Silent Hill: the real ghost town

The Silent Hill from the homonymous and renowned videogame franchise of psychological survival horrors, is described as an holiday resort on the Toluca Lake, divided into various areas, amongst which stand the residential district and the old part of the town. Built on an ancient Indian cemetery, the town had a troubled past that led it to be populated and abandoned many times, and then to become the place where a sect practised human sacrifices and necromancy. In the game, Silent Hill is constantly shrouded in thick fog, with rain, snow, and ashes coming down all year long. At the sound of air raid siren, the town turns into the “Otherworld”, a distorted parallel dimension where everything takes the aspect it would have after a terrible fire: everything burned, blood everywhere, and bodies hanging from the wall. A purgatory to cross and where one must face their inner demons or die. 

In 2006, a film based on the videogame was made, directed by Christopher Gans, in which the plot follows loosely the first and third episode of the series. In the film, Silent Hill is a West Virginia Ghost Town abandoned in 1974 due to a devastating fire. But in this case, the script does take inspiration from a real story… 

The nightmarish has, in fact, really existed. Its name isn’t Silent Hill, but Centralia, and it stands in Pennsylvania. The city rose in the first years of the XIX century over a deposit of anthracite, a 95% pure coal, that was extracted in huge quantities until the end of the century. During its golden age, Centralia was home to over 2.000 inhabitants, but in May 1962 a fatal accident scarred forever their fate…the coal-vein suddenly caught fire, blazing everywhere underground, and any attempt to put it out proved useless.
“This was a world where no human could live, hotter than the planet Mercury, its atmosphere as poisonous as Saturn’s. At the heart of the fire, temperatures easily exceeded 1,000 degrees. Lethal clouds of carbon monoxide and other gases swirled through the rock chambers.” – David DeKok (1986) 

The real causes of the fire are yet unknown. Apparently, it started from the introduction of burning wastes into a disused deposit. What’s certain is that the consequences were disastrous. Clouds of ashes and smoke covered the city, the trees died, the asphalt melt and everywhere formed cracks and chasms. In the following twenty years the population was progressively evacuated. In 1979 a thermometer inserted into the ground to check the petrol level of a malfunctioning station, and much to everyone’s surprise it showed 77.8°C. In 1981 a twelve-years-old fell in a 46 metres chasm that suddenly opened under his feet; luckily, thanks to his brother’s help, he survived. 

Today, Centralia is a ghost town were only about ten people live. Many buildings were pulled down and dangerous carbon monoxide flows out from some of the cracks in the road. The fire underneath Centralia is still active and it is estimated it will be for hundreds of year. Its tragic fate turned it into a gloomy and sadly instructive touristic attraction.

Translation by Marco Salvadori
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The legendary splendor of Babylon

In a time long past, the city of Babylon enchanted all those who had the luck to see it. Its name echoed even in faraway lands and its splendour had become a legend, a myth to spread and pass on.
The story of Babylon, also known as Babel, which in Akkadian means “Door of God”, began in the III millennium B.C. and wasn’t but a small village until 2350 B.C. It then began to rapidly grow in size and importance until, from 1700 B.C. on, it became the capital of the Kingdom of Mesopotamia for 10 dynasties. The sixth king of Babylon was Hammurabi, who wrote one of history’s most ancient law codes, the Code of Hammurabi, today kept in the Louvre museum of Paris. The most well-known king was the second of the last dynasty, Nabucodonosor II, the one who destroyed the temple of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. and deported its population. Most of the city remains that lasted to this day come from the time of his reign. The city was conquered by Cyrus II of Persia in 539 B.C., who turned into a Persian province, and in 331 B.C it was annexed to the empire of Alexander the Great, who was stunned by its beauty.
The city was most known for its ziggurat, a tower-like construction made from piled up truncated pyramids, representing man’s will to get closer and closer to the sky. It was most probably this ziggurat that inspired the myth of the Tower of Babel, told in the Genesis book of the Bible. The city was also known for the Ishtar Gate (today rebuilt in the Pergamon Museum of Berlin) and the processional road beyond, for the pyramids, and for the splendid Hanging Gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  
Babylon, repeatedly cited in the Bible as a metaphor for evil in contrast with the heavenly Jerusalem, was one of the most populated cites of the world and the first historical metropolis to surpass 200.000 inhabitants. Its end was foretold by the prophet Isaiah, but it effectively took place only two centuries after that, in 539 BC.
Today the ruins of Babylon lay in the town of Al Hillah, in Iraq, about 80 kilometres south of Baghdad. Not much is left of its ancient and legendary splendour, but various interesting remains have survived, like the palaces of king Nabucodonosor II, the Procession Street, the Lion of Babylon, the renowed Ishtar Gate, the Temple of Nin Makh and Nabushcari and the amphitheatre. Part of these are kept in museums world-wide. The whole archaeological zone covers a 30 square kilometres area, and the first excavations were conducted by Claudius James Rich in 1811. Unfortunately, during the American invasion if Iraq which began in 2003, the USA forces occupied the site for some time causing irreparable damage to that precious historical heritage…
Babylon's ruins

