It’s the eternal struggle of humans against nature. The land is stripped, the ground excavated and buildings constructed, and yet: as soon as civilisation retreats and places are left to the elements, a strange process takes place. Nature reclaims her throne: plants grow wild, cracks form and widen, and while signs of civilisation remain, time seems to stand still.
The following abandoned cities promise a unique charm that’s both macabre and romantic. But they also tell stories of human dreams and desires, while serving as a stark reminder of our relatively small role in the cycle of nature.
It began, as is so often the case, with euphoria. After a diamond was found in 1909, a diamond mining village was quickly constructed surrounding the site of the discovery. At the beginning of the 20th century, the German colony of Kolmanskop in Namibia was the richest settlement in the colonial empire, but it wasn’t long before the cache of diamonds was exhausted. Since 1956, wind has blown the desert sands into the cracks and crevices of this forgotten town. Particularly interesting is the varied character of the different houses: while the accountant’s home is somewhat better preserved, the houses of the mine workers have been almost completely swallowed by sand. Together with the fading, brightly colored walls, the result is a wistful, romantic feeling.
Another empire of riches buried by the sands of time can be found in the Californian prairie east of San Francisco, in the former gold-rush town of Bodie. After the initial boom in the mid-19th century, the goldmines were emptied and the price of gold had dropped, and during the 1930’s the city was slowly abandoned. Today, thanks to the area’s low humidity, the city is one of the best-preserved ghost towns in the USA, and standing in the town feels as though time has somehow stood still.
With the background knowledge that, during its heyday, the town was host to robberies, murders and stage coach bandits, the dilapidated homes and saloons give visitors a documentary-like view into the forgotten days of the Wild West.
Ta Prohm, Cambodia
Like the tentacles of a giant octopus, roots wrap around the ancient walls of the temple complex Ta Prohm, breaking here and there through the stone. Ta Prohm lies about 2 km northeast of the much larger and better-known temple complex of Angkor Wat. Although a Buddhist monastery was founded on this tract of approximately 60 hectares in the early 12th century, there also remain countless reliefs in the temple complex depicting scenes from Hindu mythology. The overgrown condition of the temple isn’t a result of human negligence: Ta Prohm was selected as the single landmark in the Angkor region to be left in unrestored condition, left to weather the passage of time. Fortunately for the local vines and plants, as well as visitors, the unusual atmosphere of the temple can be enjoyed from secure pathways.
Rural migration to urban areas is not a new phenomenon. And that’s exactly what happened on the Chinese island of Shengshan, part of the Shengsi island group close to the city of Shanghai. As fishing became less and less lucrative over time, the island’s population migrated into the city: today, the hills, houses and paths of the fishing village are almost completely covered by ivy and other plants. The contrast of this scene against the skyline of the nearby city of Shanghai, one of the largest cities in the world, is so powerful and stark, it almost seems intentional.
A day of destiny that remains in living memory for many: after the reactor catastrophe on April 26, 1986, the tiny city of Pripyat, founded in 1970 with the construction of the nuclear power plant Chernobyl, was completely evacuated. Today the decaying houses of this ghost town serve as a memorial and are reminiscent of images from an apocalyptic end-of-days horror film. In the more than 25 years since the accident, the surrounding forest has slowly swallowed Pripyat whole. Tourists can visit the 30km exclusion zone with access authorization by means of a guided tour. Admittedly, a visit to a radioactively contaminated town doesn’t exactly sound like a dream vacation, but as long as you follow the guidelines and don’t leave the streets (overgrown areas are more contaminated), the radiation level you’ll be exposed to on a day trip is absolutely negligible.