Ghost towns

Old town of Craco, Italy

A ghost town is a place where physical evidence remains to mark the site of a once-active human settlement which has been abandoned, leaving few or no inhabitants.

A few are archaeological sites where settlement existed in the distant historic past or are part of exclusion zones due to man-made or natural disasters. More commonly, ghost towns quietly appear when the reason for the town's creation no longer exists. A mining town is abandoned once too little ore remains to be profitable, a railway town is abandoned once the train no longer stops, a manufacturing town is abandoned when its last factory closes. Occasionally a village can avoid becoming a ghost town by finding a new vocation to replace a dying industry, but this becomes substantially more difficult if the town site is far off the beaten path.

While some ghost towns have been partially restored and commercialised as tourist traps, many more are in remote or awkward locations where the abandoned buildings are left to be slowly reclaimed by the elements. While legal consequences for trespassing are improbable in many of these locations, the leave-no-trace principle remains vital so that subsequent travellers may view these sites without key pieces being damaged, removed or buried in rubbish.

Once no physical evidence remains, a settlement is typically removed from lists of ghost towns. Examples would include towns entirely flooded by hydroelectric development or wilfully demolished, if no traces remain of the formerly-populated village.

Natural disasters

Plymouth, capital of Montserrat

Man-made disaster

Abandoned houses of Kayaköy
A church in Ani, near Turkey-Armenia border



War and forced relocation

Restored Adad Gate, Nineveh
Inside Nicosia airport's main terminal building

Economic abandonment

Deserted medieval villages

What remains of metropolitan Gainsthorpe
Ruin of St Martin's parish church, Wharram Percy

An abandoned village, in archaeology, is an abandoned settlement with few visible remains. Some are solely archaeological sites in others, few remnants of a town site can still be seen, but on a smaller scale than in a ghost town. The Dutch and German languages refer to a deserted medieval village as a Wüstung. In some, a drop in population due to the Black Death of 1348–49 caused the few remaining residents in a marginal location to move to a more viable settlement, in others, crop failures on marginal lands or the enclosure of formerly-common arable farmland by lords of feudal manors caused peasant farmers to relocate in search of a livelihood. Wars and general "bad times" were also often a reason for villages to become deserted. In Central Europe a lot of villages became deserted in the course of the 1618-1648 "thirty years war" that killed more than half the population in some areas.

Fisheries, islands and outports

Gold rush towns

Cook Bank building in Rhyolite, Nevada

Common in North America as colonisation pushed settlements westward in the 1800's, a gold or silver rush typically involved towns of as many as a few thousand people constructed in remote wilderness almost overnight once word was out that prospectors had spotted precious metals. Most of these mining towns disappeared as quickly as they had formed, their original purpose ended as soon as valuable minerals had been depleted.

Abandoned mining communities

Downtown Chloride, Arizona
Battleship Island off Nagasaki, Japan

Railway and highway abandonment

Las Vegas and Tonopah rail station in Rhyolite (Nevada).

Abandoned military installations

Mining building on Jussarö, Finland

Industrial abandonment

Abandoned resorts

Failed economic developments

Cities have been built as planned communities and never occupied:

Stay safe

As these sites are mostly abandoned, their condition is deteriorating rapidly. Roads are often unmaintained. Bridges and structures, if in poor condition, may not be able to bear your weight. The floorboards of abandoned buildings may be rotten and ready to break; buildings may be close to roof collapse. Sites may also be contaminated with anything from broken glass to asbestos.

If a site was abandoned due to man-made environmental disaster, it may still be heavily contaminated. Chornobyl and Fukushima are prime examples, due to currently-active exclusion zones with high levels of radioactive contamination.

See also

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