(Translation by Marco Salvadori
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Oradour Sur Glane

In this southern France village, in the region of Limousin, took place an horrible Nazi massacre, carried out by an SS regiment the 10th of June, 1944. It is yet unknown whether it was for retaliation or to search for something or someone, but that morning an armoured SS regiment detached from the convoy headed to Normandy to fight the Allied troops, and entered Oradour, a village with 800 inhabitants that could in no way represent a military objective.
That morning of 66 years ago, the Nazi troops raided the village, rounded up the population in a park of the town’s plaza and went on to search every house and building, destroying everything.

Be it partisans, refugees, fugitives or hidden weaponry, the soldiers didn’t find what they were looking for. All men were separated from the women and children and brought inside the near barns, where some machine guns had been placed. These were used to shoot the harmless men in the legs, so as not to kill them but to leave them unable to run away. The barns were then burned down, with the wounded still inside.
After this massacre, the SS transferred the women and children inside the town church, and placed the machine guns at the entrance. They then threw a firebomb inside the church, causing more victims, and then gunned down the survivors who tried to escape.
A total of 642 of Oradour’s villagers lost their lives that day: 197 men, 240 women and 205 children. The houses were later burned down and the whole village was destroyed.
About twenty people who had escaped when the Nazis arrived survived and witnessed the atrocities that were carried out that day at Oradour sur Glane. After the war, De Gaulle decided that the village was not to be rebuilt, as testimony of French sufferance under Nazi occupation.
And so, Oradour remained a ghost town. A place worth visiting, for it urges a reflection on the senselessness of human wickedness.

(Translation by Marco Salvadori

Ghost towns from Italy: Roscigno Vecchia

Many Italian ghost town are in Southern Italy, where a hostile nature and a lacking territory maintenance often cause disastrous rockslides, landslides, floods and earthquakes. One of areas most affected is the Salerno province, where the beautiful ghost village of Roscigno Vecchia is. 

Roscigno rises in the Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park, an UNESCO natural reserve. Thanks to its isolated position beyond the Alburni mountains, the town remained hidden for a long time to tourists and travellers, and thus kept its original urban structure.
Roscigno’s origins date back to the IV century b.C., but only in 1500 did it became an autonomous municipality, taking its name from the local dialectal word "Ruśignuòlo", meaning nightingale. Built on an unstable ground, however, Roscigno was often subject to landslides which, as time went by and buildings kept collapsing, forced the population to abandon the village. Not everyone left, though, and some remained there for the rest of their lives, like miss Dorina, who stayed in her house until the year 2000 when she passed away, last of Roscigno’s residents.
Roscigno is an out-and-out open-sky museum. Taking a walk through the village is like leaping in the past to discover the culture and the soul of seemingly lost rural community. Even today Roscigno’s streets are walked by flocks of sheep, horses, and farmers going to work in the fields, while the population kept a strong bond with its abandoned village, giving it a new life of some sort.
In 1997, the local “Pro Loco” (associations of volunteers seeking to promote the culture, the history and the activities of a particular place) created a museum to maintain the village’s history: it’s the “Museo della civiltà Contadina” (roughly “Rural Culture Museum”), where the relics and photographs of the past farmer community were collected.
We hope that Roscigno, together with the other ghost towns we’ve visited, will manage to keep existing as a model of ancient rural towns and that it will be known as such in all of its splendour.
Here is a passage from the documentary “Roscigno Vecchia e il Cilento dimenticato” (“Roscigno Vecchia and the forgotten Cilento”).

