Whether the result of war, famine, disaster, or an empire’s downfall, hundreds of ancient and medieval towns and cities across the world have become deserted. Many of them remain today as abandoned ghost towns , frozen in time as real-life museums that stand as testaments to their rich, and often dramatic histories.
Abandoned mountain village in Gamsutl, Russia. Source: Oleg Znamenskiy / Adobe Stock. Gamsutl is an ancient settlement that lies on Mount Gamsutlmeer in Dagestan. In its peak, the village consisted of 300 homes. In the 20th century the village had shops, a post office, and a hospital. People began abandoning the village in the 1950s. The last resident left in 2015.
The village of Fabbriche di Careggine during its 1994 emergence. Public Domain . Fabbriche di Careggine was a 13 th century village in Tuscany, Italy that was destroyed by construction of the Lago di Vagli reservoir in 1946. The village is now submerged but is occasionally seen when the lake is drained to conduct maintenance work.
Chinguetti, Mauritania. Source: robnaw / Adobe Stock. Chinguetti is an abandoned medieval trading center in northern Mauritania. It was founded in the 13th century as the center of several trans-Saharan trade routes. It is known for its architecture, scenery, and ancient libraries. The city is threatened by the encroaching desert.
Suakin, Sudan. Source: Marc LOBJOY / Adobe Stock. Suakin is a port city on a circular island in northeastern Sudan, on the west coast of the Red Sea. It used to be considered the height of medieval luxury on the Red Sea, but the abandoned old city built of coral is now in ruins.
Ani Ruins in Kars city of Turkey near the Turkish Armenian border. Source: berna_namoglu / Adobe Stock. First mentioned in the 5th century by Armenian chroniclers, the “Ghost City” of Ani was described as a strong fortress on a hilltop that was a possession of the Armenian Kamsarakan dynasty. From this point on and throughout its occupation, the site had a turbulent history: changing hands multiple times, withstanding sieges, massacres, earthquakes, and looting – which led to its eventual abandonment.
Aerial view of Spinalonga on the Greek island of Crete. Source: whitcomberd / Adobe Stock. Spinalonga was fortified from its earliest years to protect the entranceway of the port of ancient Olous. Olous was depopulated in the 7th century because of the raids of the Arab pirates in the Mediterranean. During Venetian rule, in the 15 th century, salt was harvested from salt pans around the island. The island was subsequently used as a leper colony from 1903 to 1957. The last inhabitant, a priest, left the island in 1962.
The deserted village of Pentedattilo, Italy. Source: Naeblys / Adobe Stock. Pentedattilo was founded as a colony of the Greek city of Chalcis, in 640 BC. It declined during the Byzantine domination, when it was sacked. In the 12th century it was conquered by the Normans. The town was severely damaged by an earthquake in 1783, which caused most of the inhabitants to leave. The town remained totally uninhabited from the mid-1960s to the 1980s, when it was partially restored and repopulated by volunteers from across Europe.
Kuldhara village in Jaisalmer, India. Source: anujakjaimook / Adobe Stock. Kuldhara was established around the 13th century and inhabited by Paliwal Brahmins. It was abandoned by the early 19th century for unknown reasons, possibly because of dwindling water supply or an earthquake.
The abandoned town of Panam Nagar, Bangladesh. Source: Matyas Rehak / Adobe Stock. Panam City (also called Panam Nagar in Bengali) is one of the earliest cities in Bangladesh that is still standing. As the capital of the 15 th century Bengal ruler Isa Khan, the city was once an important trading and political center. The historical buildings are becoming increasingly dilapidated with age and there are no signs of any significant restoration attempts in order to preserve the site.
Al-‘Ula Old Town, Saudia Arabia ( CC by SA 3.0 ). The ghost town of Al-‘Ula contains ancient heritage buildings, mosques, markets, and over 800 residential dwellings. In the 12th century, the Old Town became an essential settlement along the pilgrimage route from Damascus to Makkah. The houses were designed to be attached to one another, providing fortification, which hints to defence being a priority for the city’s early inhabitants.
The Abandoned Ghost Town of Kayaköy, South-West Turkey. Source: James_Kerwin / Adobe Stock. In late antiquity the inhabitants of Kayaköy were Greek Orthodox Christians. They lived in relatively harmony with their Muslim Ottoman rulers from the end of the turbulent Ottoman conquest of the region in the 14th century until the early 20th century. Following the Greco-Turkish War of 1919–1922, and the subsequent Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, the town’s Greek Orthodox residents were exiled. The ghost town, now preserved as a museum village, consists of hundreds of rundown but still mostly standing Greek-style houses and churches.
Craco, Italy. Source: Ragemax / Adobe Stock. For nearly 50 years, the town of Craco in southern Italy has stood uninhabited. Craco was once a monastic center, a feudal town and center of education with a university, castle, church, and plazas. The oldest building of Craco, the Norman Tower, was built in 1040 and many of Craco’s buildings date back to medieval times. However, in 1656 a plague struck Craco, killing hundreds and reducing the population significantly. A severe famine caused a mass migration of Craco’s population to North America between the years 1892 and 1922.
Plymouth, Monteserrat ( CC by SA 4.0 ). Plymouth is a ghost town on the island of Montserrat, an overseas territory of the United Kingdom located in the Leeward Island chain of the West Indies. Constructed on historical lava deposits near the then long-inactive Soufrière Hills volcano, the town was evacuated in 1995 when the volcano resumed erupting. Plymouth was eventually abandoned permanently in 1997 after it was substantially buried by a series of pyroclastic flows and lahars.
Balestrino, Italy. Source: McoBra89 / Adobe Stock. Balestrino is composed by the old historic town, upon a hill, and the new town below it. Abandoned in 1953 for hydrogeological instability, the old centre is a ghost town.
Top image: The abandoned city of Craco, Italy. Source: Tupungato / Adobe Stock
By Joanna Gillan