The story of the ruined city of Pompeii is one of the best-known examples of a city that suddenly ceased to exist. One moment it was a thriving metropolis, then an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 buried the city in volcanic ash. It was accidentally rediscovered in 1749 and excavated, revealing a time capsule of city life during the era of the Roman Empire.
It’s not just ancient cities that vanish, however. The following collection includes a city that disappeared just this past August. Even as the seven billion residents of Earth begin to run out of physical space to populate, there are virtual places to be abandoned – former online frontiers such as Geocities: The Deleted City.
There are many different ways a city can disappear: It can fall victim to catastrophe, become submerged by rising water or simply be zoned out of existence. In some cases, no one knows why a once-thriving city was wiped off the map.
Here are five of the most fascinating vanished cities, located across the globe:
In 1962, a fire ignited underneath the anthracite coal-mining town of Centralia, Pa., which still burns to this day across 400 subterranean acres. This became problematic for the residents of Centralia, particularly in 1979 when the mayor/local gas station owner noticed the temperature of the gas in his underground tank had reached 172 degrees Fahrenheit. If that wasn’t enough impetus to leave town, in 1982 a 12-year-old boy fell into a 150-foot deep sinkhole that opened beneath him in his backyard. He was rescued and survived, but the steam billowing from the hole contained a lethal amount of carbon monoxide.
Congress voted to issue funds to residents for relocation, but today a few stubborn holdouts still live in Centralia. All that remains of the town are a few houses, structures and trailers, graveyards, some benches for a bus that never comes and great mounds of bulldozed buildings. State Route 61 has been rerouted because the old section, pictured here, is split and emitting smoke. Author Bill Bryson visited Centralia in the book “A Walk in the Woods,” and the abandoned town inspired the setting for the videogame and movie “Silent Hill.”
Many lakes and reservoirs hide the remains of forgotten settlements underwater, but rarely is there as obvious a reminder as the bell tower of the 14th century church at Reschensee, or Lake Reschen, in South Tyrol, Italy. A total of 1,290 acres of land was submerged to form the lake in 1950, obliterating the villages of Graun, part of Reschen, and others.
If the example of Lake Reschen dredges up memories of other submerged settlements, it’s to be expected. Underwater towns are so common, they even have their own sub-genre in crime novels: Reservoir Noir.
Ruddock, Wagram and Frenier, Louisiana
Three small towns in Louisiana comprised mostly of German immigrant cabbage farmers used to exist by the southwest edge of Lake Pontchartrain. The train delivered their groceries and the towns were so sleepy that the name of Wagram was renamed Napton. As is often the case on the Gulf Coast, however, all that changed with a hurricane. The towns’ legacy takes on a voodoo twist with the legend that their destruction was foretold. A resident named Julia Brown used to sit on her porch and sing about how when she died, she’d take everyone with her. Brown died just before the town was hit by a category 4 hurricane on Sept. 29, 1915. The townspeople were holding her funeral when the hurricane hit. The story goes that Brown’s coffin floated out into the swamp, and the three towns were destroyed in the storm.
Very little is left today, and most of it is underwater. Frenier, pictured here, is a slight blip on the map at the edge of the lake, and an old graveyard remains above water at the site of a Native American burial mound. Local Sheriff Wayne Norwood established a private museum of artifacts from the towns, which he finds when diving.
In the late 1960s, Famagusta, Cyprus, was a booming island tourist destination and a port city with an estimated population of 60,000 that rose to as much as 100,000 in the high season. The 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus caused a citywide evacuation, and the Greek Cypriot residents were never allowed to return. Ever since, the city of Famagusta has stood abandoned and fenced off from the rest of the island.
Famagusta is now a post-apocalyptic time capsule: Everything was left in the shops, department stores and hotels. It’s a rare example of undisturbed decay, which made it a useful model to discuss in the book “The World Without Us.” Because of development pressures, it’s unclear how long Famagusta will remain as is. The city was named on the World Monuments Fund’s “Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites in the World” in 2008 and is one of the Global Heritage Fund’s 2010 list of a dozen sites “on the verge of vanishing.”
Chaohu and other Chinese Cities
On Aug. 22, China’s Anhui province announced the city of Chaohu was “cancelled.” That is, the buildings, infrastructure and inhabitants remained where they were on Aug. 21, but the city formerly known as Chaohu had been divided into three parts and parceled off into the nearby cities of Hefei, Wuhu and Ma’anshan. This came as rather a surprise to the residents because, as NPR noted , there had been no consultation with Chaohu’s residents and no official notice of the change. This redistribution has made the city of Hefei, now including Chao Lake, the largest by area in China.
Other cities that vanished in China include the stunning submerged ruins of the ancient Lion City, which was flooded in the 1950s. It still contains intact relics that would have been destroyed in the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976, when Chairman Mao Zedong sought to eradicate capitalist, traditional and cultural elements, had the town remained above water.
Also in China, the controversial Three Gorges Dam Project created a 370 mile-long lake that submerged more than 1,000 villages, towns, and cities, forcing more than one million people to relocate. Experts estimated that 1,300 sites of cultural and archeological importance were submerged.