We're so used to seeing hundreds of people in our day-to-day lives that the thought of an abandoned society is unspeakable. The thing is the people who inhabited these infamous oases once had that same thought. Around the world, communities that were brimming with luxurious homes, schools, and restaurants suddenly ceased to exist, drawing the curtain on once-flourishing societies. Where were they? And what happened to them? Whether you're on the ground exploring or on the couch daydreaming, discover the incredible stories of islands that exist solely as abandoned remains.
A company town in the truest sense of the word, Gunkanjima, or "Battleship" Island, was settled by over 5,000 inhabitants in its heyday. Filled with sought-after coal deposits, the Mitsubishi Corporation bought the island in 1890, then filled it to the brim with apartment complexes, shops, restaurants, and schools to accommodate the rapidly-growing mining population. However, those coal deposits didn't last forever, and once they ran out, the entire city — once the most densely populated place on earth — transformed from a bustling metropolis to an abandoned ghost town.
Nations were up in arms over Deception Island for years, seeking the rich resources it supplied fur trappers, hunters, whalers, research scientists, and explorers. At one point, Argentina, Chile, and the UK all had research bases located there. Little did these adventurers know, but something was brimming under the surface — an active volcano that erupted not once but twice! In 1967 and 1969, the volcano destroyed everything in their vicinity, including all existing bases, equipment, and supplies. It remains uninhabitable to this day.
It might just be crumbling remains now, but Suakin Island was once the Sudanese center of wealth and prosperity, leading empires to success for over 3,000 years. Developed by Ramses III in the 10th century BCE, this vital trading port was filled with luxurious buildings, homes, trading posts, and temples constructed with coral. Many contained mesmerizing carvings and fine art, and the entire community was gated. The height of medieval luxury, Suakin Island started slowing down drastically as the slave trade diminished. By the 1920s, it was falling into disrepair, with the beautiful coral buildings disintegrating bit by bit. Only ruins remain today, but visitors can explore what was once the trading capital of a flourishing empire.
The macabre backstory is enough to keep us away, but Poveglia Island is completely off-limits either way. Located between Venice and Lido, the island has been used as a dumping ground for the unwanted and the diseased for hundreds of years. Originally settled in 421, it became a quarantine colony in 1348, with tens of thousands of symptom-bearing citizens exiled there to die. In the late 1800s, a mental asylum was installed on the island, with doctors performing strange, torturous, and deadly experiments on patients. The island was officially closed in 1975, with the remaining facilities entirely abandoned. Today, it's recognized as one of the most haunted places on the planet, with 50% of the soil containing human ash.
Regarded as the "Paris of the East," Ross Island was used by British officers as a penal colony and jail. Brimming with elegant properties, restaurants, pools, clubs, and gardens, the island became an extravagant, over-the-top home, with British residents sparing no expense in its design. In 1941, however, luxury living came to an end when an earthquake devastated the island and destroyed many of these structures. That same year, the Japanese invaded and claimed the land. Ross Island was abandoned in 1979, with only the ruined remains in place for visitors to explore.
This isolated archipelago was once home to a tiny yet flourishing community of locals. While humans have called the three islands of St. Kilda home for thousands of years, its population peaked at 112 in 1851 and began to wane through the decades. In 1930, it was just 26 people, all of whom were evacuated that same year due to crop failure, malnutrition, disease, and the impact of World War I. These inhabitants never looked back, and these islands remain abandoned except for restored homes, huts, and a bar welcoming visitors.
Originally settled by British explorers in the 1750s and resettled by merchant Peter McNab in the 1780s, McNab's Island remained the namesake home of his descendants until 1934. Since there were no other inhabitants to keep daily life moving, existing structures fell into disrepair and destruction, despite the spot's vital role in protecting Halifax Harbor through the centuries. Once home to a top-secret Prohibition-era distillery that serviced thirsty travelers and military men, mighty forts, gardens, and a lighthouse, everything remains abandoned and open for adventuring.
The island may be deserted, but dark history is alive and well on Spinalonga, near Crete. While the island was settled and ruled by Venetians from the 16th century onward, it became best known as a 20th-century leper colony that lasted from 1903 to 1957. Under-staffed and under cared for, the island did anything but thrive, and it was shut down entirely in 1957 — one of the last remaining leper colonies on earth with a population of up to 400 inhabitants.
Once a paradise for rowdy travelers, Brentford Ait was home to the infamous Three Swans Pub in its heyday, drawing crowds of questionable customers who couldn't wait to experience the most indecent behavior in public. Notorious for its wild gatherings and dusk-till-dawn parties, the rowdy institution was finally bought by an annoyed neighbor and closed down in 1812, leaving it uninhabited with zero remaining buildings. Now that's a level of pettiness we can only dream of.
Disney opened Discovery Island in 1974 as a bird sanctuary, adding a selection of exotic animals for its take on the traditional menagerie. Guests could explore the flamingo pool or relax at the beach, and they had to take a resort boat or cruise just to access it. A flourishing tourist attraction for over two decades, the island safely relocated the animals before closing in 1999 due to deadly bacteria and free-roaming 'gators. Today, it remains abandoned, with tourists forbidden all access.