Ghost Town in Paradise

Varosha in Northern Cyprus was once the most popular tourist spot in Cyprus. It had, and still has, all the makings of a Mediterranean paradise. Blue waters, soft beaches, warm sunshine. And for the past four decades, it’s had the added bonus of no crowds. Because it’s a ghost town. There’s no one there at all. No one but a few Turkish guards.

In 1974, a Greek-backed coup in Cyprus triggered a response from Turkey. The response was an invasion of the island from the North. As Turkish forces advanced down toward Varosha, the local residents feared a mass slaughter. So they fled the city, fully expecting to return to their homes when tensions simmered down. Instead, the Turkish forces threw up a fence around Varosha and stood guard, with orders to shoot anyone who tried to enter the area. Tensions eventually did simmer, but the fence and the guards remained. And that’s pretty much how things have been for decades. No one has been allowed to live there since.

Exiled residents tell stories about the haste with which they left their hometown. How they left pots on the stove and pans in the oven. Mementos were left in boxes, tucked away in attics or basements or wherever else, presumably still there somewhere, untouched. Lightbulbs were left on, and stayed on for years until finally they just burned out. It’s like the whole city has been weirdly petrified. Except it continues its slow decay. This New York Times article and this BBC article both describe the eerie, frozen-in-time quality of Varosha now. The mannequins wearing bell-bottoms in shop windows, the toys left scattered in hallways, the clothes still hanging in closets. There’s a car dealership stocked with 1974 model cars — a whole fleet of unused cars just sitting around gathering dust.

The taking of photographs of Varosha isn’t technically allowed, not even from outside the fence, so pictures are rare. But this website has some interesting ones. And here are a couple of shots of the empty beachfront buildings on the empty beaches.

*photograph by Ballantyne 108

*photograph by Ballantyne 108

*photograph by Julienbzh35

*photograph by Julienbzh35

Personally, I like the idea of vacationing in a ghost town. Strolling down deserted streets, investigating vacant buildings, watching nature reassert itself. A sort of post-Rapture tourism. And apart from having to duck the guards and dodge their bullets, it seems like it’d be a fine time. Quiet. Solitary. Good for contemplation. But if company is your thing — more company than that of a guard who’s threatening to kill you — there’s a fancy five-star hotel just beside the fenced-off area. You can sunbathe and make chitchat and enjoy a beer and not get shot at, but still gawk at this vacated paradise.

Here’s a google map of just how close the luxury Arkin Palm Beach Hotel is to the crumbling ghost town of Varosha. The dotted red line marks the perimeter of the no-go zone. It’s like 100m away.

palm beach hotel

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