Ghost towns from Italy: Craco

Placed on the summit of a hill overlooking the Cavone valley, in the region of Basilicata, Craco looks like a small-scale copy of the nearby Matera.
The ancient settlement, which reached a population of 2000, formed on the highest peak of this almost 7 million years old clayey valley. The settlement known as “Graculum”, which in Latin means “small ploughed field”, is documented for the first time in 1060 a.D., but the structure of the village actually dates to a period between 1154 and 1168. Thanks to its position, Craco became a strategically important military centre during the reign of Federico II.
During the XV century the city expanded around the four main palaces: the Maronna Palace with its monumental entrance, the Grossi Palace, with its beautiful vault and floreal pattern, the Carbone Palace, with its XV century monumental entrance, and the Simonetti Palace, with its peculiar medallions. 
In 1799 Craco joined Innocenzo De Cesare’s republican ideals, a movement of the rural middle class which sought to break the ties with the feudal lords, and then fell into silence, until a last, tragic event in 1963…
A large landslide destroyed part of the town, forcing the villagers to progressively leave their homes. The 1972 flood gave another hard blow, and the town slid some more along with the containment walls that were supposed to hold it up. Not everyone was willing to leave the town behind, and some remained there until the day they died.
Today, Craco isn’t sliding anymore and is constantly monitored. Its almost supernatural charms recalls its past glory, its ephemeral beauty seems almost an illusion
Nature is slowly overtaking the town, a town still hiding mysteries and stories about ghosts claiming back their homes in the darkest nights. Some claim they heard harrowing screams and footsteps sounds, or saw dim lights behind the desolating void of an empty window.
Craco’s word-wide fame led it to a fate that it probably would never have imagined, that of a much sought cinema set. Many films were shot here, like Christ stopped at Eboli, King David, Terra Bruciata, Quantum of Solace, and even The Passion, where it was used as the background of Judas’s hanging.
At times Craco is visited by some tourists, attracted by its charm and by the mystery of abandon… unfortunately, though, the place’s politics are aimed towards its economic exploitation and not towards its artistic and cultural promotion, so tourists are charged to enter the village, and are imposed a fine if they don’t pay. This policy of pure economic exploitation stopped us from creating a Ghost Town episode about this beautiful, solitary and silent village…
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(Translation by Marco Salvadori)

Ghost towns from Italy: Galeria Antica

Galeria Antica stands in the countryside north of Rome, just 8 km away from the Braccianese Way. A ghost town buried by vegetation like the ancient Maya ruins, an incredible maze of castle vestiges, Etruscan houses, tombs and places of worship.
Its origins get lost in the mist of time…probably founded under Etruscan domination with the name of Careia, it was a town of little importance guarding the southern borders of Etruscan territory. Later it was colonised by the Romans, as attested by some pointed arches and by some constructions built with the “opus incertum” technique. Galeria then fell during the Germanic invasions, and was populated again only during the Middle Ages. After being seized and destroyed by the Saracens, it was rebuilt and extended, and from 1276 it belonged to the Orsini family. After passing through many owners, it ended in the hands of the Sanseverino family, with whom the town suffered a slow decline until a terrible malaria epidemic decimated its population. In 1809, Galeria Antica was left abandoned.
Malaria was not rare at the time, as the place was subject to the frequent floods from the Arrone creek. What remains a mystery is the reason behind an abandonment so sudden that the people left behind not only tools and furnishings, but even the bodies of their dead, who were buried only half a century later…
After it was left deserted, Galeria became shelter for the shepherds and booty for the bandits, and today its only inhabitants are lizards, birds and vipers living in a twine of brambles and climbing plants. Amongst its ruins are still visible the St. Andrew’s Church’s bell tower, a still intact fortified bastion, the ancient main gate to the dead city, the guard tower still showing faded traces of its clock, and the vestiges of the castle, with its extraordinary system of gates and walls. In its square are still found the ghostly remains of the oven of the governor’s house and of a church. At the town’s secondary gate, the beautiful Roman access arch made of red bricks is still standing. But it is underneath that the ghost town hides its secret, a crypt with its labyrinth of tunnels that still are, and maybe will forever be, unexplored…
An old legend tells of a ghost minstrel named “Senz’affanni” (which means roughly “No worries”), who died around 300 years ago and who returns every year in Galeria, singing and playing for his beloved woman while riding a white horse. Many affirm they heard hoofs and moans, especially in winter. Those who do not believe in the story of the ghost say these sounds are made by the rushing Arrone creek.
Galeria Antica was declared a Natural Monument in 1999, but unfortunately it still remains prey to vandalisms and to unknown sects that use it at night for their ceremonies, attracted by the mysterious aura of a place oozing with death…

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(Translation by Marco Salvadori

