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10 Deserted Places and Why They Were Abandoned

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With a total population of over 7 billion people, it's hard to imagine that any place in the world could be abandoned. And yet, they exist, each one with an eerie past and an uncertain future. Here are the tales of 10 abandoned places and how they came to be deserted.

1. I.M. Cooling Tower, Belgium

The I.M. Cooling Tower is part of an abandoned power plant located in Monceau, Belgium. While in use, the tower cooled incoming hot water by using wind. The wind would enter the opening at the bottom of the tower and rise up, cooling the hot water. The air would then become warm and leave the tower. During its prime, the I.M. Cooling Tower could cool up to 480,000 gallons of water per minute.

2. Kolmanskop, Namibia

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Kolmanskop, a ghost town in Sperrgebiet of Namibia, was built during the burgeoning diamond trade in the early 1900s. In 1908, a railway worker named Zhacarias Lewala was shoveling sand away from the railroad tracks when he spotted a diamond. The news spread quickly, and many Germans poured into the area to hunt for the precious gems. A bustling town soon developed, complete with a hospital, ballroom, school, factory, and casino. However, by the end of the first World War, the town declined. Later, richer diamond deposits were found farther south and operations moved to Oranjemund. Kolmanskop became a ghost town. In 1980, the De Beers mining company restored many of its buildings and turned Kolmanskop into a tourist attraction.

3. Michigan Central Station, Detroit

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In the early 1900s, Detroit was a bustling epicenter for factory jobs and industrialization. The city’s railroad business was quickly expanding, and the company decided that a much larger depot should be built. By 1910, Michigan Central had purchased 50 acres of property in the Corktown neighborhood outside of downtown Detroit. The station was comprised of a 3-story train depot and an 18-story office tower; the final price for the building was about $2.5 million (around $55 million today). Once built and in use, the station inspired awe in all of its passengers: “The grandeur of the interior is something that will be lasting, for it is of marble, brick and bronze, all of this is set off by one of the best lighting schemes ever installed in a building,” wrote the Free Press in 1913.

But a busy future for the station wasn't meant to be. The railroad industry fell into decline as the government began constructing highways and subsidized intercity airline traffic. Over the years, railroad companies tried to sell the station, and train lines began to abandon the station because of the upkeep. On January 5, 1988, Train No. 353 became the last train to leave the station. During the 1990s, the station fell into disrepair and became vulnerable to trespassing and looting. Today, the battle between demolition and restoration continues.

4. Underwater City in Shicheng, China

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Shicheng City—which translates to Lion City—was submerged under Qiandao Lake in China in 1959 during the construction of the Xin’an River Hydropower Station. Now that the city, which is approximately 1400 years old, is underwater, it's protected from erosion by wind, rain, and sun and remains in a relatively stable condition. Today, international archeologists refer to Shicheng City as a time capsule of ancient China; its arches, gates, and towers are so well preserved that they give archeologists an almost perfect view of what the city looked like hundreds of years ago. Back then, Shicheng City was the center of politics, economics, and culture of Sui’an County.

5. Salto Hotel, Colombia

Situated near a 515-foot waterfall outside of Bogotá, Colombia, the Hotel del Salto first opened in 1928. It was a building that welcomed many travelers visiting the area. Over the next few decades, the Bogotá River became contaminated, and the tourism industry waned. The hotel finally closed in the 1990s and was left abandoned. Some believe the hotel is haunted, mostly because of the prevalence of suicides around the waterfall. In 2012, the hotel was renovated and converted to a museum.

6. Abandoned Military Hospital in Beelitz, Germany

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This abandoned sanatorium in Beelitz, Germany has an eerie past. The German National Insurance Institute constructed the military hospital in 1898 to house tuberculosis patients. Later on, the sanatorium played host to a recuperating Adolf Hitler, who was injured in the 1916 Battle of the Somme during World War I. During the 1920s, the hospital quickly expanded to accommodate thousands of patients. The building was even equipped with a butcher’s shop, bakery, beer garden, and restaurant. As World War II enveloped the globe, Beelitz Sanatorium was once again a haven for the German military. After the war, the Soviets took control of Beelitz-Heilstätten and used it to treat Soviet soldiers stationed in the area. After the Soviets withdrew in 1994, the building was left empty and abandoned.

