Ghost towns and abandoned cities are strange and fascinating places, often reflecting some great upheaval that led to their demise. Asia is no stranger to urban abandonments, from antiquated to modern, deserted due to natural disaster, economic decline and so on. In abandonment, their buildings take on a different physical form to the bustling communities they once were, and often become a focus of urban exploration.
This hillside in southwestern Turkey offers an impressive sight, dotted with roughly 500 ruined houses that once made up the 2,000 strong Greek Christian settlement of Kayakoy. Abandoned in 1923, the ghost town is so intact that the houses could be waiting for new owners to fix their roofs, splash some paint around and get on with life as normal. In fact several houses have been reoccupied, and with two surviving Greek Orthodox churches, Kayakoy is a major tourist attraction protected by the Turkish government, although roadside vendors have a habit of scavenging objects from the town to sell as souvenirs.
Ravaged by the Sichuan earthquake of 2008, the tragic city of Beichuan has become one of Asia’s modern day ghost towns. Like some of the great cities of classical times, much of Beichuan was destroyed when the quake shook this peaceful landscape, its remaining buildings standing – just about – amid a scene of sheer destruction. To put the tragedy into perspective, in a town with a population of 20,000, over 1,000 students lost their lives at Beichuan high school alone when two buildings collapsed on the campus. Survivors were relocated after the town was deemed too vulnerable to rebuild. It is set to become a memorial park.
Hashima Island (Gunkanjima), Japan
Popularly known as Gunkanjima (Battleship Island) due to its shape and high seawall formation, Hashima Island is one of Japan’s most talked about places in the annals of urban exploration. Occupied from 1887 to 1974 and plagued by rumours of forced labour, Gunkanjima was bought by Mitsubishi in 1890 to mine deep sea coal. It went on to play a key role in the industrialisation of Japan.
Petroleum replaced coal in Japan during the 1960s and the island’s output declined. Mitsubish closed the mine in 1974 and the 835 people per hectare population abandoned Hashima Island. Ownership has since been turned over to the city of Nagasaki (15km away) and the island survives as a tourist attraction, although access is limited due to the dangerous condition of the abandoned buildings, some of which have tumbled down.
Sanzhi UFO Houses, Taiwan
The uniquely inspired Sanzhi Pod City, aka UFO houses or the ruins of the future, was built in 1978 as a failed holiday resort for U.S. service personnel posted to East Asia. The resort in Taiwan was never finished – abandoned two years after work commenced. It remained abandoned for 28 years, a bizarre collection of saucer-shaped buildings on the otherwise ordinary landscape. Lack of investment on top of mounting debt saw Sanzhi finally demolished in 2008, the ultimate failed holiday resort, and probably one of the most unique too. Read our full article here.
Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong
The web is buzzing with information about Kowloon Walled City, but the shanty is/was simply too fascinating to pass up. A largely ungoverned settlement with 33,000 residents crammed into a 6.5 acre (0.01 square miles) plot supposedly controlled by the Triads, it’s little wonder that Kowloon Walled City ultimately became a den of iniquity.
Originally built as a Chinese Fort, the densely populated citadel became a self-contained enclave when the British took control of the New Territories. More and more storeys were added to the already ramshackle slum, and the hands-off approach of the Hong Kong government meant organised crime syndicates reigned largely supreme and gambling, drugs and prostitution were commonplace.
Still, most residents were not involved in crime and made the most of the little they had, finding ways to raise and educate their children amid the vice in the endless labrynth of alleys. Kowloon Walled City was finally demolished by 1994. Remains can be seen in the Kowloon Walled City Park that replaced the city, its gentle tranquility where architecture meets nature a notable contrast to its previous incarnation.
Mandu, located near Indore in Madhya Pradesh state was founded as a fortress retreat in the 10th century. After being captured by the Mughals in 1401, Afghan Dilawar Khan established his own kingdom with Mandu at the centre. Known at one point as the “city of joy”, Mandu’s golden age had officially begun.
Mandu supposedly celebrates in stone the love between Baz Bahadur (a poet-prince ) and his consort, Rani Roopmati, an important component of local folklore to this day. The city has been abandoned for four centuries and is an important example of Afghan architecture. Its enigmatic palaces, frozen in time on their hilltop plateau, even inspired the design of the Taj Mahal.