Troy Paiva's night visions

Troy Paiva is a talented American contemporary artist who has been exploring since 1970 his homeland, particularly California, walking abandoned and forgotten places. In 1989 he started taking photographs of these places, drawing the outline of a hidden and often inaccessible America. His shots are taken with an unique light and exposure that transform every abandoned building or object into something different from both what it was and what it has become. Fascinated by moonlit nights, Paiva manages to immortalise time and silence, to create suggestive images that look as if they belonged to a parallel universe, decadent and enigmatic. Using very long exposure times, up to 8 minutes, a strobe flash and light filters, he manages to create those particular light effects which transform objects and shadows.
These incredible pictures portray car shells, ruined buildings, ghost towns, gas stations, abandoned planes, old trains, motels, disused military bases, ghost ships and anything that was forgotten by man, which thanks to his creations enter a new dimension of space-time thanks to his creations. At the centre of his works is the effect of human activities on the environment, often with devastating consequences. Ecological denunciation is the fundamental theme of his art, exposing the problem of disposal of waste like aeroplanes, cars and ships. In fact, batteries, plastics, oil and various chemical substances disperse in the environment, damaging local flora and fauna. Even gas station are an often underestimated source of pollution. Beneath each station are held 20.000 litres tanks, and any leak can pollute wide underground areas, and eventually even the groundwater. 

Paiva’s night photography was published in two monographs: “Lost America” (2003) and “Night Vision” (2008). These books contain all of the artist’s urban exploration and the eerie, mysterious atmosphere he manages to extract from the ruins of the modern world and the nightmares of industrial expansion. “Our society”, says the photographer, “seems to be living in something of a ‘golden age’ of abandon, everything is renewed too easily, at times for no reason, within the time of a few years things become obsolete and so we can’t but get rid of them, scattering every kind of ruins around the world.”

You can find more of Troy Paiva’s beautiful pictures at his website:

Other links:

Experiments on a city without humans

A city of the future with the most advanced technologies, new and with every comfort, but completely without humans…it’s not the plot of a science fiction movie, but an unbelievable reality.

This high-tech ghost town should soon rise in New Mexico, somewhere between Albuquerque and Las Cruces. This project is provided with a 200 millions dollars budget and plans the construction of 20 square miles city with streets, freeways, a business district, lighting, water, gas, and residential areas with buildings and houses able to accommodate 35.000 people. This avant-garde city will hold the sinister name of The Center, and will be an immense laboratory provided by the owners (the Pegasus Global Holdings) to companies and institutions planning on experimenting new technologies on the field, where human behaviour will be computer-generated. After all, New Mexico is no newcomer to large scale experiments. It is not far from the city of Alamogordo, in the Jornada del Muerto desert, that in July 16th 1945 the first atomic bomb was detonated, and many other nuclear tests took place.
The Center will be a complex and expensive project, and what kind of tests will be performed there is yet unknown, but its business surely comprises the ambition of tourism. Indeed, the construction of a urban area was also planned at the borders of the robotic city, with a reception centre for those who’d like to try the unreal sensation of walking in a hypertechnological but deserted city. An experience much like that of Tom Cruise in a scene of the film “Vanilla Sky” where he finds himself in a eerily empty Time Square… 

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(Translation by Marco Salvadori

Sanzhi: the mysterious UFO village

Sanzhi is a small village built on the coast of Taiwan between the late 70s and early 80s. These mysterious houses gave origin to a series of legends on aliens and paranormal phenomena even claiming the village to be cursed. They call them “UFO houses”, and the several photographs taken of the place clearly show the reason…

At first impact, the village looks like an alien town out of a science fiction film, but actually it is an abandoned town, or rather, a town that maybe never was occupied. These incredible twenty-some three-family buildings with private gardens and communal swimming pools are the work of the visionary Yu Zi, who worked under Taiwan government’s commission in its intent to promote and exploit the area as a seaside resort. The UFO houses derive from a trend born in the late 60s from movies like Mika Taanila’s “A new stance for tomorrow” and from such publications like “Tomorrow’s house from yesterday” tracing a “Retro-futurism”, an imaginary future in a past that never existed. The energetic crisis in the late 80s, however, didn’t allow the completion of the buildings, which were then bought by a local beer company with the intention of transforming the village in a five stars touristic resort, going for an even more minimalistic look: white houses, with bright interiors and a “The clockwork orange”-inspired design. But in the same year the company decided to halt the construction: some sources say that a lot of strange incidents took place during the works, and that these stories scared the people to the point of them advising the tourists against going to the area, convinced that in the UFO houses dwelled the spirits of those who died there. Apparently there was something sinister about the project, a curse of some sort that didn’t let anyone who took it up finish the work. 