7. Craco, Basilicata, Italy


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Craco is an abandoned medieval village located in the Region of Basilicata and the Province of Matera. Greeks settled the town in 540 AD when they originally moved into the area. After its settlement, a university, prison, and four large plazas were constructed. But the town was also subject to various calamities, including plagues, poor agricultural conditions, and earthquakes. Between 1959 and 1972, destructive landslides damaged the area and made the town uninhabitable. In 1963, the last 1800 citizens were transferred to a valley in a different area. Today, the town is empty and abandoned, although it has played the backdrop of films like King David, Quantum of Solace, and The Passion of the Christ.

8. San-Zhi, Taiwan


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In 1978, the Taiwanese government began subsidizing an architectural project that involved building futuristic pods for the rich to use as summer villas. However, the investment capital disappeared in 1980 before the project was completed, and the architecture company went bankrupt. One major reason that San-Zhi failed was because of intense local superstitions. Several fatal accidents occurred during construction, and as the number of fatalities increased, the government withdrew its support. Many believed that the land was cursed, and the construction company eventually destroyed all of its records regarding the project.

9. Angkor Wat in Cambodia


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Between the 9th and 13th centuries, Angkor was the powerful capital of the Khmer Empire in northwestern Cambodia. Armies from Thailand captured the city in 1431, and Angkor’s citizens fled. Angkor Wat was the city’s monastery, and it was built by King Suryavarman II to honor the Hindu gods. However, as Buddhism was prevalent in the surrounding area, the temple’s Hindu decorations were replaced by Buddhist carvings, and Angkor Wat became a Buddhist shrine. From its abandonment in 1431 to the late 19th century, Theravada Buddhist monks preserved Angkor. Today, it is known as one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Southeast Asia.

10. 1984 Winter Olympics bobsleigh track in Sarajevo


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In 1977, the city of Sarajevo, Bosnia was chosen as the host city for the 1984 Winter Olympics. That same year, Bosnia proposed the construction of the bobsleigh and luge track and, by 1982, had completed its construction. During the 1984 Winter Olympics, the track had a total of 30,000 bobsleigh spectators and 20,000 luge spectators. After the Olympics, the track was used by world cup competitors. In 1991, the Yugoslav wars shook the region, and the Siege of Sarajevo caused damage to the track since Bosnian Serb forces used the track as an artillery position. Today, the bobsleigh and luge tracks have fallen into disrepair and have been tagged with graffiti.

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Dutch Tiny House Village Provides Houses for the Homeless
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The new residential development outside the Dutch city of Eindhoven is no ordinary community. Skaeve Huse is a special place designed for Eindhoven’s most vulnerable populations, according to Inhabitat. It’s aimed at providing permanent living quarters for previously homeless people with mental illness or drug addiction, or who otherwise struggle to live in traditional city residences.

The community was designed by the Amsterdam-based architects at Studio Elmo Vermijs for the Trudo Housing Corporation, a Dutch developer. (The company previously offered a rental discount for tenants who assist refugees.)

A bicycle is parked outside a slanted green tiny house.

“In recent years, several Skaeve Huse have been built in the Netherlands, always temporary, mostly in containers,” the architects write in their description of the project. “Trudo wanted a permanent and energy-neutral design so that this vulnerable group could benefit from the homes in the long term. Skaeve Huse Eindhoven is the first of its kind designed and built with these principles as starting point.”

The Trudo Housing Corporation partnered with the European Investment Bank in 2016 to create more environmentally sustainable social housing programs.

A bicycle is parked outside a slanted green tiny house.

Skaeve loosely means “slanted,” and some of the walls of the colorful houses do indeed slant, giving them a whimsical look. The high ceilings are designed to give the 355-square-foot houses a more spacious, airy feel despite the small size, while maintaining privacy with windows high off the ground. Each of the homes has a living room with a small open kitchen, a bathroom, and an entrance foyer.

The homes are spaced apart to help give people who have trouble living in the typical, cramped spaces of an urban environment extra room, which the designers hope will help limit disputes between neighbors. The land was formerly a forest, and the homes are placed between trees along a winding path.

Though designed for people who didn’t have homes, this tiny house community looks cute enough to replicate for traditional housing, too.

[h/t Inhabitat]

All images courtesy of Elmo Vermijs.

