Nearly every city on Earth has some derelict ruins, cracked shells of concrete titans long vanquished and forgotten but for their towering silhouettes outlined against the setting Sun. Decades-old factories, abandoned train stations reclaimed by nature, even whole islands that once vibrated with the lives and dreams of generations, all cast by the wayside and left to rot.
It’s just part of our way of life. We need something, we build something, and when it’s not longer need it, we move one. But some ruins end up in a surreal twilight between ash and phoenix, worthy of attention and photo-shoots. Here are 10 such places!
The story of Kolmanskop begins, as so many African tragedies do, with a diamond. In 1908, German settlers were trying to build a railway across the Namib Desert to connect the coast with the Namibian town of Keetmanshoop. One of the workers, Zacharius Lewala, stumbled across a rough diamond in the desert sands, and he brought it to his supervisor. News of the find spread like wildfire across the German colonies, and miners were soon pouring into the desert by the hundreds. Less than 50 years after Zacharius Lewala found his diamond, Kolmanskop was a ghost town.
9. Teufelsberg Listening Post
An artificial dome atop an artificial hill from a time of artificial fears, this abandoned Cold War–era radar post outside Berlin, Germany, rises from the forests like a phallic beacon shining its turgid light upon the pages of a confused history. Built in 1963, the listening post was used by the US National Security Agency to allegedly intercept military and diplomatic communications during the Cold War. Records are vague as to the exact nature of the work performed there, and with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991, the place was gutted, and the station was abandoned to the elements.
8. Boston’s Long Island
Boston’s Long Island doesn’t want to be inhabited. Not to be confused with the similarly named island in New York, this 2.8-kilometer (1.75 mi) stretch of land in the Boston Harbor has been the site of numerous failed projects since its original colonization in the 17th century. Its rocky shores and overgrown hills host a derelict military fort, vacant hospitals, mysterious graves, and a laundry list of alleged government secrets.
7. Paris’s Hidden Railroad
In 1841, Paris was just wrapping its head around the idea of rail transport. It had recently finished a massive fortification project that ran around the perimeter of the city, and the military was looking for ways to get troops and supplies from the center of the city out to the strongholds. Strapped for cash, they turned to private companies to foot the bill for the railways, which soon radiated from Paris’s center to the outskirts in a star-shaped pattern. For nearly 100 years, it served as one of the main transport methods in Paris. Then, in the early 20th century, its rails and stations began to see less and less traffic, until it was practically abandoned by 1934.
6. Holland Island
Nearly 400 people once called Holland Island home. Mostly fishermen and their families, the island’s occupants carved a living straight from waters of the Chesapeake Bay for centuries. But eventually, the sea stopped giving and started taking. The last house on Holland Island outlived its brethren by years, tenaciously holding its own on a wispy strip of land that goes completely underwater every high tide. Despite his best efforts, though, this strange landmark finally gave up the ghost and collapsed in 2010.
5. Russia’s Tesla Towers
Reliable sources of information about these bizarre structures are few and far between. Located in the middle of a Russian forest, they’ve been dubbed “Russian Tesla towers” by most websites on which they’re featured. The towers are actually Marx generators, built to convert a low-voltage direct current into a high-voltage pulse. Systems similar to these Russian behemoths—although on a much smaller scale—are commonly used today to simulate lightning on industrial equipment.
4. California’s Glass Beach
Near Fort Bragg, California, is a secluded beach awash in the bright colors of emeralds, rubies, turquoise, and diamonds. But these aren’t gemstones littering the sand—they’re bits of polished glass from 100 years of dumping in the area. Starting around 1906, the community of Fort Bragg—along with other cities along the coast—took to dumping their garbage straight into the Pacific. While the paper was churned to mush, and the plastic presumably floated to climes distant and unknown, the glass remained. Glass Beach is now a part of MacKerricher State Park, so it’s illegal to pocket any of the sea glass.
3. Angola’s Ghost City
On an isolated swath of countryside a few miles outside of the capital city of Angola is a modern high-rise ghost town. Nova Cidade de Kilamba—usually shortened to just “Kilamba”—contains 2,800 apartments split between 750 high-rise buildings. It was built to house close to half a million people and comes complete with its own schools and retail section. And it’s almost completely empty.
2. The Maunsell Forts
Like metal beasts risen from the murky depths, the Maunsell Forts stand guard at the mouth of the Thames to this day. Although they aren’t quite as useful as they used to be, they serve as silent reminders of our turbulent past. As the threat of German air raids over Britain in World War II abruptly became reality, the Ministry of Defence commissioned several sea forts to protect the country’s airspace. In addition to four naval forts, the army also built six forts for anti-aircraft defense. Three of these were dropped in the Mersey River, and three were put in the mouth of the Thames estuary.
1. The SS Ayrfield
If you swim out past the mangroves of Homebush Bay in Sydney, Australia, and look to the northwest, you’ll see something incredible: the rusted hull of a 100-year-old steamer bursting with its own isolated forest sprouting from its decks like a post-apocalyptic chia pet. For years, Homebush Bay has been the place where ships go to die. It’s been cleaned up to a degree, and now only a few rusted ships are visible above the waterline. The SS Ayrfield is one of the remaining relics of the bay’s turgid past, a poetic reminder that not everything that dies has to stay dead.