoned – former online frontiers such as Geocities: The Deleted City.
There are many different ways a city can disappear: It can fall victim to catastrophe, become submerged by rising water or simply be zoned out of existence. In some cases, no one knows why a once-thriving city was wiped off the map. Click ahead and prepare to feel unsettled by the transience of human settlements.
By Colleen KanePosted 9 November 2011
On Aug. 22, China’s Anhui province announced the city of Chaohu was “cancelled.” That is, the buildings, infrastructure and inhabitants remained where they were on Aug. 21, but the city formerly known as Chaohu had been divided into three parts and parceled off into the nearby cities of Hefei, Wuhu and Ma'anshan. This came as rather a surprise to the residents because, as NPR noted, there had been no consultation with Chaohu’s residents and no official notice of the change. This redistribution has made the city of Hefei, now including Chao Lake, the largest by area in China.
Other cities that vanished in China include the stunning submerged ruins ofthe ancient Lion City, which was flooded in the 1950s. It still contains intact relics that would have been destroyed in the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976, when Chairman Mao Zedong sought to eradicate capitalist, traditional and cultural elements, had the town remained above water.
Also in China, the controversial Three Gorges Dam Project created a 370 mile-long lake that submerged more than 1,000 villages, towns, and cities, forcing more than one million people to relocate. Experts estimated that 1,300 sites of cultural and archeological importance were submerged.
In the late 1960s, Famagusta, Cyprus, was a booming island tourist destination and a port city with an estimated population of 60,000 that rose to as much as 100,000 in the high season. The 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus caused a citywide evacuation, and the Greek Cypriot residents were never allowed to return. Ever since, the the Varosha tourist quarter of Famagusta has stood abandoned and fenced off from the rest of the island.
Varosha is now a post-apocalyptic time capsule: Everything was left in the shops, department stores and hotels. It’s a rare example of undisturbed decay, which made it a useful model to discuss in the book “The World Without Us.” Because of development pressures, it’s unclear how long the area will remain as is. The city was named on the World Monuments Fund’s “Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites in the World” in 2008 and is one of the Global Heritage Fund’s 2010 list of a dozen sites “on the verge of vanishing.”
Many lakes and reservoirs hide the remains of forgotten settlements underwater, but rarely is there as obvious a reminder as the bell tower of the 14th century church at Reschensee, or Lake Reschen, in South Tyrol, Italy. A total of 1,290 acres of land was submerged to form the lake in 1950, obliterating the villages of Graun, part of Reschen, and others.
If the example of Lake Reschen dredges up memories of other submerged settlements, it’s to be expected. Underwater towns are so common, they even have their own sub-genre in crime novels: Reservoir Noir. Linked here are lists of other literary appearances and dozens more real-life drowned towns.
The city of Pripyat, Ukraine, once had a population around 50,000, many of whom were employed at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Unfortunately, Pripyat’s proximity to the plant led to its downfall. In the days following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the entire populace fled fatal-level radiation. Residents were told the evacuation was temporary.
Twenty-five years later, now that radiation levels have decreased, tours are legal in the “Zone of Alienation.” Visitors will observe nature reclaiming the leaking buildings, with each spring flooding the buildings with melting snow. The school collapsed in 2005. Pripyat was featured in the latest “Transformers” film, and gamers will recognize the city’s rusting Ferris Wheel and other landmarks from the “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare” and the “S.T.A.L.K.E.R.” videogame series.
Hashima, Japan, otherwise known as Battleship Island and Ghost Island, is located in the Nagasaki Prefecture among more than 500 other uninhabited islands. From 1887 through 1974 it was a coal mining facility. At its most populous in 1959 there were 5,259 residents.
Coal usage giving way to the rise of petroleum use caused the facility to close in 1974, and the island has been abandoned ever since. Some buildings have collapsed, but a safer part of the island has been open to tourists since 2009. This example of industrial history has been suggested as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In 1962, a fire ignited underneath the anthracite coal-mining town of Centralia, Pa., which still burns to this day across 400 subterranean acres. This became problematic for the residents of Centralia, particularly in 1979 when the mayor/local gas station owner noticed the temperature of the gas in his underground tank had reached 172 degrees Fahrenheit. If that wasn’t enough impetus to leave town, in 1982 a 12-year-old boy fell into a deep sinkhole that opened beneath him in his backyard. He was rescued and survived, but the steam billowing from the hole contained a lethal amount of carbon monoxide.
