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A ghostly illustration

Forget haunted houses, these are the real life ghost towns with a population of zero

There's something inherently creepy about a deserted place, whether that's the office before anyone else gets in, a shopping centre after closing time, or even just your own house when you're home alone (it happens to the best of us). But there's something entirely more haunting when it's a whole town that's been deserted - and even more so when it's been sat empty for years.

All across the world there exist towns that were once buzzing with life but now lie empty, abandoned and forgotten. Trapped in time and testament to a bygone age, they offer a fascinating glimpse at the past. So where are the real life ghost towns of today? And how did they end up like this? Here, we'll take a look at just a few.

1. Pripyat, Ukraine

Perhaps the most infamous ghost town, Pripyat in Ukraine, was completely evacuated within two days of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in April 1986. Just miles from the doomed power plant, approximately 50,000 people who called the city home were told to leave immediately. Today, access to the site remains strictly controlled and there’s no chance of anyone moving back in anytime soon as experts have estimated that the site will remain radioactive for another 24,000 years.

An ariel shot looking over the deserted town of Pripyat with a big wheel and lots of trees Credit: Getty

2. Kolmanskop, Namibia

Proving that humans will never outwit mother nature, Kolmanskop is a ghost town slowly but surely being reclaimed by the sands of the Namib desert. It was founded in the early 1900s by German miners intent on making their fortunes after diamonds were discovered in the area, and came equipped with a bowling alley, a ballroom and a hospital. However, the riches turned out to be less than they had hoped for and by the 1940s the industry in was in decline, with the town completely deserted by 1957.

Looking through the doors inside a house where the sand is piled up Credit: Getty

3. Chuquicamata, Chile

Located in the Atacama Desert, Chile, the town of Chuquicamata originally sprung up as a home for the families of people working in the Chuquicamata copper mine, the largest of its kind the world. The mine itself is still in use today, but in 2007 the entire town that it gave its name to was ordered to pack up and relocate, owing to concerns that the dust and chemicals emerging from the mine were having a terrible impact on human health. Today, the banks, hospitals, and homes all remain, the last of which are painted with sorrowful parting messages from their former occupants.

An abandoned playground in Chuquicamata with two slides Credit: Getty

4. Butedale, Canada

Even the most keen of urban explorers may struggle with taking an impromptu trip to Butedale, in Canada; it’s only accessible by boat. Located on Princess Royal Island, it was first established as a fishing and logging camp, before a salmon cannery was established on the site. But after the closure of the cannery in the 1950s, everyone left. The buildings are now falling apart and slowly sliding into the sea, but you can still catch a glimpse of how life used to be here with the bunkhouses still intact and old glass bottles around the buildings.

A house overgrown by trees and bushes in Butedale

5. Centralia, Pennsylvania

Rivaling Pripyat for the "most infamous ghost town" crown, Centralia in Pennsylvania has been described as the "the doorway to hell" since an underground fire took hold in the coal mine below the town in 1962. Incredibly, it still rages today and it’s predicted that it could continue to burn another 250 years. Technically this one doesn’t have a population of zero. While most people listened to the evacuation orders, seven stubborn residents fought the government to be allowed to stay, despite of the risk of asphyxiation from gases and the very real possibility of ground collapse. Once they pass away, no one else will be allowed to settle and Centralia will be forever abandoned.

Smoke being pumped out from under the ground in Centralia Credit: Getty

 6. Val-Jalbert, Canada

Val-Jalbert in Quebec, Canada, is home to over 70 abandoned buildings, all in various stages of disrepair. Founded in 1901, the town initially thrived off the back of its pulp mill but by the early 1920s the mill was struggling. It closed completely in 1927, leading to the near instant desertion of the village. After spending over 30 years completely abandoned, the Canadian government made it part of a park and employed someone to keep it looking ship-shape, which kind of makes those buildings that haven't been saved look even more creepy. 

A wrecked building in Val-Jalbert next to a perfectly kept lawn Credit: Getty

7. Plymouth, Montserrat

This British overseas territory has been dubbed the Pompeii of the Caribbean - and for very good reason. Between 1995 and 1997, a series of eruptions by the Soufrière Hills volcano destroyed 80 per cent of its capital Plymouth, leading its 4000 inhabitants to flee. Today, the houses are draped in ash and it is slowly being buried as the volcano continues to erupt. Nonetheless, it remains the official capital of Montserrat, making it the only ghost town in the world that is the capital of a political territory.

An abandoned building surrounded by rocks and ash in Montserrat Credit: Getty

8. Fordlandia, Brazil

A city in the heart of the Amazon basin, Fordlandia was established by motoring tycoon Henry Ford back in the 1920s, officially as a way of reducing the dependence on Sri Lankan rubber. However, it is rumoured that it also engineered part of a personal experiment in creating a utopian city that bore his name, which is kind of sinister when you think about it. He probably wished he hadn’t bothered though, because after a series of failures, the land was eventually sold back to the Brazilian government at a loss running into tens of millions. The town is now actually slowly starting to be revived as people move back, in search of forgotten housing.

The remains of a factory building at Fordlandia Credit: Getty

 9. Imber Village, England

It’s tempting to think of ghost towns as something only found in the remote regions of the Wild West or deepest darkest Amazon, but the village of Imber, on Salisbury Plain, proves they can be a whole lot closer to home than you think. Unfortunately, you’ll have a very hard time visiting this one - it was taken over by the British Army in 1943 to allow them to extend their combat training facilities and never returned to the people. As a parish, it was was abolished in 1991.

The church and graveyard at Imber Village Credit: Getty

 10. Oradour-sur-Glane, France

At first glance, the town of Oradour-sur-Glane, France may look like a beautiful medieval ruin of a town. But its true history is much darker - and much more recent. In 1944, a Nazi SS brigade stormed this pretty town, rounding up all of its inhabitants. In the space of just a few hours, they massacred over 640 men, women and children, and razed much of the town to the ground. Today, it has been left to serve as a haunting reminder of the horrors of Nazi occupation and the Second World War.

A street view of the ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane

Of course, this is only a little peak into the hundreds of ghost towns across the world and any self-respecting urban explorer will have all manner of tales they could tell of their own discoveries. It kind of makes you wonder though, which of our towns will be abandoned and forsaken one hundred years from now?

Featured illustration by Egarcigu