Monday, October 31, 2016

Skrunda-1: A Soviet ghost town in Latvia


The town of Skrunda-1 in modern day Latvia was of strategic importance to the Soviet Union. It was where two Dnepr radar installations were constructed in the 1960s. The two giant radars, having a length of 244 metres (801 ft) and height of 20 metres (66 ft) each, were one of the most important Soviet early warning radar stations for listening to objects in space and for tracking possible incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The town was comprised by 60 buildings, including apartment blocks, a school, barracks and an officers club. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, with an agreement signed in 1994, Latvia allowed the Russian Federation to continue running the radar station for 4 more years, after which it was obliged to dismantle the station within eighteen months. Before vacating Skrunda-1 in 1998, the Russian troops dismantled the site and all material of value were carried to Russia. Since then, Skrunda-1 is a ghost town.

In 2008, the Latvian government decided to sell the Skrunda-1 site and in 2010, the entire 40-hectare (99-acre) former town was sold as a single lot at auction in Riga. The winning bid was by a Russian firm for 3.1 million USD (2.2 million EUR). However, the winner as well as the runner up pulled out of the auction. In 2015, the site was bought by Skrunda Municipality for just €12,000 ($13,450). Half the area was handed over to the Latvian National Armed Forces as a training ground while the remainder is to be leased by the local government to potential investors for development. 

As of February 2016, due to increased interest at the site, the municipality began charging an entrance fee of 4 euros to individuals.



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Monday, October 24, 2016

The ghost town of Rhyolite, Nevada


Rhyolite, Nevada has been called "the most photographed ghost town in the West". Built in 1905, in the edge of Death Valley, 120 miles (190 km) northwest of Las Vegas, Rhyolite was one of several mining camps that sprang up during gold rush.

Starting as a two-man camp in January 1905, Rhyolite became a town of 1,200 people in two weeks and reached a population of 2,500 by June 1905. By then it had 50 saloons, 35 gambling tables, cribs for prostitution, 19 lodging houses, 16 restaurants, half a dozen barbers, a public bath house, and a weekly newspaper, the Rhyolite Herald. Industrialist Charles M. Schwab bought the Montgomery Shoshone Mine in 1906 and invested heavily in infrastructure, including piped water, electric lines and railroad.

Rhyolite in 1907 had concrete sidewalks, electric lights, water mains, telephone and telegraph lines, daily and weekly newspapers, a monthly magazine, police and fire departments, a hospital, school, train station and railway depot, at least three banks, a stock exchange, an opera house, a public swimming pool and two formal church buildings. By 1908, Rhyolite had a population of 5,000.

Rhyolite's decline was as fast as its rise. Production in the mine fell quickly as soon as the richest ore was exhausted. Moreover, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the financial panic of 1907 made it more difficult to raise development capital and soon the company's stock value crashed. In 1911 the mine closed after operating at a loss for a few years. By then, most workers had already moved elsewhere and the town's population was below 1,000. By 1920, it was close to 0.

This is when Rhyolite started becoming an attraction as a "ghost town". The town was used as a backdrop for movies even since the silent film era, starting with The Air Mail in 1925. Other movies that followed were The Reward (1965), Cherry 2000 (1987), Six-String Samurai (1998) and The Island (2004).







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Thursday, October 20, 2016

The remains of Crystal Palace train station in London



Crystal Palace High Level railway station opened in 1865 to serve visitors of the giant glass structure of the 'Crystal Palace' which was moved from Hyde Park to Sydenham Hill in the London Borough of Southwark in south London in 1851. 

The station, was one of the two serving the new Crystal Palace (the other being the Crystal Palace Low Level station, which is still open), and the terminus of the Crystal Palace and South London Junction Railway. It was designed by Edward Middleton Barry as a lavish red brick and buff terra cotta building. The station was excavated into the ridge below Crystal Palace Parade requiring major engineering works.

Traffic on the whole branch declined from 1936 after Crystal Palace was completely destroyed by fire. During World War II the line was damaged by bombs but reopened a few years later. However, the need for further reconstruction work and the fall of passenger numbers led to the decision to close the station and branch on 20 September 1954.

Crystal Palace station was demolished in 1961 and in the 1970's the site was developed for housing. However, a fan-vaulted underground pedestrian passage in finely detailed red and cream brickwork still survives and it is now a Grade II listed building.

There are different urban legends surrounding the closure of Crystal Palace station surviving to this day in the area. Some claim that an engine or carriage remains hidden inside an abandoned tunnel collecting dust, while others believe the station was closed because a commuter train was trapped by a tunnel collapse, entombing the passengers, who remain trapped there to this day. 


Monday, October 17, 2016

An abandoned hotel in the south of France


Squeezed between the train tracks and a street, Hotel Belvédère du Rayon Vert in Cerbère, France resembles an old abandoned ship. The hotel was designed in the art deco style by the Perpignan architect, Léon Baille, and built between 1928 and 1932 in a triangular plot.

The hotel has four levels and it was built using reinforced concrete. Many details of the building resemble an ocean liner, like the exit of the staircase to the roof that looks like a funnel. The hotel had a restaurant, a cinema, as well as a tennis court built on its roof. 

