Centres of industry, thriving frontier hubs, cities of the future…sometimes things just don’t work out. Whatever the reason, cities and towns throughout the centuries have been abandoned to nature, their ruins left behind as a reminder of what once was. Join us on a journey through the world’s 5 most unique ghost towns!
5. Grytviken, South Georgia
In the (very) south Atlantic, about as close to South America as to Antarctica, you’ll find the British overseas territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (or the unwieldy acronym SGSSI for short). Like the Falkland Islands, the territory is also claimed by Argentina, but unlike the Falklands, there is no permanent population on the islands. However that wasn’t always true.
While there are disused settlements throughout the territory, the most impressive is the abandoned whaling station at Grytviken. Founded in 1904 by a Norwegian captain, the port made use of a sheltered natural harbour as a base for whaling operations. As is wont to happen however, the whale population severely decreased and just over 60 years later Grytviken was closed. Today, the settlement is an eerie mix of whalebones, rusted and half sunken ships, and decaying buildings.
4. Bodie, California
We couldn’t do an article about ghost towns and not include one from the American Old West. These once thriving frontier settlements practically defined the popular definition of a ghost town. Tales of gamblers, gunslingers, mining companies, and well-to-do prostitutes – think of every stereotype in an old western movie and you can apply them to Bodie.
It was in the late 19th century when the California gold rush transformed a small mining camp into one of the most important cities in the ‘Wild West’. As with many mining towns however, prospectors were forced to move to greener pastures when the proceeds dried up, leading to the decline of Bodie in the early 1900’s. What was once a hub of frontier industry was labeled a ghost town by 1915. Today it is one of the most popular landmarks in the American West, with what remains of the town preserved and open to tourists.
3. Fordlândia, Brazil
A decrepit American industrial town in the middle of the Amazon rainforest? Yep, that’s a thing. Back in 1928, industrialist Henry Ford (you know…cars) wanted to get around purchasing foreign rubber for his company and instead sought to supply it himself. After negotiating a deal with the Brazilian government, Ford was granted 10,000 square kilometres to set up his industrial utopia and went about finding workers to man the factories.
Unfortunately for Ford, Fordlândia (seriously, that is what he called it) was a complete and abject failure. For one, the workers were forced to adhere to American customs – including long work hours (in less than ideal heat and humidity I might add), dress, and food. They disliked the cafeteria’s offerings so much that they revolted, chasing the administrators and the unlucky cook into the jungle for days until the Army arrived to restore order. Things didn’t get much better, and eventually Ford pulled out his investment. Unlike the other towns on this list however, Fordlândia has experienced a bit of a rebirth, with a few thousand people living there now. Despite this, its legacy is likely to be one of decay and failed enterprise.
2. Plymouth, Montserrat
One of the more recent ghost towns on our list is the city of Plymouth on the British territory of Montserrat (located in the British West Indies). Once home to about 4,000 people, the city was constructed on the lava deposits of an inactive volcano. However, the volcano did not stay inactive forever, and eruptions beginning in 1995 prompted a mass evacuation – with permanent abandonment in 1997.
While Plymouth is not the only city throughout history to fall victim to an angry volcano (cough…Pompeii), there is something that makes it unique. Namely, it is still the official (or de jure) capital of Montserrat. Despite a population of zero and most of the buildings either covered up or burned down, it remains the only ghost town capital in the world.
1. Pripyat, Ukraine
We’ll admit, you probably already guessed what was going to top this list (plus we did use it as the main image) – but it’s easy to see why that is. The story of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster remains a terrifying reminder of what happens when advanced technology goes wrong. For decades, it was the only level 7 nuclear event (until Fukushima). Today, the radiation remains and the long-term effects of those who lived nearby are still being investigated.
The town of Pripyat itself was relatively large, numbering just shy of 50,000 at its peak (the day of the disaster). Built for the workers of the nearby nuclear plant, pictures of the abandoned cityscape are among some of the most iconic in the world. In particular the eerie image of the Ferris wheel has become etched into the public consciousness. Today, guided tours are offered to parts of Pripyat as the radiation has subsided – though the apartments, amusement park, and other landmarks will never see permanent human habitation again.
Stay informed. Stay Current.