The incomplete buildings of the UFO houses suffered a progressive structural decay over time, and the vegetation overtook every building. Inside it’s still possible to find furniture, beds, sofas, furnishings and fittings of any kind, making the place look like it was once inhabited. This is because, in Taiwan, when a residence is set for sale, one or more flats are furnished to demonstrate how the rooms can be set up. On sunny days, the alien village, with its various and vivid colours, looks like an abandoned recreation ground. But when the sky is dark, the landscapes takes surreal tones and the atmosphere becomes ominous: it’s like travelling through time to the ruins of the future.

Unfortunately, it looks like these mysterious buildings, destination for photographs and curious from all around the world, have now been demolished… as always, we create anything but get back nothing.
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(Translation by Marco Salvadori)

Lost jurneys: Rubjerg Knude, The Sands Lighthouse

Rubjerg Knude is an unusual and unknown destination, but surely it doesn’t lack of fascination and mystery. Even if from the pictures it can seem a mirage in the desert, or the creation of some artist’s fantasy, this abandoned place exists for real. 

The Rubjerd Knude in fact is situated on the coast of the North Sea, in Jutland, Denmark.
Its construction began in 1899 and it’s been lit for the first time the December 27 of 1900. The lighthouse, which stands 60 meters on the sea level, on a cliff in the city of Lønstrup, has operated with gas until 1908. The shifting sands and the strong coastal erosion, caused its closedown the August 1st of 1968. The coast, in fact, is eroded on the average of 1,5 meters every year, and the dunes shift of 9 meters per year.
From the day of its shutdown, the lighthouse and the surrounding buildings have been used for some time as a museum and a cafeteria, but the continuous movement of the sands, and the disastrous effect of erosion, caused the final abandonment in 2002. Today, the surrounding buildings, damaged by the continuous pressure of the sand, have been removed, while the lighthouse still resists to the strength of the wind, although it’s estimated that soon it will be completely submerged by the sand.

A magical and enchanting place, where you can stop perceiving the time, which here is defined only by the perpetual movement of the sands modelled by the wind. The Sands Lighthouse, which by now has it’s days numbered before being completely submerged, it’s a destination of undoubted charm for who is going to discover the beautiful Danish territory, and it’s easily accessible. In this site, you can find some handful informations: Rubjerg Knude kultur-og Naturhistorie.

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(Translation by Alessandro Zanchi

Ghost Town series: our documentaries

GHOST TOWN SERIES - Showreel - HD from PGMVideo Srl on Vimeo.

is a series of documentaries about abandoned villages in Italy and all over the world.

"The idea of making a documentary about ghost towns first came to me during a journey in United States, touring some impressive ghost towns like Bodie (California). The discovery of places in which human existence is now impressed only in the walls of memory, often experienced only through film, literary or pictorial fiction, led me to think about the frailty of what is created by man, which is sometimes destroyed and forgotten. The fascination of these abandoned sites led me to finding out numerous Italian ghost towns and their tragic stories of death and abandon. The forced separation between man and his home is a sad circumstance, lived with suffering. Man leaves, but what was built often remains to remind us of what had been. Ghost towns aren’t just mysteriously fascinating decaying ruins, but also places of recollection that must be narrated and remembered."
Chiara Salvadori, director

Ghost Town is an expression calling to mind post-apocalyptic sceneries after nuclear catastrophes, abandoned Far West mining towns, or empty, haunted, mysterious villages, shrouded in legends feeding imagination and renewing their memory. Ghost towns are places abandoned by man due to natural events, wars, ecological disasters, lack of resources, epidemics or fires, and now left, for years or even centuries, at the mercy of time, slowly erasing their existence… This which we’ll undertake will be a lonely journey through Italy’s most fascinating ghost towns, while keeping an eye on the many ones all over the world. We’ll cover their history, the causes of their abandon, their legends and curiosities; we’ll talk about this phenomenon which, according to the estimations, is destined to a worrying increase; and most importantly we’ll discover places, often unknown to man, hidden and forgotten, which are going to enchant and intrigue us for their beauty consumed by time and the mysterious stories they can tell us…

Number of episodes currently produced:
1. BALESTRINO - The ancient charm of an abandoned village. Liguria.
2. CASTELNUOVO DEI SABBIONI - The town of the Memory. Tuscany.
3. PENTEDATTILO - The devil’s hand. Calabria.
4. POGGIOREALE - The New Pompei. Sicily.
5. ROSCIGNO VECCHIA and the abandoned Cilento. Campania.

