Now, we humans think a lot of ourselves, don’t we? Here we are, with our McDonald’s delivery, our Harry Potter and our smartphones, thinking that we’re far superior and more intelligent than anything else in the natural world.
There’s a common mindset that we ‘rule’ this planet; that it’s ours and we’re free to bulldoze land and build Starbucks cafes wherever we darn well please. We’re untouchable, is essentially where we’re going with this.
If you live in a big city like I do, you probably pass great, towering, powerful buildings every day of your life. There’s a finality and permanence about concrete, and it’s tough to imagine a time when these things won’t be here.
It’s a reassuring thought, in a way, but the world really doesn’t work like that. Sometimes, we get stark reminders that humankind is not an unstoppable, all-powerful force.
Do you want to see an unstoppable, all-powerful force? I’ll direct you to Mother Nature. It’s nature that owns this planet, not us, or even any other creature. She never misses an opportunity to remind us of that fact, either.
So that vast, hulking, steely rollercoaster looks invincible? Wrong. Mother Nature’s just effortlessly lifted it and heaved it into the ocean, with the help of Hurricane Sandy. You thought that luxurious settlement in the Namib desert was safe? Nope, it’s been being slowly consumed from the inside by the sands since people abandoned it. And how about that forgotten mall in Bangkok, which is now the exclusive domain of several varieties of big old angry fish?
Those are just some of the locations we’re going to check out in this rundown. If you’re ready to see how fragile the nature of human endeavour really is (man, is that a deep thought for a Monday morning existential crisis), buckle up and let’s dive in.
25 Nice Italian Villa You Have There…
See, this is why we can’t have nice things. We get complacent. We think they’ll be ours forever, that nobody can take them away from us. That’s when Mother Nature has to step in and say, well, actually, buddy boy, I’m going to take that villa right back from you ungrateful humans.
This shot is the magnificent work of French photographer Jonathan “Jonk” Jimenez, an urban explorer who specialises in photography of forgotten and abandoned locations. As this 2016 image of an Italian villa - being consumed from the inside by plants -demonstrates, any land we claim and buildings we construct are simply loans from Mother Nature, who giveth and taketh back as she darn well chooses.
24 Be A Shame If Somebody… Reclaimed And Erased It
While capturing that confronting image of the forgotten villa, Jonk Photography also ventured into the grounds surrounding the once-proud building. There, he took this shot, which truly indicates that nothing is safe.
Your ostentatious villa? I’m coming for that. The fancy statues in your voluminous grounds? Darn right I’m coming for those too. There’s something very poignant about this one, and that’s exactly what Jimenez does best. Capturing the fact that nature was here before us and will continue to be here after us (sooner rather than later, if we’re not careful). We are not untouchable, and the plants will slowly reclaim what’s theirs.
23 Meanwhile, In A Garage In Belgium…
To spread this message and capture more of these poignant scenes, Jimenez’s work has taken him all over the world. As The New York Post reports, he has photographed abandoned locations in over 33 countries on four continents, always looking for those shots that best “highlight… the ephemerality of the human reign on Earth.”
So we think our precious cars will be thundering along the roads of the world forever? Well, this shot from a forgotten garage in Belgium suggests differently. Nature is all-powerful and relentless, and it will bulldoze straight over us and our mighty machines as surely as we try to do it right back to the world.
22 Kolmanskop, Namibia: Sand, Sand Everywhere
It’s always a shame to see a once-proud town become lost in time. And sand. There’s a lot of that too.
Kolmanskop was once a wealthy mining settlement, established after a rich crop of diamonds was discovered in the area in 1908. This bounty made the town so rich that it was fully equipped with a power station, dance hall, theatre and every other amenity that the early 1900s had to offer. It even boasted an x-ray station, the first in the whole southern hemisphere. Within a few decades, though, a greater crop of diamonds was discovered to the south, and Kolmanskop was abandoned.
Since then, it’s just been a confronting tourist attraction, as the encroaching sands claim the buildings from the inside out.
21 Gulliver’s Kingdom, Japan: Definitely Not As Happy As It Sounds
Now, I’ve always appreciated the story of Gulliver’s Travels. Being freakishly tall for my age growing up, and frequently singled out for it, I could 100% empathise with the guy. The whole concept of Gulliver’s Kingdom was definitely one that resonated with me, then.
