7 Insane Stories Behind the World's Weirdest Looking Towns
Humans are like a fungus growing on this great, big bathroom that God calls the world -- you stop paying attention for a few millennia, and that shit gets everywhere. We've told you about cities that have somehow popped up in places like cemeteries, desert caves, and under boulders, but it turns out the infection is even worse than we imagined. Here's another batch of improbable but real cities that prove humans will live anywhere.
The Russian City With Its Own Portal to Hell
That's not an ancient meteor strike, an optical illusion, or another one of those recent Earth farts -- it's Mir, the largest diamond mine in the world. The now-abandoned mine is located in the otherwise unremarkable town of Mirny in the Siberian region of Russia, as any astronaut could tell you ... because, yep, it's viewable from space. Thousands of years from now, people are gonna look at that hole and seriously wonder what the hell we were doing.
"And this, kids, is where the moon tried to fuck the earth."
Diamond deposits were discovered there in the 1950s, at which point the USSR proceeded to thaw open the frozen ground using a combination of jet engines, explosives, and presumably high-volume Russian vodka. And then they just kept digging and shoveling out shiny rocks for the next 40 years. The hole is so big, in fact, that it's said that helicopters can't fly over it because they'd be sucked in by the force of the downdraft. We don't wanna know how they determined that.
There's at least 30 UFOs stuck down there.
So, in case you were wondering who the hell digs a giant hole next to a town, it was the other way around: the town was built around the hole during its excavation to provide a place for the workers to get drunk without risking falling into the Earth's core. The diamonds extracted were then taken to Moscow and used to construct a giant la- uh, sold. They were sold. Yes. No lasers here.
The laser floats above us and turns towns into craters.
The mine closed in 2004, leaving the town with its hollowed-out remains. These days, some would call the Mir mine a significant historical symbol of the excesses of the Cold War. Others would call it a big dumb hole in the ground. (The second ones are right, for the record.)
Cities Hanging From the Edge of Cliffs
We've told you before about Yemen's vertigo-inducing cliff-side villages, whose creaky old towers were built in ancient times when mankind clearly hadn't fully grasped concepts like gravity or sanity yet. The Spanish town of Ronda is in the same boat, although it has kept with the times in every way except the essential "LET'S NOT KEEP BUILDING HOUSES RIGHT NEXT TO CLIFFS, PEOPLE" one.
That's one way to prevent teenagers from sneaking out the window at night, we guess.
Note that there is one rickety staircase up to the houses, a pathway without railing so the kids can learn the danger of running down stairs by natural selection. By the way, when we say "cliffs," we do mean that in the plural sense, because the town is actually located on two different (but equally steep) precipices that are connected by a 200-year-old bridge:
Don't worry, they do maintenance on it. They repainted the street lines just last year.
Then again, considering the town has a rich history of bullfighting, maybe this has less to do with poor city planning and is more about just being suicidal dicks.
Ronda is not the only European town flipping the bird to Mother Earth, though: Tropea, in the Calabria region of Southern Italy, doesn't just sit near the edge -- it's part of the edge.
Someone always has to overdo it.
The legend says that the town was founded by the demi-god Hercules himself, who made Tropea his port (read: fuck-place). Today, Tropea and the beach below it are popular tourist destinations, which means anyone can go there and experience the magic of falling off a goddamn cliff. It's also a good spot to practice some really hardcore trust exercises.
Only a matter of time before they start building diving boards out of the houses.
Saudi Arabia's City of 40,000 Tents
Recognize the map above? What major city is that? New York? Los Angeles? The answer is: we lied, it's not a map, it's an aerial photograph of the appropriately named "tent city" of Mina in Saudi Arabia. Those white boxes are all rows and rows of tents organized with the tender care and symmetrical proportions of a Sims neighborhood.
Alternatively, this is the aftermath of the biggest domino chain reaction ever.
