Image Gallery: City Skylines

Beichuan, China following the May 2008 earthquake.
Chien-min Chung/Getty Images
A view of Beichuan, China, in May 2008, following an earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people. The city may be rebuilt elsewhere, leaving the original version abandoned. See pictures of beautiful city skylines.

In Ma­y 2008, officials in the Ch­ines­e provi­nce of Sichuan annou­nced that the city of Beichuan may be moved to a neighboring county, leaving the old city abandoned [source: NPR]. Beichuan was one of the areas hardest hit by an earthquake earlier that same month, which killed more than 50,000 people. The quake destroyed most of the buildings in the city, and those left standing were deemed unsafe for human habitation.

If abandoned, Beichuan will become a ghost town. This term evokes images of tumbleweeds blowing through dust-choked streets in the western United States, rickety wooden buildings the only remnants of a boomtown built around gold or silver that eventually ran out. But Beichuan is a modern place -- and it could soon be a modern abandoned city. It’s hardly alone.

There are modern abandoned cities around the world, and each seems to have an equally interesting story behind it. Some, like Beichuan, were abandoned following a disaster. Others, like San Zhi in Taiwan, were left derelict for more esoteric reasons. And in some cities, such as Detroit, certain districts have been forsaken.

The stillness that surrounds these towns seems almost palpable -- and it's strange to think that neighboring cities are still full of bustl­ing people. Perhaps it’s our ability to relate to the people who lived here that make modern ghost towns so haunting.

Whatever our attraction to abandoned cities may be, it’s difficult not to be engrossed by them. In that spirit, here are five modern abandoned cities you might find interesting.