Sadly, this defunct theme park near Kawaguchi-machi did not live up to its giant-sized promise. Questionable decisions with regards to its location (next to the notorious and intimidating Aokigahara forest, for one) and attractions left it doomed to fail, and it was closed down and abandoned after only around ten years in operation. That Gulliver sculpture? That is one alarming darn thing, right there.
20 Poveglia, Italy: The Island Of Nightmares
Now, you might think that a small island in Italy’s Venetian lagoon would be a pretty darn idyllic place to visit. In any other circumstances, you’d be totally right, but sadly, we’re talking about Poveglia here. This is one of the most notorious islands in the world.
Poveglia’s sad history speaks for itself. Atlas Obscura explains that it was used to quarantine plague victims from the late 1700s to 1814 or so. After that, it was a psychiatric hospital of ill repute, which closed in 1968.
Poveglia’s such a dark place that “there are whispers that 50 percent of the soil consists of...”, well, we'll let you find out for yourselves, but the island was auctioned off by the government in recent years and purchased by a wealthy businessman.
Perhaps this will lead to revitalisation and a brighter future for the place, which has been steadily being consumed by nature for decades.
19 Hong Kong, China: When Trees Fight Back
As the world’s population continues to inexorably rise, more and more problems are presented. This means more mouths to feed, more homes to find, more resources being stretched.
As a result, yes, apartment blocks are springing up everywhere, all over the world. At times, great swathes of land have to cleared for this to be possible. Generally speaking, trees don’t tend to win that battle, but something, they sure as heck do. This image was taken by Romain JL, as part of a photography series “about the resilience of nature in an urban environment.”
It was taken in Hong Kong, China, and demonstrates that, yes, trees were here before us and will defy us.
18 Going *All* The Way Back To Your Roots
We all know darn well that you can’t just erase nature. Who hasn’t been walking along the sidewalk and seen industrious little weeds and grass, poking up from between the slabs? That’s the raw power of nature in miniature, right there.
By contrast, this is not miniature. This is what happens when Mother Nature goes big. When she sees your neat little brick sidewalk, and raises you a huge, powerful tangle of tree roots, popping right the heck up through your bricks.
Does she look like she’s feeling remorseful or apologetic about the whole situation? That’s because she isn’t. Dang.
17 Nara Dreamland: Now *That* Was A Bad Dream
Almost all of us have been to a theme park of some description, and we all know the drill. These places exemplify everything that makes us feel safe about our buildings, in a way. Rollercoasters are super tall and powerful tangles of steel, and it just doesn’t look as though they’re going anywhere. Or ever could be.
This shot disproves all of that, though. It was taken by photographer Romain Veillon, as part of a series he created during a visit to the old forgotten Nara Dreamland theme park in Japan. Veillon visited shortly before the park’s demolition, which was completed in December 2017 (it had stood forgotten since its closure in 2006 until then).
16 California, United States: The Fury Of Nature
At times, it’s tough to tell who’s defying who. Is it Mother Nature, or is it humanity? In the end, it really doesn’t matter. What’s important is that we accept that we’re all going to be at the mercy of nature’s wrath at some point or another, and that we show our humanity when we are.
As reported by Pacific Standard, this image was taken in Santa Rosa, California, in October 2017. It demonstrates the raw, intimidating power of the California wildfires, but it also shows something else: people are stronger and more resilient than even they themselves believe at times.
15 Shopping Mall, Bangkok: Do You Have Any Catfish, By Any Chance?
This Bangkok shopping mall, as Bored Panda reports, was closed back in 1997. Two years later, a fire broke out there, and the damage claimed the mall’s roof. Heavy rains followed, and that means only one thing: mosquitos. Mosquitos everywhere.
To combat this problem, koi and catfish were introduced to the waterlogged mall, in the hope that an I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly situation would result.
The result? Well, as you see, this is the fish’s domain now. Intrepid traveller and photographer Jesse Rockwell visited this obscure and intriguing place, and took the above shot (and a series of others) to document the trip.
14 The Star Jet Roller Coaster, United States: Guaranteed To Be The Thrill Ride Of Your Life
Now, I’ve already touched on this, but it bears mentioning again. As a child, I did not have a good time with roller coasters. Or theme parks generally. Or any kind of vehicle that travelled fast than about five miles per hour. My chronic travel sickness left me with a real fear of these things, and it’s only in my adult years that I’ve been able to get over all of that and enjoy the beauty of traveling.