The episodes can be increased to 20 or more on ghost towns throughout the Europe and the rest of the world, like Pripyat (Ukraine), Hashima (Japan), Bodie (USA), Kolmanskop (Namibia), Oradour Sur Glane (France), etc.

The series is copyrighted.

©2010 Pgm Video Srl.

Pripyat: the ghost town and the Chernobyl disaster

<<There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable.>>
  (Albert Einstein)
In these days of apprehension for the risk of a disaster at Fukushima nuclear plant, in Japan, the theme of nuclear energy, whether or not such a dangerous source of energy should still be used, is again a central theme throughout the world. Apparently we can’t seem to learn from our past errors, even if all of us know the story of that place which, in 1986, experienced one of human history’s most sever disasters…we barely remember its name, since most know it simply as Chernobyl, but around that infamous plant there used to be a big city, now nothing more than a ghost town: Pripyat.
Pripyat rose in Ukraine, close to Byelorussia’s northern borders, about 110 km away from the capital of Kiev. The city’s construction began in 1970 to house the nuclear plant workers and their families. In the following years, many other people settled there and the population quickly rose to some 47.000 inhabitants. Pripyat was a modern and functional city, with two hospitals, a shopping centre, two hotels, many bars, restaurants, cinemas, theatres and a multipurpose centre which housed an indoor swimming pool that remained surprisingly operational up to the year 2000.
April 26th 1986 was the beginning of the end for Pripyat…

At 1:23:45, during a “security” test, paradoxically all the security rules were violated, causing the fourth reactor to an uncontrolled power rise. In the reactor’s core the water used for cooling split into hydrogen and oxygen at such pressure to break the cooling rods. The contact between hydrogen and white-hot graphite with air caused an explosion powerful enough to uncover the reactor. What followed was catastrophe: a cloud of radioactive materials escaped the reactor and fell on a large area around the power plant, seriously contaminating it. Radioactive clouds reached Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, and even Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the Balkans, and part of the East Coast or North America. Pripyat was evacuated only 36 hours later: 45.000 people were forcibly carried away, and in the following days 130.000 more had to leave their homes in a 30 km radius. No one really understood what was going on.
On the night the reactor exploded, tens of people even remained to watch the shining light above it. Death, at times, can be spectacular…
The Chernobyl incident was classified at level 7, the highest in the INES scale, and released a radioactivity a hundred times stronger than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombs in 1945. The official report draws a toll of 65 verified deaths, plus 4.000 supposed ones for tumours and leukaemia within the space of 80 years. However, this balance was often contested. Greenpeace estimates 6.000.000 world-wide deaths over a period of 70 years! The radiations will remain in the area for about 48.000 years, and man will be able to live there again only in about 600 years. The truth is, the consequences of this disaster will never be ascertained, and the exact number of those who risk developing serious medical conditions won’t be known until 2016, if not later. What’s sure is that the concrete sarcophagus built to contain the core will not last and its deterioration is now clear.

Pripyat is today the world’s spookiest ghost town. The houses and the streets are still full of furniture, cars, photographs, appliances, toys, personal objects all left by inhabitants who were told they’d be back in three weeks but instead never saw their homes again. In spite of the prohibitions, there are still about four hundred people who returned to live there, eating food from the land and drinking from the highly polluted rivers. The military vehicles used for the rescues lie since 1986 in a large dumping ground due to the high radioactivity level. Special permissions are needed to access the area, and before exiting visitors are required to be checked and eventually to take a shower against radiations. Many structures are not safe or show a concentration of radioactivity too high to be visited. If staying outdoors is relatively safe, entering any building can be extremely dangerous. The most radioactive place in town is the playground that was built for May Day, because, being exposed directly to the power plant, on that fateful day the wind brought the first radioactive particles there. The Ferris wheel, in particular, shows an extremely high concentration. All the trees of the forest that stood behind the playground died in a matter of a few days, and the place is now known as the “Red forest” due to the colour change it underwent due to the effect of the fallout. If Pripyat became a hell for men, both flora and fauna proliferated immensely, to the point of being studied to elaborate hypothesis on how Earth would be without mankind. 
Pripyat is the symbol of the devastation nuclear energy can cause, but also an example of a new form of extreme tourism: Forbes considered it the most exotic place to spend a holiday…indeed, notwithstanding the risks, Pripyat can be visited for a day through guided tours organised by the city website. There is no staying for long, though, due to the danger of contamination.
The Chernobyl disaster shows the dark side of modern life, how catastrophically can technology fail. Radioactive agents are odourless and colourless, but lethal; they are invisible and silent assassins that kill slowly and for generations to come…

