We’ve all seen photos emerge of the world’s busiest city streets and squares now emptied by coronavirus. They’re beautiful and creepy, and also temporary. Eventually, lockdowns will lift and people will return. That’s not to say you can’t still get your fill of chill-inducing emptiness though.
The world is full of truly abandoned places left to rot for decades (remember Ontario Place?). Humans packed up and split for any number of reasons, from economic collapse to nuclear accidents, leaving their former infrastructure to the elements.
Here, we round up our favourite places taken over by trees, collecting dust in the dessert or wonderfully waterlogged.
Hands down the most well-known abandoned place in the world, Pripyat might not be the name you recognize until you hear it in connection with the fallout from Chernobyl. The Ukrainian city was established in 1970 to serve the power plant, then abandoned 16 years later when everyone was evacuated after the worst nuclear disaster in history. More than three decades later, Pripyat remains desserted but has been deemed safe for visitors while several companies provide tours.
Homebush Bay, Australia
Once a bustling trading port, Homebush Bay still harbors the ghosts of its lively past. Just west of Sydney, the skeletons of old ships float on still water, slowly decaying in the bay. Of the four wrecks, the 109-year-old SS Ayrfield is by far the most magnificent.
Built in the UK in 1911, the ship was used to ferry supplies to American troops during WWII. In the 1970s it was decommissioned and left in Homebush Bay. Mother nature has since transformed the wreck into a floating forest, overgrown with mangrove trees.
Known as the Train Cemetery or the Great Train Graveyard, this spot in Bolivia’s desert is home to more than 100 abandoned train cars. Uyuni was intended to be the epicentre of a large train system but due to conflicts with neighbouring countries the project fell through and the trains and equipment were abandoned in the desert. High winds and an abundance of salt have rusted the train shells beyond their years. The area is also home to the dazzling Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat, and Laguna Colorada, an algae-red lake where flamingos flock to feed.
Shengsi Islands, China
Straight out of a post-apocalyptic movie, this entire fishing village was abandoned in the 1990s and became overrun with lush greenery. Set amongst the 400 islets that make up the Shengsi Archepelago off the coast of Shanghai, Houwoutan can be found on the easternmost island. The remote, isolated location has been cited as the cause of the mass exodus. A handful of people still inhabit the village, selling water to tourists who come to see the stunning sight of the dilapidated cliffside houses lurching towards the sea.
Lake Reschen Bell Tower
South Tyrol, Italy
Nestled high in the alps, on the border with Austria and Switzerland, were once several little Italian villages, including Graun and Reschen. In 1939 an energy company made plans to build a damn connecting two natural lakes with an artificial one, supplying the region with power. The villagers protested but eventually lost. The dam was completed in 1950, flooding the area to create Lake Reschen.
Now all that remains of the villages is the lonely bell tower that once belonged to Graun’s church, rising up out of the water. In the winter when the lake freezes, you can walk all the way out to the tower. It's said that on a cold night you can still hear the bells ringing, even though they were removed more than 50 years ago.