Strange and surreal abandoned places
Eastern State Penitentiary, USA
Once the world’s most expensive prison, from 1829 this facility boasted grand architecture, modern luxuries and notorious inmates including Al Capone. One of the first penitentiaries, it combined impressive design and strict discipline to inspire regret and reform in the hearts of convicts. However, since its closure in 1971, the complex has crumbled into a mass of deteriorating cellblocks, which are now recognised as a National Historic Landmark.
Lee Plaza Hotel, USA
The formerly luxurious Lee Plaza Hotel stands windowless and exposed. It is just one of Detroit’s dying landmarks that marks the shocking decline of a major American city. Once at the centre of a booming motor industry, the successive blows of economic recessions, competition from overseas and race riots chipped away at Detroit’s early prosperity. A staggering 60% of the city's peak population has now moved away, leaving behind a living example of urban decay.
Winchester Mystery House, California
Eccentric and extravagant, this Victorian mansion is a maze of dead-ends, secret doorways and stairs that lead to nowhere. Driven by paranoia and superstition, the widow of gun magnate William Wirt Winchester began building in 1884 and never allowed construction to cease. In the 38 years before her death, the residence mushroomed into a labyrinth of architectural oddities spanning seven stories. Although damaged in the 1906 earthquake, sightseers can explore the house’s 160 surviving rooms.
Lured by a gold rush in the late 1800s, Bodie became a booming mining town of fortune-hungry men, saloon shootouts and barroom brawls. However, its fortune was short-lived. By the 1890s gold strikes elsewhere had drawn the crowds away, causing the population to dwindle. Frozen in time, this ghost town became a National Historical Landmark in the 1960s. Now, tourists, not miners, flock here to walk the deserted streets and admire the town’s arrested decline.
An urban museum of corroding classic cars, dilapidated high-rise hotels and shop fronts boasting the latest in 1970s fashion: for the deserted Varosha quarter of Famagusta time froze in 1974. Following the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, Varosha’s inhabitants were forced into a life of exile. Once a favourite destination of the rich and famous, people today can only peep through barbed wire as nature reclaims this ghost town.
Ryugyong Hotel, Pyongyang
Unoccupied, unopened and unfinished, the 105-story shell of the Ryugyong Hotel is a scar on Pyongyang’s skyline and North Korea’s pride. Construction began in 1987 but stopped after five years due to a lack of funds. Once proudly emblazoned across North Korean stamps, this vacant hotel soon became airbrushed out of official photos. Despite nearly two decades of abandonment, construction resumed in 2008 but whether the hotel will ever be completed is open to debate.
San Juan Parangaricutiro, Mexico
Defiantly protruding from a desolate landscape of ash and lava, this church tower is all that remains of the devastated village of San Juan Parangaricutiro. Beginning in 1943, successive eruptions of the Paricutin volcano slowly engulfed houses, streets and livelihoods, masking all clues of life under a black cloak of molten rock and ash. Today, tourists drawn to this isolated ruin can marvel at the still intact, though vacant, altar inside.
Boldly rising 75 metres above the waters, the bell tower of the flooded St. Nicholas Church marks the site where the old Russian town of Kalyazin once stood. When the Uglich Reservoir was created in 1939, much of the town was swallowed in the flood waters and the landscape was irreparably altered. Attracted to the simplistic beauty of the remaining belfry, tourists visiting on boats can explore this enduring landmark of the sunken city.
ZKP Tagansky, Moscow
Hidden sixty metres below the streets of Moscow lies ZKP Tanansky, a 7000 square metre space which once served as a secret Cold War–era communications centre. Built in the 1950s, this vast complex was designed to withstand a direct nuclear attack and filled with enough supplies to stay running for months afterwards. Since its declassification in 1995, Bunker 42 has drawn many visitors keen to delve into the secrets of the past.
No Man’s Land Fort, England
True to its name, No Man’s Land Fort in the Solent has been unoccupied since 2004. Initially designed to defend England, after World War Two it became a lavish home and hospitality centre. However, it was forced to close after a breakout of Legionnaires’ disease, plunging its developers into bankruptcy and sparking a fierce row over ownership, which escalated when old owner Harmesh Pooni barricaded himself inside the fort.
Empty since 1967, this “Model Prison” still radiates desperation and paranoia. Inspired by the Panopticon, its oppressive architecture was designed to create a sense of constant, invisible omniscience. Commissioned in 1926 by dictator Gerardo Machado, the prison’s inmates once included Fidel Castro. However, under Castro’s government the population ballooned to over 6,000 “enemies” of the state. Now a museum, visitors can experience the forbidding atmosphere still present in these echoing corridors and vacant cells.
Maunsell Forts, England
Jutting out of the waters of the Thames Estuary, The Maunsell Forts slowly rust. Built in 1942, these offshore fortified towers were designed to provide anti-aircraft fire during the Second World War. After they were decommissioned in the late 1950s, a number of the structures were re-occupied by pirate radio stations. However, for the past three decades the forts have stood abandoned and largely unknown.
Cherokee Nuclear Plant, USA
Empty and unfinished for nearly two decades, this failed energy project in South Carolina got a new lease of life in 1987 as an underwater film set for science-fiction thriller The Abyss. Forgotten once again after filming finished, the sets were left on the site until they were finally demolished in 2007. However, there is hope on the horizon: a new power plant is due to be built adjacent to the old structure.
A vast stretch of snow-covered bleakness, this Ukrainian city has been deserted since the nuclear accident of April 1986. In just four hours, Chernobyl’s entire population was evacuated, and with radiation remaining too high for human habitation the people never returned. Among the overwhelming sense of abandonment, the most iconic reminder of the disaster is a rusting ferris wheel in an amusement park that was due to open just days after the accident took place.
Battleship Island, Japan
A maze of cracked concrete, crumbling plaster and snapshots of frozen lives, Battleship Island’s post-apocalyptic remains resemble a long-forgotten war zone. It was abandoned overnight after the closure of the coal mine in 1974. Fallen facades of buildings expose grids of homes littered with reminders of their inhabitants: shoes remain where they were kicked off, half-read newspapers litter the floor and once-loved posters slowly peel off bedroom walls.
Beelitz Military Hospital, Berlin
A rotting carcass of deserted corridors and empty patient wards, this military hospital once housed German and Soviet soldiers but has been largely unused since the late 1990s. Derelict it may be but it has not been entirely abandoned; empty bottles and rubbish scattered on the ground hint at the disparate groups of opportunistic looters, weekend wanderers, curious travellers and inspired photographers who are drawn to the decayed aesthetic of this moribund site.
Far from abandoned, during the Cold War this top-secret submarine base was a hive of activity. Hidden in the hillside and designed to withstand a direct atomic attack, this giant underground complex once housed a fleet of Soviet nuclear warheads and submarines. Once so secret that the surrounding town of Balaklava had to be erased from maps, today visitors can explore the maze of dark winding canals that make up this now deserted site.
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