Once, these were thriving towns and cities, homes to families. Now, they're entirely deserted – though traces of human life still remain...
Fewer than three kilometres from the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor, the city of Pripyat was built to house the plant’s workers. But following the April 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Pripyat’s 50,000 inhabitants were quickly evacuated to save them from radiation poisoning. Believing they’d be allowed to return within days, residents left their belongings behind. Toys and books still litter abandoned classrooms.
The town’s amusement park was due open for the 1986 May Day celebrations but, by that date, Pripyat was already a ghost town. Now its rusty ferris wheel has become a chilling symbol of the disaster. It’s believed that it’ll be as long as 320 years before the area surrounding Chernobyl will become habitable once again.
2. Oradour-sur-Glane, France
On 10 June 1944, almost all of the inhabitants of French village Oradour-sur-Glane were brutally murdered by Nazi Waffen-SS soldiers. The men were taken to a barn where soldiers shot at their legs until they were unable to move. Then they doused them in petrol and set them alight. The women and children of the village were herded into the church, where the pews had been soaked in petrol. It, too, was set on fire, and those who tried to escape were shot at with machine guns. That night, the village was all but razed to the ground. A total of 642 people died in the massacre, 205 of which were children. There were few survivors.
At the end of the war, French president, General Charles de Gaulle, declared that Oradour-sur-Glane should never be rebuilt, but stand forever, frozen in time, as a memorial to the innocent civilians who died there. A reminder of one of the worst Nazi atrocities to take place in Western Europe.
3. Hashima Island, Japan
Hashima Island has two nicknames. The first is Gunkanjima (Battleship Island), because of its distinctive shape. The second is Ghost Island. For around 100 years, Hashima was densely populated, as a coal mining facility. Apartment blocks were built as homes for the growing numbers of miners and their families, and with them came hospitals, schools, and restaurants. At its peak, Hashima had over 5,000 full time residents, all living in the tiny 16-acre space. Then, in 1974, the coal ran out.
The mining facility was closed and workers were told they could keep their jobs if they returned to the mainland, but it was on a first-come, first-serve basis. So the families left – and fast. ‘They left coffee cups on the tables and bicycles leaning against the walls,’ remembers one man who lived on Hashima as a child. For 30 years, the island crumbled to ruin, abandoned and ignored, but in 2009, it was re-opened to tourists. It was also used as a set in the 2012 Bond film, Skyfall.
4. Bodie, California, USA
There was a time when Bodie, a mining town in northern California, thrived. In 1876, gold discoveries meant the sleepy desert spot swiftly transformed into a Wild West boomtown as prospectors moved in to make their fortunes. Buildings shot up, including banks, schools, a church and a jail. It’s believed that, at its peak, there were 65 saloons along Main Street, where shootouts and brawls were common. There were also around 10,000 residents during Bodie’s heyday, and the amount of gold found there was said to be valued as high as $34m. But it couldn’t last forever…
By the early 1880s, miners began to move away to other gold boomtowns in states such as Montana and Arizona. Bodie was still producing gold and many families decided to stay, but mine closures and two devastating fires in the years that followed saw the population dwindle. By 1920, it was recorded as just 120 people. In 1962, with no remaining residents, Bodie was made a Historic National Park. To this day, visitors can walk the eerie, dusty streets and visit the homes still furnished with the belongings of the long-deceased residents.
5. Imber, Wiltshire, UK
In November 1943, as WWII raged, the residents of Imber, a small village in Wiltshire, were called to a meeting at the local school. There, they were given 47 days’ notice to leave their homes. For years, the government had been buying much of the land surrounding Imber, on Salisbury Plain, for military manouvres, and now the village itself was required. As all 115 Imber villagers moved out, US forces moved in, using the now-deserted streets for training in preparation for D Day.
Though devastated to leave their homes, most residents did so without complaint, feeling it was their duty to help the war effort. But even once peace was declared, the residents of Imber were never permitted to return, despite protests and appeals. Now, the village is still owned by the Ministry of Defence. Most of the year, unlike many ghost towns, Imber remains strictly out of bounds, but there is very limited public access, usually on bank holidays.