The latest instalment of our Ghost Towns and Abandoned Cities of the World series brings us to Africa, a vast continent with more deserted settlements than we could ever hope to chronicle in a single article. Like other areas of the world, the reasons for abandonment are widespread and often unsettling. From the end of colonialism to the devastating after-effects of civil war and political instability, these ghost towns transport us on a rich – and often tragic – journey through Africa’s complex history.
Birao, Central African Republic
Only a few years ago Birao served as the capital of Vakaga, one of the 14 prefectures of the Central African Republic. But March 2007 brought violence and destruction to the town as rebels clashed with government troops, leaving Birao almost completely burned to the ground. The top photo shows the shocking extent of damage to the buildings, while the truck has been utterly looted. Find out more here.
Grand-Bassam, Côte d’Ivoire
The grand colonial architecture of Grand-Bassam stems from its tenure as the French capital of Côte d’Ivoire. The French colonial government abandoned the city in 1896, and Grand-Bassam’s commercial dealings dimished from that point onwards. By 1960 – the same year Côte d’Ivoire gained independence from France – Grand-Bassam was all but a ghost town and has remained that way, despite a recent surge in tourism.
When it comes to ornate colonial architecture, Grand-Bassam truly lives up to its name. It’s rare to find a city like this verging on near-total abandonment, making it a rather unique place, and one that might see its fortunes improve in years to come as tourists converge on this former colonial capital.
Although not completely abandoned, Chinguetti is a fascinating little city boasting impressive Saharan architecture and plenty of empty buildings. Founded as a 13th century trading center in nothern Mauritania, a handful of visitors drop by each year to sample Chinguetti’s architecture and medieval manuscript libraries containing scientific and Qur’anic texts, set against the lonely beauty of the Sahara.
Lying on the Adrar Plateau east of Atar, Chinguetti was the center of several trans-Saharan trade routes. But the encroaching desert and unpredictable weather patterns led to several buildings to the west of the city to be abandoned, creating the feel of a ghost town. Notable buildings of an indigenous reddish dry stone and mud-brick include the Friday Mosque, a water tower and a former French Foreign Legion fortress. In recent years, the government of Mauritania and various NGOs have implemented activities such as sand surfing in a bid to attract tourists to Chinguetti.
Kolmanskop is a ghost town near the port town of Luderitz in Namibia and perhaps one of Africa’s most impressive abandoned places. A hangover from the heady diamond rush days that gripped the region after 1908, Kolmanskop’s unusual appearance for a desert ghost town reflects the wealth acquired by the German miners who sought their fortunes there, and the zeal of the German imperial government to stop others getting their hands on the loot.
Their newly acquired wealth allowed residents to develop Kolmanskop in the architectural style of a German town, complete with hospital, ballroom, power station, school, theatre, casino, ice factory, bowling alley (intact to this day) and a railway connection to Luderitz. Kolmanskop was exempt from a government ban on new mining claims in the area, but ultimately became a ghost town when the diamond market dried up.
Paoua, Central African Republic
Paoua and other abandoned settlements nearby became ghost towns after fierce fighting gripped the region between 2005 and 2008. The top image shows a nearby village where, like Paoua, remaining residents were forced to flee into the bush to avoid actions by government forces and murders perpetrated by armed gangs against the local civilian population. The white buildings, inset, belong to the United Nations. Ange-Félix Patassé, former President of the Central African Republic, was born in Paoua.
Luderitz is still an active port city but nevertheless has enough abandoned buildings from Namibia’s colonial past to give parts of it the feel of a ghost town. This abandoned whaling station is a perfect example, and is one of the original buildings from the city’s founding in 1883 on behalf of Adolf Luderitz, an Bremen merchant and founder of the first German colony in Southwest Africa. Despite the inhospitable coastline, this abandoned building occupies a somewhat warmer position than other former whaling stations featured on Urban Ghosts.