With their silent streets and derelict buildings, abandoned towns offer a haunting view into the lives of once thriving communities. “Ruin gazing,” a term coined to describe people’s fascination with empty places, has been something of a tourist phenomenon for millennia: Visitors are drawn to broken cities and toppled monuments in search of reminders of our own hubris and of the power of time.
Thóra Pétursdóttir and Bjørnar Olsen, editors of the book Ruin Memories: Materialities, Aesthetics and the Archaeology of the Recent Past, describe our interest in ruins. “Masked objects are unveiled, inside is turned out,” they write. “Collapsed walls, broken windows and open drawers expose intimacy and privacy, recalling to light the previously hidden, forgotten or unknown.” (See pictures of abandoned villages in Italy.)
Updated on October 17, 2019, this article was partially adapted from the National Geographic book, Secret Journeys of a Lifetime.