So wait, who lives in those tents? No one. You'll only find them occupied five days a year, during Hajj, the mandatory trip to Mecca all Muslim adults with working legs have to carry out at least once in their lives. Since about 3 million people make the trip every year, and since they all need a place to crash and only a few will have local relatives to inconvenience, someone came up with the idea of putting up a tent in the district outside of Mecca. And then another, and then another ... and so on, until tent city was born.
"All right, kids, we're in the white one with the pointy thing on top. Don't you forget that."
The concept may sound simple, but tent city is actually hailed as one of the world's most innovative cities: Saudi Arabia has modernized the whole project, replacing the old, smelly scraps of cloth with 40,000 fireproof, wind-resistant, air-conditioned tents with convenient access to water and electricity. These babies are the Michael Jordan driving a Cadillac of tents.
They could have replaced the tents with, like, a building, but that would be crazy.
Of course, they're not the Marriott either. During Hajj the people in the tents practically live on top of each other for the week the prayer ceremonies last, cramped together with complete strangers who may or may not have remembered to pack a deodorant before starting the trip (which not everyone survives). Think about that the next time you complain about being forced to go to church once a year for your cousin's wedding.
The Town Squeezed Into a Narrow Valley
Ever heard the expression "It's hotter than Satan's ass-crack"? The citizens of Jamestown, St. Helena, probably take offense to that, because they actually live in Lucifer's nether regions (at least judging by the photo above) and the weather is perfectly fine, thank you very much. If that sounds like a place you'd like to, um, delve into, here's where you can find it:
If you can't see it, there's probably a speck on your monitor blocking it.
St. Helena is a monochromatic chunk of dried lava in the actual middle of nowhere that about 4,200 people somehow live in -- the island is so tiny that the Earth has been hit by meteors bigger and probably more hospitable than it. Jamestown, as the island's capital, has all the modern amenities you would expect from any major city ... excluding cellphone coverage, credit card scanners, or the ability to look anywhere without seeing a huge, imposing wall of rock all the time. But hey, if you squint you can pretend you're on the moon!
The moon probably gets better WiFi, actually.
The island was discovered 500 years ago by a Portuguese explorer who probably thought he'd just ran into a seal at first. The Dutch laid claim to it for a while before sort of forgetting about its existence, letting the British swoop in and declare it their territory, which it remains to this day (England, you have a hoarding problem). To reach the island, visitors must secure a trip on a mailing ship that arrives once a month and is probably powered by a giant steam wheel.
You can't fly in. There's no room for wings.
The soul-breaking isolation and the ridiculous geography make St. Helena a perfect place to, say, banish pesky former emperors -- in fact, St. Helena's greatest accomplishment is driving a freshly deposed Napoleon Bonaparte to madness while he was exiled there. These days, Napoleon's former homestead has been restored: the lead-imbued wallpaper has hopefully been removed, and tourists can mingle in the sitting room where a withering Napoleon completed the daily crossword every morning until he died from depression (and maybe lead).
Holland's Floating Neighborhoods
The people of IJburg, a Dutch residential district near Amsterdam, don't live by the sea -- they live by the land. No one says "It looks like a lake out there!" when it rains, because it already is a lake. They have actual floating houses, is our point.
"Hey, honey, I'm gonna walk the dog."
"OK, here's the SCUBA gear."
Believe it or not, this isn't the handiwork of stoned city planners. It's a consequence of those forward-thinking Dutch folk building a whole ocean-adjacent country below sea level. For some time, they've been running out of places to live, and short of annexing Germany, the only viable option was to build over the water.
The earlier plan, Sky City, ended in mass death.
So, maritime communities are now being developed across the country, easing land-congestion and setting up a real-life prologue to Waterworld. Unlike conventional houseboats, floating houses are built on huge slabs of concrete and foam and are attached to submerged posts by rings, which means they can move with the level of the water and they won't break away and end up on a British beach if the currents get strong. Also, the houses are immune to flooding and/or sinking since there's no space for water to seep in.
Best of all, you can pee on the street without leaving any evidence.