Hotel Belvédère served mainly travelers of the railway line between France and Spain. With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War though, the borders were closed and the hotel finally shut down in 1983. A few years later the building was protected under the list of historic monuments. Although it stayed abandoned for the most time since, part of the hotel has been restored to be used as apartments. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Poveglia, the most haunted island in the world


Just a short distance away from Venice, Italy, there's the tiny Poveglia island, which has been called 'the world's most haunted island'. Venetians still have stories to tell about ghosts seen on the island, some friendly and some not. To understand why Poveglia has this reputation, we have to dive into its troubled past.

From 1776, Poveglia, which belonged to Venetian government was used as a check point for all goods and people coming to and going from Venice by ship. A few years later, in 1793, there were several cases of the plague on two ships, and consequently the island was transformed into a confinement station for the ill until it shut down in 1814. Venetians believed that the island was haunted by the ghosts of all those terminally ill who died on it. It is estimated that more than 100,000 died on the island over the centuries. Their bodies are still being discovered inside mass graves.

In the 20th century the island was again used as a quarantine station, but in 1922, the existing buildings were converted into an asylum for the mentally ill. That's where many people went through unimaginable horrors after a doctor allegedly experimented on patients with crude lobotomies. It is said that he later threw himself from the hospital tower after claiming he had been driven mad by ghosts.

Today, the surviving buildings on the island include a cavana, a church, a hospital, an asylum, a bell-tower and housing and administrative buildings for the staff. The bell-tower is the most visible structure on the island, and dates back to the 12th century. In 2014, the island was leased for 99 years by an Italian businessman under the condition that the abandoned structures will be restored. The restoration progress will cost around €19 million (around $21.2 million).




Thursday, October 6, 2016

The abandoned 'Chicken Church' of Indonesia



On the the hills of Magelang, in the central part of the Indonesian island of Java there's a giant abandoned structure, resembling a chicken.

Locals call it 'Gereja Ayam', Indonesian for 'Chicken Church'. It was built by Daniel Alamsjah, a man who in 1989, while working 550 kilometers (342 miles) away in Jakarta, had a vision, a divine message from God according to him, asking him to built a prayer house for all religions. During Idul Fitri that year, Alamsjah was walking around Magelang where his wife’s family lived, when he came across some land that had exactly the same view as in his vision.

According to Alamsjah, the 'Chicken Church' is neither a chicken nor a church, but a prayer house built in the shape of a dove. As he didn't have a lot of money, he had to negotiate with local farmers and in 1990 he got an offer to buy 3,000 square meters (32,300 square feet) of land on Rhema Hill for just Rp 2 million ($170), which he paid in installments over the course of four years.

He says that a a diverse set of people visited his prayer house. “Seven nationalities were represented like countries including Japan and there were many people there, not just Christians. Muslims were praying there too.” The basement of the 'church', made up by 12 dark unfinished rooms, was used for 'rehabilitation'. “The rehabilitation that happened at this prayer house was for therapy for disabled children, drug addicts, crazy people and disturbed youth who wanted to fight,” he says.

'Gereja Ayam' shut down in 2000, still unfinished, as the construction costs were too high. Today, Alamsjah, who says he has a background in therapy and has 21 patients living in his house, is trying to sell the 'Chicken Church'. Many tourists visit the abandoned prayer house today, mainly expats who have been inspired to trek up to Gereja Ayam by the social media. The building also houses young couples in search of privacy, looking to get away from prying eyes


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The urban ruins of Cairo, Illinois

The town of Cairo, Illinois was established in 1836 in the heart of "Little Egypt". That's where the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers converge, in an area with the lowest elevation of any location within Illinois. In 1855, Cairo became the terminus of Illinois Central Railroad and the town flourished as trade with Chicago spurred development. By 1860, the population exceeded 2,000.

During the American Civil War, Cairo became a strategically important supply base and training center for the Union army, even though much of the city's trade was diverted to Chicago. However, due to Cairo's strategic location, the town flourished after the War. It became a center for banking and an important steamboat port, with so much river traffic that the city had been designated as a port of delivery by act of Congress in 1854. Moreover, Cairo became a hub for railroad shipping in the region. Wealthy merchants and shippers were attracted to Cairo, building numerous fine mansions in the 19th and early 20th century.

The peak of Cairo's population came in the 1920's, surpassing 15,000 people. Ferry traffic had already started declining as the railroad was now able to cross the river after new bridges were constructed. Cairo was no longer an important hub. 

With river traffic and rail traffic drastically reduced, much of Cairo's shipping, railroad, and ferry industries left the city and employment prospects were gone with it. Racial tension was strained by the late 1960s as the United States was in the middle of the civil rights struggle. Racial violence, protests, and riots between police and Cairo's black community intensified the city's decline. In 1978, with the opening of a new Interstate 57 bridge across the Mississippi River Cairo was bypassed and the town was now crippled. Restaurant and hotel businesses, and even Cairo's hospital closed.  

By 2010, Cairo had only 2,831 people. Poverty, crime and unemployment still remain a challenge for the town. In the recent years there have been attempts to restore some of Cairo's abandoned buildings to develop heritage tourism focusing on its history and relationship to the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.






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