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9 Notable Buildings With Secret Floors
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Secret floors have long captured the imagination; conspiracy theorists love to imagine that government buildings keep their darkest secrets within sealed-off stories. In the 1960 Twilight Zone episode “The After Hours,” the ninth floor of a department store is where the mannequins mysteriously come to life. Meanwhile, the hidden 7th-and-a-half floor of the Mertin-Flemmer building in New York was a portal for John Cusack into the actual brain of John Malkovich in the movie Being John Malkovich.

While these mysteries may have come from a writer’s imagination, there are notable buildings that have whole secret floors right under your nose—if you know where to look.

1. THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING, NEW YORK

One of the world’s most iconic and recognizable skyscrapers, the Empire State building is also one of Manhattan’s premiere tourist destinations. The gleaming Art Deco elevators speed thousands of visitors to the observation deck on the 86th floor every day, and there’s also an observation pod on the 102nd floor. But just above, hidden out of sight, is the secret 103rd floor. Off-limits to the public, there is no glass protecting visitors from the elements, just a narrow walkway surrounding the top of the building. Original plans are thought to have allowed airships to dock to the top of the Empire State building, with passengers disembarking on the 103rd floor, and the 102nd being their official port of entry into the United States. The plan never came to fruition, however, and the hidden 103rd floor remains sealed off high above New York City.

2. THE FIFTH FLOOR OF THE YANGGAKDO HOTEL, PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA

For Calvin Sun, of the adventurous travel blog Monsoon Diaries, a hotel in the world’s most isolated nation held a particularly odd secret. The hotel Yanggakdo’s elevator has no 5th floor. Getting out of the elevator on the 6th and walking down, his group reached something peculiar: an entire concreted hidden floor, filled with locked doors and no people. The floor was covered with what looked to be government-issued propaganda posters, with messages like “Let’s prepare thoroughly in order to defeat the invaders” and “Our General is the best.” Other intrepid adventurers have reported bunkers, steel doors, official-looking men with computers, and others listening to headphones. Some have speculated that there is another floor hidden within the 5th, but its purpose remains unknown.

3. THE GREENBRIER RESORT, WEST VIRGINIA

The Greenbrier is a luxury hotel and resort located amid the mountains of West Virginia. The local waters have been attracting guests since 1778, and the glittering guest list of the hotel, now a National Historic Landmark, has included 26 presidents. But hidden under the glamorous rooms and sprawling grounds is a massive underground complex, codenamed Project Greek Island. During the Cold War, it was built to hold the entire United States Congress in safety—just in case Washington was attacked by a Soviet nuclear strike.

The 112,000-square-foot bunker was big enough to hold both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and came complete with six months’ worth of food, 25-ton blast doors, decontamination chambers, water purification equipment, and its own hospital. The government’s construction of Project Greek Island was covered up by the building of a new west wing added to the existing hotel. To avoid detection, the huge amounts of land unearthed in the creation of the project were used in a new golf course, while the army of workers posed as employees of a fake audiovisual company called the Forsythe Associates, who “maintained” the hotel's 1000 television sets.

Project Greek Island fortunately remained unused, and was never officially acknowledged until a story in the Washington Post in 1992 exposed the secret. Today tours of this remarkable relic of the Cold War are given at the hotel, which still operates as a luxury resort.

4. OUR LORD IN THE ATTIC, AMSTERDAM

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There’s an old house in Amsterdam that looks much like the other Queen Anne-style homes along the canals that give this old part of the city its distinctive character. This particular house, however, holds a remarkable secret hidden away in the attic: a miniature, fully functioning church. Complete with marble altar, pews enough for 150 worshippers, and elaborate gilt decoration, the church was hidden due to the persecution of Dutch Catholics in the 17th century. Access to the clandestine church is gained by a false wall in the living room that leads to a narrow spiral staircase. Today the church is a museum, but still regularly holds services hidden away in the attic, as they have done for nearly 400 years.

5. THE NEW YORKER HOTEL, MANHATTAN

Luke Spencer

When the New Yorker Hotel opened on 8th Avenue and 34th Street in 1930, it was one of the most technologically advanced hotels in the world. It came complete with its own in-house radio station, printing press, 50-chair barber salon, and a dining room that featured a retractable ice rink and skating show to entertain the guests. With 2500 rooms, it was promoted as a “vertical village.”