These living units are built in Dutch shipyards, then towed to their destination and attached to jetties or mooring stations. But these prototype floaters are just a logical progression from the floating Dutch villages of yore -- such as Giethoorn, the 800-year-old town named after a bunch of goats that died in a flood (no, really). It's like Venice's quieter, classier, less smelly cousin:
Those canals you see up there? Totally man-made: they were created in the 14th century to ferry the vast amounts of peat dug from the rich Giethoornian soil, because fuck walking. Today, you can bike, roller skate, or Segway to any part of town thanks to an expansive series of interconnected bridges, but the preferred transport is by "Giethoorn whisper boat" -- fun-sized punts powered by small electric motors. Seriously, these things are adorable:
"Day 67. Still no sight of Colonel Kurtz. I may have taken a wrong turn."
The Star-Shaped Village in the Netherlands
This is, sadly, not a ninja headquarters protected by a deadly maze shaped like their favorite weapon. The Netherlands has a disappointingly small number of those. It's something only slightly less cool, though: an old medieval fortress, Fort Bourtange. Below is what it looked like several centuries ago, when an "authority figure" was whoever had the most swords:
We're just gonna assume every inch of water in that thing was packed with crocodiles.
The fort was raised in 1593 and dismantled in 1851, except for a few buildings, which eventually multiplied and became the town of Bourtange. Fortunately, it seems that the locals remembered to save the instructions before putting the LEGOs back in the box -- we say that because in the 1960s, the town decided it missed being overshadowed by a fort much cooler than it, and the fort was reconstructed. They redug the waterways and the barracks to bring back the glory of a time when people threw feces directly onto the streets.
"Just a few more corpses lying about and it'll be ready!"
The town has now integrated Fort Bourtange into its space: the star-shape design that this and other European fortresses once used for tactical advantages now serves no other purpose than to look really cool from airplanes.
Or to really tall people.
The town can now be toured by those willing to take the long trip there, which is like stepping through a time portal into an era with less commodities and a lot more windmills. Or, you can just watch this YouTube video, which is what we did.
The California Desert City Straight Out of Mad Max
Apparently, every post-apocalyptic action flick you've ever seen has been based on a real location -- Slab City, California. For over 50 years, a colorful mix of squatters, convicts, free-spirits, and other bathing-optional types have been calling this place home, sweet home. If one can truly even call this a "place."
It's more a collection of wacky cars, if Google Image Search is to be believed.
Surprisingly, this hippie-haven was once a military base. The Camp Dunlap Marine Training Facility opened in 1942 and readied soldiers to kick Nazi butt. Once that stopped being such a pressing concern, the base was dismantled, leaving behind only the concrete foundations ... or, you know, "slabs." In the '60s, RVs passing through California's Colorado desert poured into the site for free overnight parking -- proving that RV owners will willingly inhabit an actual deserted wasteland to avoid parking fees.
Eventually, the handful of stragglers multiplied into a sprawling shantytown that at its peak had a population of 5,000 people and several hundred cannibalistic desert mutants (probably). Electricity, sanitation, and running water are mostly unavailable, but modern conveniences available include churches:
Or one church and one deranged, psychedelic God mountain.
Not pictured: Five different Starbucks.
Something tells us Into the Wild is constantly checked out.
And even a golf course (but it just looks like a patch of desert with holes, so no pics for this one). Despite all the amenities, those 5,000 people have dwindled to around 200 permanent residents today, though population fluctuates wildly throughout the year. Winter is the busiest time for Slab City, with an influx of visitors wishing to experience a Mad Max-style Christmas.
Sadly, this last true bastion of freedom is appreciated only by its residents. Non-locals treat it like a giant landfill, making routine visits to dump electronic waste and even old RVs. As a result, "septic pits" now litter the landscape -- festering holes of biologically hazardous filth. It's still nicer than Detroit, though.
For more insane locations on this wonderful planet, check out 6 Fictional Places You Didn't Know Actually Existed and The 6 Best Towns To Live in (If You Have a Death Wish).
If you happen to live in Slab City, message us here.
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