Photos: World's 10 most amazing abandoned towns to visit

MERV, TURKMENISTAN

In the parched wasteland of Turkmenistan's Karakum Desert, Merv was one of the great cities of the Silk Road, a place of libraries, temples, gardens and orchards greened by canals. Its treasures made it desirable, and Merv's mud walls were no defence against the Mongol hordes who whirled in from the east. Today, the fluted walls of the Kiz Kala Fortress, the broken arches and stumps of towers, its vast city walls, crumbling palaces, temples, stupas and churches are blurred like a sandcastle that's been licked by waves, reminders of Merv's fleeting majesty. See whc.unesco.org/en/list/886

PRIPYAT, UKRAINE

Pripyat was populated for just 16 years before an explosion in the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, barely a kilometre from the city centre, released  deadly quantities of radioactive materials. Its 50,000 residents were rapidly evacuated, never to return. Although the city will not be habitable for another 20,000 years, radiation levels within the exclusion zone make it safe enough to visit on a day tour. Tens of thousands of curious tourists visit each year, drawn by this eerily frozen time capsule of Soviet life. See visittoukraine.com/en

HASHIMA ISLAND, JAPAN

Just a short distance south-west of Nagasaki, this was the base for an undersea coal mine before it was abandoned in 1974. What was once a small city with apartment buildings, a school, a hospital, temple and Shinto shrine was left to nature until 2009, when the island's post-apocalyptic spookiness won it a place on UNESCO's World Heritage list, drawing visitors and winning it a role in the James Bond flick Skyfall. See hashima-island.co.uk

Chernobyl: inside the exclusion zone

Thirty years after the world's most notorious nuclear disaster, Chernobyl remains a desolate, yet offbeat tourist destination.

CRACO, ITALY

Stepping dramatically up a hilltop in the Basilicata region of southern Italy, this medieval village and one-time monastic centre has been uninhabited for the past 50 years, a casualty of landslides and earthquakes. Despite the hollowed-out sockets of windows and doors, Craco is a picture-perfect ruin with palaces, a castle and churches that can be visited on a guided tou. It's popular with pilgrims who come to pray at the mummified body of St Vincenzo, the martyred patron saint of the town. See italiannotes.com/craco-ghost-town-italy

BODIE, CALIFORNIA, USA

This was once a rootin', tootin', bare-knuckle gold mining boomtown with a population of 10,000. When the last mine closed in 1942, Bodie's schools, banks, churches, saloons and opium dens were left as a memorial. Bodie is now a National Historic Site and a classic Wild West ghost town, its shops stacked with dry goods, chips piled beside the roulette wheel in the casino and the patina of time spelled out on its timber facades. See bodie.com

KAYAKOY, TURKEY

Spilling down a hillside near Turkey's south-west coast, Kayakoy once had a population of 6500 ethnic Greeks until they were expelled during the Greco-Turkish War of the 1920s. Although most of its buildings have lost their roofs and windows, Kayakoy's stone houses, shops and Greek Orthodox churches have withstood time and even earthquakes. Now preserved as a historical monument, Karakoy was used as a backdrop for scenes in Russell Crowe's 2015 movie The Water Diviner. See goturkeytourism.com

KOLMANSKOP, NAMIBIA

The discovery of diamonds strewn across the ground saw this southern Namibian town boom in the early 1900s, when miners built a transplanted Germanic town complete with a theatre, school, ice factory, railway station and even water tanks that provided irrigation for lush gardens. Abandoned in the 1950s, the town has been invaded by the encroaching dunes of the Namib Desert, its sand-filled houses providing eerie photo opportunities. See kolmanskop.net

BEICHUAN, CHINA

With only one-fifth of its buildings left standing after the Great Sichuan Earthquake of 2008, most in a perilous condition, it was decided that this city of 20,000 would be abandoned and left as a memorial, never to be rebuilt or repopulated. Today Beichuan is an open-air museum frozen in time, its shattered buildings either left where they fell or braced with steel posts, a poignant tribute to the huge numbers that lost their lives in the disaster. See amusingplanet.com

CENTRALIA, PENNSYLVANIA, USA

In 1962, the coal seam that lies below the town of Centralia started burning, and it's been burning ever since, turning roads to ash, emitting toxic vapours, causing giant sinkholes and generally making Centralia an unpleasant place to live. By about 1990 only a handful of its former 1500 inhabitants still remained. A highlight is the Graffiti Highway, an unused stretch of Highway 61 deeply furrowed like an open wound and covered with the wit and wisdom of graffiti artists. See centraliapa.org

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AKARMARA, ABKHAZIA

 In the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains within the Republic of Abkhazia on the north-west corner of the Black Sea, this was once a bustling mining town with a population of  about 5000 until the area was abandoned following the breakup of the USSR and the Abkhaz-Georgian conflict of the 1990s. Rusting automobiles, crumbling roads and shattered apartment blocks are slowly being consumed by nature, providing backdrops for video artists and filmmakers looking for end-of-the-world scenery. See inrussia.com/tkvarcheli-ghost-town

Take a look at these spectacular abandoned towns in the photo gallery above.

See also: Frozen in time: Australia's abandoned towns

See also: 'One of the worst places imaginable': Australia's very own lost city

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