Never mind all of that, though. The important thing is that the Star Jet roller coaster was part of Casino Pier, New Jersey’s attractions, and was swept into the ocean in 2012 by the fury of Hurricane Sandy. You thought these great, twisting metal monsters were untouchable? Think again.
13 The ‘Valley Of The Mills,’ Italy: A Curious Reminder Of Italy's Past(a)
When you think of Italy’s tourist attractions, it’s probably the usual big-ticket items that spring to mind. The colosseum and pantheon of Rome, Vatican City, Pisa’s iconic Leaning Tower… the country’s a treasure trove of historical and traditional sights like these, but there are many more off the beaten track.
Over in Sorrento, near Naples, you’ll find the ruins of the mysterious Valle dei Mulini (Valley of the Mills). It’s a series of mills found in a deep gorge, mills which were once vital to the area’s food supply (pasta production, naturally). Some of them date back to the 13th century, according to The Daily Mail, but they’re all abandoned and… well, very much part of the surrounding woods today.
Just look at that, it’s remarkable. They’re more forest than building at this point.
12 Alcatraz Island, United States: From Jailbirds To Just… Birds
Now, there are some things that you just wouldn’t expect to go together as well as they do. I was super, super sceptical about peanut butter and chocolate before trying it for the first time, and now, I’m a Reese’s fan for life.
Here are two other concepts you wouldn’t expect to work so well together: Alcatraz and natural beauty. If the island in San Francisco Bay is famous for anything, after all, it’s for its fortress prison, which held such notorious criminals as Al Capone.
Interestingly, though, since the jail closed down in the 1960s, the native birds for which the island is named (its Spanish name means Island of the Pelicans or Island of the Gannets, depending on who you ask) have completely reclaimed the place. It’s as beautiful as it is eerie, seeing them watching you imperiously from the shore. It’s like a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.
11 Beng Mealea, Cambodia: A Jungle Gym For The Plants
There’s a kind of tragic beauty about this site. It’s a scene that wouldn’t look at all out of place in an Indiana Jones movie, except instead of that big old boulder, we’ve got the inexorable rush of nature to contend with.
This is Beng Mealea, a mysterious temple ruin in the Angkor Wat area of Cambodia. Very little is known about it, in relation to the other temples in the area, but its similar architectural style leads researchers to suggest that it was built around the same time as the famous Angkor Wat itself: the early 12th century, under the guidance of King Suryavarman II.
It’s now become a jungle in the most literal sense, consumed by the encroaching trees and vines. What a sight.
10 Sabratha, Libya: Bad Luck Throughout The Ages
When it comes to natural disasters and general misfortune, it’s clear that some parts of the world have things much harder than others. Take Sabratha, on the Mediterranean coast of Libya. According to Love Exploring, the settlement was first built in Ancient times by the Phoenicians, in around the fourth century BC. It was soon occupied by the Romans, and suffered a string of devastating earthquakes throughout antiquity.
The remains of the settlement today face Mother Nature’s wrath in another sense: coastal erosion is chipping away at the surrounding area. It’s currently on the World Heritage In Danger list for this reason.
9 Holland Island, United States: Dude, Where’s My Island?
As a wise man once said, “the problem with being the last of anything… by and by, there be none left at all.” It was actually Hector Barbossa who said that in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, so we’re probably stretching the meaning of the world wise to the max here, but there you go.
My point being, though, this message is particularly poignant in the case of Holland Island. This small, marshy island in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland had one remaining house on it when this photograph was taken in October 2009. One year later, it disappeared into the bay with the rest of the waterlogged island.
Oh, erosion, you’re so intimidating.
8 Pompeii, Italy: Poor Pompeii
Ah, yes. Here we are, friends. This is probably the most famous example of Mother Nature unleashing her fury upon the human world in history.
We all know the story of Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius. That fateful day in AD 79, when the volcano buried the city in pumice and ash. It’s one of few things that even those with precisely zero interest in ancient history know the vague details of, and new discoveries are being made at the site even today.
It’s a fascinating and tragic story, and perfectly defines everything we’ve seen in this rundown about the vicious and tenacious power of nature.
7 Herculaneum, Italy: No, Not Pompeii, The Other One
Following on from the tragic tale of Pompeii, how about the nearby Herculaneum? As I say, the story of Pompeii and the volcano is a pop culture event we all know about, but this one’s a little more obscure.