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( Translation by Marco Salvadori )

Las Vegas: the lights switch off

It may seem impossible, but the city of sin and entertainment, is now losing all its majesty. Today, in fact, Las Vegas is facing the worst economic crisis in its history and the neon city’s splendour is slowly fading, like it lit up in the past

Founded on May 15, 1905 as a railway village, Las Vegas became an actual city on March 16, 1911, when it adopted its first charter of public law. The name comes from a Spanish word that means The Meadows”, because in the area, located in the boundless Nevada desert, there were a water wells that enabled the formation of some green areas. The construction of Hoover Dam, completed in 1936, enabled the city to develop and expand . After the legalisation of gambling, in March 19, 1931, Las Vegas called back the famous gangster Bugsy Siegel who, in 1946, opened the popular first hotel casino: the Flamingo. To money brought by tourists and gamblers then added that brought by the military who who worked at the nearby Nellis Air Force Base, in which, during the years of the Cold War, many nuclear tests were executed. Its growth was exponential exponential, and in what is now known as the “Strip”, dozens of hotels and casinos that consecrated Las Vegas as the gambling place par excellence were built. The economic and construction boom has been rapidly expanding for many years, and the building of hotels and casinos was growing. With the economic crisis that began in 2008, Las Vegas has also incurred a severe blow

According to The Economist, the economic foundations of the city appear to have been irreversibly compromised and so Las Vegas has surpassed Detroit as themost abandoned city of America. The unemployment rate has reached 15%, with more than 30,000 people having lost their jobs in the casinos and hotels. Also in 2010 one tenth of the houses in the city was distrained, five times the national average. In the north districts this reaches one house out of five. House prices have fallen by 60%, and 70% of people who had bought home was left with a loan much higher than the value of the property. The result of this deep crisis is that entire districts are now deserted, with no lighting and no cars, while “On sale” signs are increasing in front of houses, and homeless people dwell in the abandoned buildings. Even the large hotels have not been spared and, although recently new ones like the huge new complex “Aria” were created, others were abandoned and demolished like the historic “Hotel Sahara”, which was inaugurated in 1952 and hosted stars such as Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, John Wayne and the Beatles, as well as being a famous set for films. In addition, large spaces that were to be used for new casinos were unbelievably left empty.
In short, Las Vegas, the city of perdition and excess, could become a scenic ghost town in the future

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(Translation by Marco Salvadori )

Gunkanjima: the ghost island

Hashima, one of Nagasaki prefecture’s 505 deserted island, in Japan, is a creepy and charming place, destination of an usual kind of adventurous and alternative turism.

The island is also known as Gunkanjima, which means “battleship”, due to the appearance of its profile on the Ocean: a grey and decadent island surrounded by a concrete wall, with buildings on the brink of collapse outlining the shape of large warship. This mysterious island was built on an important coal mine (owned by Mitsubishi) which, between 1887 and 1974, contributed heavily to Nagasaki’s energy production. It was such an important mining centre that there were built apartments for the miners, and schools, hospitals, gyms, cinemas, bars, restaurants and shops for their families. Japan’s first buildings in reinforced concrete were built there, as defence against the frequent typhoons hitting the area. In 1959 the island came to be the place with the highest population density in the world, with 3.450 inhabitants per square kilometre. The apartments were like monks’ cells, narrow and suffocating, and the inhabitants were divided in “classes”: unmarried or married miners, and Mitsubishi managers and teachers, who could even have the luxury of a private kitchen and bathroom. Hashima’s survival depended entirely on the supplies from the mainland, so if a typhoon hit the island its inhabitants had to try and survive for days before the successive cargo ship.

