The good news?
Historic cities that lie underwater or buried under tonnes of sand and dirt are being excavated now. And some of these historic cities are still accessible to us modern folks!
The bad news? They may not be there a few years from now, as some ancient cities have declined over the years due to migration, reduction of natural resources, or unfortunate historic events. Actually, tourists can spoil these historic places with unethical and unhealthy practices. So if you’re planning on visiting a heritage site or a ghost town like the ones mentioned below, be a responsible tourist. Keep to the rules and norms of the place.
1. Hashima Island, Japan
Once a part of the industrialisation era that took over Japan, Hashima Island was started as a coal facility way back in 1887. Coal was extracted from undersea mines and the facility functioned till 1974. Since it resembles a Japanese battleship, the island is also locally known as Gunkanjima, or Battleship Island. It is said that during the Second World War, the facility imposed forced labour on foreign inhabitants at the facility, resulting in the death of more than 1,000 labourers.
As with most natural resources, the coal deposits were eventually depleted. With this, workers also started leaving and the facility was shut down by the year 1974. Forgotten for almost 30 years, the concrete structures were wasting away till human interest in the place reignited in the early 2000s. In 2009, it was opened to tourists but many parts of it still remain closed to the public due to the dilapidated condition of the buildings. There are boat operators who will take you to the island if you want to visit it.
2. Oradour-sur-Glane, France
This historic site, which was located in west-central France, was inhabited by 642 individuals until all of them were massacred by military troops of Nazi Germany in June 1944. Later on, a new village was constructed close to the original location.
The place where the original village stood is today a memorial site and preserved as a ruined state — a memory to the tragic event that wiped out an entire village in a single bloody incident, with even women and children blown away by armed forces. You can get to Oradour-sur-Glane by taking a train to Limoges and then a cab from there to the village. Another popular option today is to get there by car.
3. Bannack, Montana
Bannack was founded in the year 1862 after large gold deposits were found there. Although it was a remote location with very little connectivity, this place was once a bustling city with about 3,000 residents and a booming economy. But as gold deposits reduced, people slowly started leaving and by the 1950s, no one was left.
At that point the State of Montana declared Bannack a State Park. Today, over sixty structures remain standing, most of which can be explored. It is currently managed by the state of Montana and is one of the best ghost towns left in the West. You can get to this once-upon-a-time gold town by road.
4. Fordlandia, Brazil
Located in Para, Brazil, Fordlandia was initially designed to be a home for about 10,000 residents. Henry Ford, the American founder of Ford Motor Company, wanting to take advantage of the availability of rubber in the region, planned a utopian city that would provide employment to thousands of Brazilians and help build a modern city in an almost-forgotten part of the world.
He also wanted the city to serve as his personal supply of rubber. But the city never produced as much rubber as it expected to. Fun fact: Throughout the entire venture, Ford never once set foot in Fordlandia — he managed operations from his home in Michigan.
After WW2, the company’s ownership was taken over by Ford’s grandson, Henry Ford II, who took every measure possible to cut the company’s burgeoning costs. Fordlandia was the first to go. It was sold to the Brazilian government, and as soon as this happened, every single American in the city headed back to the US.
Over the years, the city died a slow death, wasting away, vandalised, and looted by miscreants. A deteriorated factory building still stands as a reminder of Fordlandia’s failure. Despite this, there has been a steady growth in the population there, now numbering more than 3,000 residents. If you want to explore this old Amazonian city, you can get there by boat, bus, or car.
5. Consonno, Italy
The historic city of Consonno, just an hour’s drive away from Milan, was a quiet town with about 300 residents. This was until 1962 when Mario Bagno, an entrepreneur, happened upon it. After managing to relocate the inhabitants of the town, he went about building up the town into what he’d envisioned – a city of toys. The city was supposed to be the Las Vegas of Italy, offering a getaway for tourists from all over the country. Guests would have access to a luxury hotel, restaurants, shopping malls, a zoo, and other attractions. There even was a replica of a medieval castle.
But as fate would have it, just as these structures were nearing completion, the main road into the town was destroyed by floods. This prevented tourists from visiting it, and in effect put an end to the project altogether. The structures today lie in ruins, a far cry from what they were supposed to have been. With Mother Nature eating away at them, many of these buildings are unsafe for tourists today. However, you can still go check out some of the accessible areas, especially since this ghost town is just an hour away from Milan by road.
6. Humberstone, Chile
Named after James Humberstone, this historic city was a leading mining town in Chile between 1880 and 1940. In spite of having one of the driest and most hostile environments on the face of the planet, thousands of workers flocked to this town simply because of the mining boom that hit the country. They mined Saltpetre, a substance that was crucial in making fertiliser. Known as white gold, saltpetre was responsible for bringing life to an otherwise dead region.
Chile thrived on saltpetre. So much so, that they were literally at war with Peru and Bolivia for possession rights of these lands – a war (the War of the Pacific) that went on for four years. In the end, Chile won. But when World War One broke out, the British prevented saltpetre from being exported from Chile to Germany. Instead, Germany succeeded in making synthetic fertiliser alternatives, and suddenly there was no more need for mining saltpetre. The entire industry collapsed in a flash, sounding the death knell for Humberstone.
For more than 50 years, it has stood as a forlorn figure, barely a reminder of what it once was. But since the dry desert environment has preserved it pretty well, it now has been marked as a World Heritage Site by the UN. Humberstone has also been marked “in danger” due to a recent earthquake that revealed the structural vulnerability of the buildings. A wonderland for industrial archaeologists and history buffs, this ghost town can be reached via road.
7. San Juan Parangaricutiro, Mexico
San Juan Parangaricutiro was a tiny village located near the Paricutin volcano. The Paricutin village and San Juan Parangaricutiro were both brought to ruin when the Paricutin volcano erupted in 1943, with both villages being buried under lava and ash. Even today, you can see the half-buried cathedrals in this old village, with their tops eerily sticking out of the lava that has enveloped them. The residents of the village evacuated long before the lava reached them, so no one died in this natural disaster. They rebuilt their village in a nearby area which is called Nuevo San Juan Parangaricutiro, and continue living there till date.
The old village has become a tourist attraction over the years, and also a place for geologists to study volcanoes. Since there are no vehicles plying directly to this village, you have to first reach a nearby town called Angahuan and then walk from there. It takes about an hour to get to this half-buried church.
Originally by BankBazaar.sg, July 2019 / Last updated by Isabel Wibowo