Pompeii’s sister city, Herculaneum was also destroyed a preserved by the eruption of AD 79. Preserved a whole lot better than Pompeii itself, as a matter of fact. According to The Encyclopaedia Britannica, this is thanks to,
“…the formation over the city of a compact mass of tufaceous material about 50 to 60 feet (15 to 18 metres) deep. Although this layer made excavation very difficult, it preserved Herculaneum and prevented tampering and looting.”
During excavation, then, it was found that various materials had survived that could not have in other conditions, including even loaves of bread in ovens! As Herculaneum was a smaller but far wealthier city, the ruins are stunning.
6 Galveston, United States: When Your Prosperity Is Cut Short
Sadly, as we all know far too well, disasters such as the one that befell Herculaneum and Pompeii are not a thing of the past. Not one bit. I suppose the price we pay for living on this planet is the fact that… dang, this planet can be ruthless to us at times.
In 1900, Galveston, Texas was struck by a devastating hurricane. This was one of the worst disasters in the country’s history, resulting in the loss of an estimated 8,000 lives. Not only that, but the city is still feeling the lasting effects. It was rapidly prospering up to this point, but its population and momentum never quite recovered.
5 Indonesia, Sumatra-Andaman Earthquake: Utterly Ground-Shaking
Following on from the hurricane that devastated Galveston, Texas, here’s another tragic image of one of the worst natural disasters ever recorded. In December 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami caused widespread damage all around the region. As The Richest reports, Indonesia took the lion’s share of the damage, resulting in alarming scenes such as this one.
It’s believed that around a quarter of a million lives were lost around the Indian Ocean as a result of the tsunami, which itself was brought about by a super-strong seismic event beneath the surface of the ocean. Scary stuff, and a true insight into the fury of Mother Nature.
4 Châtillon Car Graveyard, Belgium: And You Thought Traffic Jams Were Bad
Speaking of the unfortunate, lost and forgotten cars of Belgium, let’s cross back over to the famous Châtillon Car Graveyard. In the small and sleepy town of Châtillon in Belgium, a forest conceals a very odd sight: a legion of cars, all abandoned and in various states of disrepair.
Nobody quite knows how they got there (one local legend reports that they were owned by US soldiers, who had to leave them in a hurry to rush off to join conflicts overseas in the early twentieth century). The vehicles themselves have mostly been removed today, for environmental reasons, but not before intimidating shots like these were taken.
3 SS Ayrfield, Australia: The Floating Forest
Now, there are many unique and wonderful sights to see in Australia. From the wildlife to the scenery to the place names, there’s always something to surprise you.
Just when you thought you’d seen everything this incredible country had to offer, though, they go ahead and throw this into the mix. As reported by My Modern Met, the SS Ayrfield is a decommissioned ship, found in Homebush Bay near Sydney. Out of service since 1972, it has become overrun with mangrove trees.
Quite how this happened, nobody can say for sure, but it’s become an odd sort of tourist attraction in its own right.
2 Gouqi Island, China: Is It Just Me, Or Has Everything Gone Green?
As we saw with Kolmanskop, people really aren’t sentimental when it comes to leaving things and places behind. If a better option comes along, financially, you can go ahead, pack up and leave.
By and large, this was the case with Gouqi Island (part of the huge 394 island Shengsi cluster). It was a busy fishing settlement at one point, until the small area couldn’t keep up with the numbers. In terms of transport and such, it was more convenient to be elsewhere, and adapt to other trades, so Gouqi was abandoned.
The island is still quite a popular tourist attraction for its intimidating, abandoned atmosphere (lots of people like that stuff, don’t judge). The way that foliage has simply enveloped the buildings is as intimidating as it is beautiful.
1 Sanzhi UFO Houses, Taiwan: Close Encounters Of The Strange Kind
Have you ever had one of those ideas that seems great, gotten about ten minutes into it, and then started to regret every life decision you’ve ever made? It’s just dawned on you that you should never have started this project in the first place, but you’re too invested to stop now? The Sanzhi UFO houses of Taiwan were definitely one of those ideas.
This odd collection of pod-like houses was intended as a futuristic sort of holiday resort, situated near New Taipei. Construction began in the late seventies, but was never completed due to a series of odd accidents and supposed ill omens about the place. These bizarrely Jetsons-like buildings were demolished between 2008 and 2010, but not before they’d spent a couple of decades being reclaimed by Mother Nature. Which only made them look more odd.
References: The New York Post, Jonk Photography, Pacific Standard, Bored Panda, Namibian.org, Atlas Obscura, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Travel Tramp.