Congress voted to issue funds to residents for relocation, but today a few stubborn holdouts still live in Centralia. All that remains of the town are a few houses, structures and trailers, graveyards, some benches for a bus that never comes and great mounds of bulldozed buildings. State Route 61 has been rerouted because the old section, pictured here, is split and emitting smoke. Author Bill Bryson visited Centralia in the book “A Walk in the Woods,” and the abandoned town inspired the setting for the videogame and movie “Silent Hill.”
Roanoke Colony was a colonial settlement on Roanoke Island off the coast of present-day North Carolina, which was spearheaded by Sir Walter Raleigh. In 1590, following a three-year break in contact with the settlers, Governor John White returned to Roanoke Island from England. The buildings of the settlement and all 100-plus settlers had vanished. The only clues were the word “Croatoan,” carved into a post, and “Cro” carved into a tree.
Numerous theories have been floated regarding the fate of “The Lost Colony,” including integration with the local tribes, or that the colonists perished at sea or at the hands of cannibalistic tribes or the Spanish. The Lost Colony DNA Project is underway by the Lost Colony Center for Science and Research in Williamsburg, Va., with hopes of finding descendants of lost colonists who survived.
In 1957, the remote farming town of Adaminaby, Australia (pop. 700), had to make way for the manmade Lake Eucumbene and the hydro-electric power it would provide. Some houses were moved nearby to form the new town of Adaminaby, and some structures were drowned. The relocation wasn’t exactly welcomed, and only about 250 people resettled in the new town.
In 2007, as Australia suffered from a crippling nationwide drought and the waterline of Lake Eucumbene receded, the remains of Old Adaminaby began reappearing. For the first time in 50 years, parts of the town reemerged, including building foundations, the Old Six Mile Bridge, and dead trees lined up along invisible streets covered by cracked mud.
One of the more famous of the ghost towns of the American West, Bodie is a National Historic Landmark and a California state historic park. It began as a gold mining camp, until the miners moved on to more lucrative locales. The population began to decline around 1912, and it was already being called a ghost town by 1915, although there were still some residents in the 1940s.
The town gained landmark and park status in 1961 and 1962 respectively, with goods still on the store shelves. It began embodying the concept of “arrested decay” — structures are maintained as far as preventing leaks and such, but only enough so they remain standing. True to its ghost town status, Bodie is also said to be haunted.
Three small towns in Louisiana comprised mostly of German immigrant cabbage farmers used to exist by the southwest edge of Lake Pontchartrain. The train delivered their groceries and the towns were so sleepy that the name of Wagram was renamed Napton. As is often the case on the Gulf Coast, however, all that changed with a hurricane. The towns’ legacy takes on a voodoo twist with the legend that their destruction was foretold. A resident named Julia Brown used to sit on her porch and sing about how when she died, she’d take everyone with her. Brown died just before the town was hit by a category 4 hurricane on Sept. 29, 1915. The townspeople were holding her funeral when the hurricane hit. The story goes that Brown’s coffin floated out into the swamp, and the three towns were destroyed in the storm.
Very little is left today, and most of it is underwater. Frenier, pictured here, is a slight blip on the map at the edge of the lake, and an old graveyard remains above water at the site of a Native American burial mound. Local Sheriff Wayne Norwood established a private museum of artifacts from the towns, which he finds when diving.
“I’ve probably got about 3,000 old bottles: whiskies, medicines, shoe polish, old jugs, home remedies like swamp root, liver and bladder cure,” he told CNBC.com. Norwood chooses to hunt for artifacts when the wind has blown out of the Northwest for several days, so that Lake Pontchartrain has drained as much as four to five feet, and also in June when the water gets clear. All that’s left of the buildings are cypress pilings, and piles of bricks where there were once fireplaces.
The onetime farming town of Serjilla, Syria, is about 1,500 years old. Unlike so many of the other cities on this list, Serjilla did not fall victim to natural disaster or become submerged. The city most likely died a natural death of depopulation as trade routes shifted.
The country has about 800 of these ruined 5th century villages, known as the Dead Cities of Syria. They were humble locales producing olives, olive oil, grapes, wine and wheat. Serjilla is one of the better-preserved examples, featuring a church and an olive press.