Underneath the lobby was a giant power plant, occupying a hidden floor around 80 feet below the sidewalk. The DC generating plant was so huge, it was powerful enough to provide electricity for a city of around 35,000 people. The plant was also so sophisticated that one of the hotel’s most famous long-term residents, the inventor Nikola Tesla, who lived there for the last decade of his life, is reported to have wandered down under the lobby to tinker with the plant and talk with the engineers. Remarkably, the plant is still down there, the switches for the old skating rink, coffee shop lights, and ballroom silent and unused. (Much of the plant was modernized in the 1960s, however, and switched over to the alternating current Tesla championed.)

6. WALT DISNEY WORLD, FLORIDA 

Observant visitors to the Magic Kingdom, upon disembarking from the monorail and heading toward Main Street, USA, may notice that they are walking on a slight incline. Indeed Cinderella’s Castle, which lies ahead, appears to be on a hill. In reality, the thousands of daily guests are unknowingly climbing over a vast hidden complex of secret floors, rooms, walkways, and tunnels. Disney World itself is built on top of an intricate hidden infrastructure that Cast Members consider the first floor. (The entire Magic Kingdom itself is technically the second and third floor.)

The story goes that Walt Disney was walking through the original Disneyland in California, and saw a Cast Member dressed as a cowboy walking from Frontierland through to Tomorrowland. Thinking that this would ruin the fantasy illusion for the visiting children, Disney World was designed on top of a hidden 9-acre system that would house walkways for Cast Members, trash collectors, kitchens, and break rooms. Today, tours are available for adults to see behind the curtain of the Magic Kingdom.

7. JOHN HANCOCK CENTER’S 44TH FLOOR, CHICAGO

The John Hancock Center on North Michigan Avenue is one of Chicago’s most iconic landmarks. When it was completed in 1969, it was the tallest building in the world, second only to the Empire State Building in New York. But what many people don’t realize is that it is actually possible to live inside one of America’s most famous skyscrapers. The residential floors run from the 45th to the 92nd floor, but it is the 44th floor that holds all the secrets. Off-limits to all but the residents, the 44th floor is home to a vast 5200-square-foot supermarket. There is also a library, concierge service, a high-ceilinged sky lounge, and the highest swimming pool in the United States. During elections it even has its own polling station.

8. PLYMOUTH CHURCH OF THE PILGRIMS, BROOKLYN

Luke Spencer

Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights is a church steeped in history. One of the oldest Congregationalist Churches in New York, it was once presided over by the inspirational orator, minister, and abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher. Described then as “the most famous man in America,” his fiery anti-slavery rhetoric was so renowned that Plymouth was the only church in New York visited by Abraham Lincoln. Beecher would hold mock slave auctions on the site, where parishioners would raise money to free slaves.

But the extraordinary events on the church floor covered a remarkable secret below it: a hidden floor, with the entrance through a door behind the organ. Dry, dusty chambers, brick archways, and tunnels are all that remain of one of the principal stops on the Underground Railroad. This hidden floor provided a sanctuary for so many escaping slaves that it became known in hushed voices as the Grand Central Depot. At great risk to themselves, the brave parishioners of Plymouth Church, led by Beecher, vowed to help as many slaves as possible. “I will both shelter them,” Beecher said, “conceal them or speed their flight.” The church is still vibrantly active today, and tours are available to visit what was once one of the most secret places in America.

Luke Spencer

9. THE OLD OPERATING THEATRE AND HERB GARRET, LONDON

Luke Spencer

Hidden in the roof of St. Thomas’ church in London is something as chilling as it is fascinating. Climbing the circular staircase of the old church to the garret (or attic) there lies one of the oldest known operating theaters still in existence. Once part of the ancient St. Thomas’ hospital, visitors today can crowd into the tiny theater and stand on steep wooden terraces overlooking the operating table. Here 19th-century medical students would watch the pre-eminent surgeons of the day practice their craft; one notable surgeon was said to be able to amputate and cauterize a limb in under a minute.

In the attic above the theater is the old herb apothecary and garden where herbs were stored and cured. Still well-stocked today, the Herb Garret resembles a Victorian cabinet of peculiar curiosities, featuring wormwood, poppies for opium, and a “bath of sheep heads for Woman suffering from unknown illness.” After St. Thomas relocated, the church garret was sealed up and forgotten for decades, until it was rediscovered in the 1960s. Today operating as a museum, tours are available for those who want to experience the lancets, blades, and bone saws of over a hundred years ago. 

Luke Spencer

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