In its period of fullest activity, the island produced 410.000 tons of coal every year, an intense rhythm kept at the expanse of human life. For this reason, mostly Corean and Chinese prisoners were employed in the mine. Many lost their lives due to starvation or bad hygienic conditions. Here’s an excerpt from the account of Suh Jung-Woo, a Corean who was forced to work on the island interviewed in 1983:
“Even with such a exhausting work, our meals consisted for the 80% of beans and 20% boiled rice with a few sardines. I suffered from diarrhoea almost every day, and gradually my forces abandoned me. I tried to rest, but the guards would come and force me to work…I don’t know how many times I thought about throwing myself into the sea to drown…Forty or fifty of my Corean companions committed suicide or drowned trying to swim to Takahama. I can’t swim. But I was lucky. After five months I was transferred to the Mitsubishi Saiwai-Machi factory in Nagasaki, and thus managed to leave the island. If I had remained there, I wouldn’t be alive now. Now they call the place “Battleship island”, but for us it was “Prison Island”, with no way to escape.”
Hashima Island was abandoned after petroleum started to substitute coal as source of energy. Since 1974, Gunkanjima is a ghost town
Even tough it was a place of suffering and death, Hashima now represents an important place in Japan’s post-war development’s history. The island is today a cemetery of buildings on the brink of collapse, but, maybe because of this ghostly charm, it’s a destination for urban exploration enthusiasts and film directors. It’s been the set for such movies like “Battle Royale II: Requiem” (2003) and “Inception” (2010), and for the music video “My Lonely Town” of Japanese rock band B’z. In 2009 it has also made an appearance in BBC’s documentary “Life after people”.
In 2005 a few journalist were permitted access to the island and then the world has come to know of the existence of this incredible place. Up to 2009 setting foot in this ghost town was punished with imprisonment but, in that year’s April, part of the island was opened for visitors, even if, due to sea conditions, it’s possible to reach it only for 160 days a year.
Those who’d like to take on this adventurous trip on the ghost island can take a look at this site, unfortunately only in Japanese: Gunkanjima website. For additional information in English, visit the site Gunkanjima mini-tour.

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( Translation by Marco Salvadori )

The ancient glory of Tenochtitlán

"We were amazed and said that it was like the enchantments told in the book of Amadis, on account of the great towers and cues and buildings rising from the water, and all built of masonry. And some of our soldiers even asked whether the things that we saw were not a dream?" (Bernal Diaz del Castillo)

The grand Tenochtitlán was founded in 1325 by the legendary king Tenoch on lake Texcoco, Mexico, and rapidly became the most important city of Central America. Built on a rocky island, Tenochtitlán spanned for some 10 square kilometres and was split in four districts, linked to dry land through bridges and embankments. The city provided both streets and canals, so that it could be reached both by feet and by canoe.  In the city centre stood a 30 metres tall pyramid, with a 100x80 base, and with two sanctuaries at its summit. Near the pyramid rose two monasteries, the god of wind Ehcatl’s sanctuary, a patio used for games of pelota, and the Tzompantli, a macabre place where the skulls of the sacrificed victims were exposed.

The palace of king Montezuma II stood outside the ceremonial centre, and was a luxurious two-floors building with gardens full of exotic plants, swans swimming in artificial lakes, and multicoloured birds singing in the cages. Tenochtitlán was also an important economic hub where more than 25.000 traders came to sell food, textiles, shoes, puma or jaguar skin, tobacco, wood, utensils and handicraft. There was no money, so everything was bartered, usually for cacao or broad beans.
Since the lagoon water could not be drank, Montezuma I had an important aqueduct built, 5 kilometres long from the springs of Chapultepec. Later, also a second, 8 kilometres long aqueduct was built. Since Tenochtitlán suffered from frequent floods, Montezuma I ordered in 1449 the construction of a 16 kilometres long dam, in order to contain the waters of lake Texcoco.
At its full splendour, Tenochtitlán’s population was estimated at 700.000 inhabitants, even though more cautious esteems lower the number to 550.000. In any case, it was the third largest city in the world, after Beijing (700.000) and Hangzhou (600.000).

When Hernán Cortés reached Tenochtitlán in November the 8th, 1519, he wrote in his diaries that never had he seen a bigger and more efficient city in the world: the streets all had pedestrian walks, no building had any smoke or dirt fouling, shining fairy-tale-like constructions with coloured walls and pensile gardens. The Spanish soldier Bernal Diaz described it as an “enchanted” vision of a magic city with “and cues and buildings rising from the water”. Tenochtitlán really was a perfect city.
Maybe this shocking fact, together with the lust for power and gold, drove the conquistadores, even though they were welcomed with honour and hospitality by king Montezuma, to conquer the city after a bloody battle. On August the 13th, 1521, the legendary Tenochtitlán was reduced to a pile of rubble and its population exterminated. What was left of the city was dismantled and destroyed. On the ruins of the beautiful metropolis, Mexico City was built.
During the seventies Tenochtitlán’s ruins were brought back to light and some of the most important structures, like the Great Pyramid, are now open for visitors. Today, the Zócalo, Mexico City’s most important plaza, stands on what was once Tenochtitlán’s ceremonial centre, but who knows what such a glorious metropolis of the ancient world could have become without the destructive and cruel impact of the Spanish conquerors. Unfortunately, we will never know…

The ruins of Tenochtitlán

 (Translation by Marco Salvadori)