Abandoned buildings with crumbling walls. Deserted streets. Eerie silence. Scattered across Europe are a number of once-bustling towns that are now left uninhabited. Some were the scene of fierce fighting; others were abandoned when natural disasters struck. From France to Norway, these are the ones you should add to your bucket list.
8 of Europe’s most haunting ghost towns
The small village of Oradour-sur-Glane, tucked in the Limousin countryside, was the site of one of WWII’s most harrowing atrocities. On June 10, 1944, 642 of its inhabitants were massacred by the Nazi Waffen-SS. People from the village were rounded up, machine-gunned and many burned alive.
Today, the town's crumbling buildings are a brutal reminder of that fateful day. Houses and shops lie in ruins, some retaining original details – rusting lamps, sewing machines and pots and pans.
The Centre de la Mémoire commemorates the crimes that took place with testimonials, exhibits and films shedding light on Oradour’s bloody past.
A rusty motorcar in Oradour-sur-Glane in France © Pippa Sanderson/Shutterstock
2. Imber Village, UK
In 1943, with only 47 days’ notice, the villagers of Imber in Wiltshire were evicted from their homes to allow American troops to train for the liberation of Europe. They never returned.
Villagers are said to have protested their banishment, but to no avail. Imber had been acquired by the Ministry of Defence before the war in a bid to make Salisbury plain the largest training ground in the country. To this day, the land belongs to the British Army.
Situated in northern Ukraine, Pripyat was founded to house the families of workers of the nearby Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. The town was evacuated following the devastating explosion at Chernobyl in 1986, which caused vast amounts of radioactive chemicals to be pumped into the atmosphere.
Today, vegetation forces its way into the crevices of abandoned buildings, and textbooks and toys are strewn across school floors – a chilling reminder of the inhabitants’ sudden departure.
© Marianna Ianovska/Shutterstock
4. Pentedattilo, Italy
Clinging to the jagged rock face of Monte Calvario, Pentedattilo dates back to 640BC when it was established as a Greek colony. It thrived under Greek and Roman rule, later declining as a result of Saracen invasions.
The 1783 earthquake caused irreparable damage, causing most of the population to move to nearby coastal town Melito Porto Salvo.
Pentedattilo was partially restored by volunteers in the 1980s. Today, it is a thriving artistic and cultural centre, and host to the yearly Pentedattilo Film Festival.
5. Skrunda-1, Latvia
The secret city of Skrunda-1 once played a vital role in protecting the Soviet Union from possible missile attacks. During the Cold War, the city guarded a key radar station that scanned the skies for nuclear warheads.
Skrunda-1 was one of the USSR’s “closed administrative territorial formations”: secret towns that supported research sites and sensitive military bases. The city housed the families of Soviet soldiers who worked on the nearby radar project.
The site remained under the control of the Russian Federation following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, but was eventually abandoned in 1998. Today, derelict Soviet-style apartment blocks littered with possessions still stand, an echo of the town’s recent past.
6. Pyramiden, Norway
Pyramiden is located above Norway’s arctic circle, on the archipelago of Svalbard. It was founded by the Swedes in the early-twentieth century and acquired by the Soviet Union in 1927, becoming a Russian coal-mining settlement. At its peak, Pyramiden had around 1200 Russian residents.
Its decline began in the 1990s following the dismantling of the Soviet Union and the dwindling profitability of the coal-mining industry. It was completely abandoned in 1998.
Now a handful of visitors head here each year to see the town’s Soviet-era remains, which include apartment blocks and the world’s northernmost statue of Vladimir Lenin.
7. Belchite, Spain
In 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, Republicans and the nationalist forces of General Franco fought a bloody two-week battle in the town of Belchite. More than 3000 people lost their lives.
On Franco’s orders, a new town was constructed nearby to house its inhabitants. The war-torn crumbling village of Belchite was left as a mere monument. Today its dilapidated buildings, riddled by bullet holes and scarred by shells, only just remain standing.
Belchite, Spain © Satur/Shutterstock
8. Varosha, Cyprus
Until the 1970s, Varosha was a major tourist destination attracting celebrities and jetsetters from the world over. Making up a quarter of Cypriot city Famagusta, Varosha’s seafront is still lined with high-rise hotels, a reminder of the city’s heyday as a popular beach resort.
It came under Turkish control in 1974 following their invasion of the island. Its inhabitants fled and the Turkish army gained control of the area. Today it remains uninhabited, fenced off by the military and closed to the public.
Top image © Bruno Passigatti/Shutterstock