Abandoned: Five Ghost Towns Worth Visiting

Economic decline, natural disasters, or changing times have turned these once-thriving communities into empty shells. Yet the air of a romantic past often permeates the lonely corridors and broken-down facades. Below, five ghost towns that are worth a detour — or special trip — to explore.

Turret town

The Yerdelen brothers of the property development company, the Sarot Group, hoped to turn a small area outside of Istanbul into a land of fairy tales. They called it the Burj Al-Babas. To them, it was Turkey’s answer to France’s Cote d’Azur. Located near the Black Sea, the development had mountains, green valleys, and thermal springs.

The idea was quite inventive and niche: over 250 acres, hundreds of castle/châteaux homes bearing French, American, British, Gothic, and Turkish architectural styles. It featured luxurious spas, entertainment centers, and fine dining. The clientele consisted mostly of wealthy businessmen and investors from the Gulf States.

fairytale castles

A fairytale: Burj Al Babas. Photo: Esin Deniz/Shutterstock


The project required 2,500 workers and had a four-year construction timeline for 732 villas. Construction began in 2014, with 350 villas sold.

Prices were reasonable by Western standards, ranging from $350,000 to $530,000. Each home had in-floor heating, a spiral staircase, intricate moldings, steeples, and balconies. Residents would have access to a large domed leisure center, with marble pillars, inspired by Neo-classical architecture. It was to house a conference and banquet hall, traditional Turkish baths, pools, and saunas. Restaurants, movie theaters, gyms, and children’s areas also attracted foreign prospective buyers.

Unfortunately, the project fell into financial difficulties as oil prices crashed. The Turkish currency’s value dropped, and the Sarot Group fell $27 million in debt. Local opposition to deforestation did not help.

The company had to file for bankruptcy, and 587 completed homes could not be occupied. In 2019, construction optimistically began again. Then COVID-19 stalled plans.

Nature reclaims a town

China has over 50 ghost cities, but this abandoned smaller town is particularly intriguing. Sixty-four kilometers east of Shanghai, a remote island called Shengshan rises from Hangzhou Bay. At first glance, it looks like a lush but uninhabited island. But as you look closer, your eyes begin to pick out black squares dotting the rolling hills. You soon realize that they are the windows of about 500 houses winding up the hillside.

Houtouwan is an abandoned fishing village now reclaimed by endless ivy, grasses, flowers, and trees. It was built in the 1950s. Nothing disastrous happened here, only the usual. Small Chinese villages often follow the ebb and flow of the country’s economic situation, and residents leave in search of better opportunities in the cities. The poor available supplies, mediocre education, limited transportation, and general hard life made the village’s population of almost 3,000 gradually fade out in the 1990s.

green village

Houtouwan village in China. Photo: Joe Nafis/Shutterstock


Today, the homes are just as the owners left them, except that they are compellingly overgrown by that lush hillside vegetation. When you peep through the windows, you can spot relic pieces of furniture, pictures, and other belongings. Yet a few people decided to stay, despite lacking basic necessities like electricity and running water.

In recent years, the town’s picturesque emptiness has attracted photographers and tourists. LIFE magazine even called it the Emerald City for its distinct appearance. The remaining residents used the sudden boom in tourism to make ends meet, charging admission fees, doing guided tours, and selling water (the only thing sold on the island).

A crumbly city

Densely built on a steep outcrop in the southern Italian badlands, the city of Craco has served as a location for major films like Quantum of Solace and The Passion of the Christ. The stone buildings have endured thousands of years of development, war, plague, and natural disasters. In a way, that resilience only adds to its charm.

hillside city of Craco

Craco, a southern Italian ghost town. Photo: monticello/Shutterstock


The town dates to the 8th century BC and expanded over the centuries. As the population grew from 450 in 1277 to 1718 in 1532, it acquired a university, several palazzi, a Norman watchtower, churches, and a monastery. However, in 1656, it suffered from a plague that killed many. Later, brigands sacked the town.

It has also endured environmental disasters. The badlands are prone to frequent earthquakes, landslides, and flooding. The town’s expansion put a strain on the land, which consists of different types of clay. This causes the land to slip regularly. Eventually, the town’s population began to dwindle. Many emigrated to the U.S. or to nearby areas.

Today, 35 visitors at a time can visit Craco on guided tours. You must wear a hard hat at all times because of crumbling debris.

Big Brother is watching

The former Cuban president and dictator Gerardo Machado took paranoia to a whole new level. He needed eyes everywhere, even in the prison where he locked up those who opposed him. He built this elaborate prison complex in the 1920s. Here, all the inmates were seemingly under scrutiny at all times. The prison blocks were built in a circular design with multiple tiers of cells and a cylindrical observation post in the center. These blocks held 2,500 prisoners.

cuban prison

Presidio Modelo in Cuba. Photo: Light and Vision/Shutterstock


The building is what’s called a panopticon. Conceptualized by an 18th-century English philosopher named Jeremy Bentham, a panopticon is a design in which guards can observe inmates from a central watchtower without being detected. This creates an eerie sense throughout the prison block. Bentham believed this idea could be applied to schools and hospitals as well.

Machado’s “enemies” included Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and political opponents. It also became the main place to throw potential revolutionaries. Ironically, these incarcerated revolutionaries later turned the prison into a Communist boot camp. Fidel Castro and his brother Raul served time here, inspiring the prisoners and bringing them to their cause.

The prison declined in the 1960s and was eventually shut down in 1967. However, it still serves as a national monument, research center, and school.

A future in ruins

The Wanli UFO Village on the north coast of Taiwan was a concept way ahead of its time. Meant to be a unique vacation spot, the village housed pod homes that resembled UFOs. Designed by Finnish architect Matti Suuronen in the 1960s and 70s, this type of home was called a Futuro house.

It featured a distinct oval shape, with oval windows, an airplane hatch entrance, and often a brightly colored exterior. Because of its mix of concrete and plastic, the home is lightweight and easy to transport. Suuronen also designed Venturo homes, rectangular houses with curved corners. You can find both types in the village.

ufo homes

UFO houses in Taiwan. Photo: Thomas HALBERG/Shutterstock


Urban explorers have a field day wandering around this futuristic ghost town but must be careful as many objects are rusty and the structural integrity is less than ideal. In the 1980s, construction stopped after several accidents and deaths on the site. But you can still find furniture, glassware, TV sets, curtains, and other objects in the homes.

There was another UFO village close by called the Sanzhi UFO City. It suffered a similar fate to Wanli but was demolished in 2010. This type of architecture is a rarity today, and some pod enthusiasts have made an effort to preserve them. Taiwan has many of the world’s last Futuro and Venturo houses.

Kristine De Abreu

Kristine De Abreu is a writer at ExplorersWeb.

Kristine has been writing about Science, Mysteries and History for 4+ years. Prior to that, Kristine studied at the University of Leicester in the UK.

Based in Port-of-Spain, Kristine is also a literature teacher, avid reader, hiker, occasional photographer, an animal lover and shameless ramen addict.