Inside the World's Eeriest Ghost Towns

Natural disasters, wars and economic failures have left behind a trail of empty towns in their wake.
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Inside the World’s Eeriest Ghost Towns Newsweek

Towns can become abandoned for a number of different reasons. Devastating acts of nature, wars and economic failures have all led populations to pack up en masse and try their luck elsewhere. But what unites each individual circumstance is what's left behind—an eerie shell of a town, drained of human life, familiar and strange all at once.

Most countries have at least once ghost town in their midst, betraying a moment in their collective history associated with disaster or failure. The U.S. has plenty—former mining towns in California which were abandoned when the natural resources dried up; villages in Hawaii half-drowned by lava; struggling townships re-absorbed back into the flat Indiana plains.

But some of the world's ghost towns are new ruins, which come into the world dead on arrival. In an attempt to house a booming population, a number of Chinese pop-up cities have risen up in a matter of years, able to house tens of thousands of people.

Yet many of these cities remain woefully underpopulated. Tianducheng, a replica of Paris complete with a 354-foot replica of the Eiffel Tower, is a famous and bizarre example of China's ghost city problem.

For towns which went from bustling to deserted in a matter of hours, the picture looks very different. Rather than the vast, alienating architecture of China's artificial cities, it's the fragile, human details which are shiver-inducing.

The Chernobyl disaster in 1986, which released a mass of radioactive material into what is now Ukraine, caused the nearby town of Pripyat's almost 50,000 residents to be evacuated the very next day.

They were incorrectly told they would soon be able to return, which is why the town remains littered with personal belongings over 30 years later, including moss-covered shoes and books left open on dusty school desks. It turns out a return isn't on the cards at all—the area won't be safe for human habitation for at least 20,000 years.

Aside from being monuments to human folly, indifference and violence, ghost towns serve as a reminder of the impermanence of everything—even something as vast as an entire town. We've collected some of the most haunting examples from across the world, from Serbia to Nairobi, for a look into a post-human world.

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Houtouwan, Shengshan island, China Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images