California's Gold Rush brought an influx of settlers hoping to strike it rich in gold. These settlers built boomtowns almost overnight — and abandoned them just as quickly when the gold veins tapped out.
Bodie, California, is one of those towns. Gold was discovered in the area near Mono Lake in 1875, according to the California Department of Parks and Recreation. The town of Bodie sprung up to house the miners working the vein. Since 1962, the former mine town has been a designated National Historic Site and a state park, left as it was when the last residents moved on.
Mandu, in Madhya Pradesh, India, is a preserved town that dates to at least the sixth century A.D. It's known for its lavish architecture, including India's biggest fort and a massive palace constructed in 1508 and named for Baz Bahadur, who ruled Mandu from 1555 to 1562. According to legend, Bahadur fell in love with a singing shepherdess named Roopmati, whom he made his queen. But a Mogul army invaded Mandu, taking the city and kidnapping Roopmati. She is said to have poisoned herself to avoid the attention of the Mogul general.
Today, visitors can see temples, tombs and multiple palaces built in Mandu over the centuries. Perhaps the most famous is the Jahaz Mahal, or Ship Palace, which is built between two artificial lakes so that it seems to float.
Another ancient-site-turned-tourist-destination, Angkor Wat is one of the largest temples ever built. It was constructed between about A.D. 1113 and 1150 as a Hindu temple, and was later converted into a Buddhist temple. The city surrounding Angkor Wat, Angkor, may have once been home to a million people.
Angkor is no longer a metropolis, but a UNESCO World Heritage site that archaeologists and conservationists are trying to save from encroaching jungle and damage by modern tourists. More than 100,000 people still live in the shadow of the temple, many living an agrarian lifestyle like the generations that came before them.
In 1943, the British government asked residents of Tyneham, England, to make a major sacrifice for the war effort: leave their homes. The villagers had a month's notice, the BBC reported, before the village and its surroundings were taken over as a tank firing range in advance of D-Day, the day in 1944 when Allied forces invaded northern France at Normandy and ultimately liberated France from Nazi occupation.
Tyneham residents, all 225 of them, were told they'd get to return to their village after the war, but the government ended up keeping the land for military training. The village has been empty since and is now in ruins. Stone and brick buildings stand quietly, their roofs and windows long-gone. Visitors are allowed in on weekends, and the old church has been reopened. It's used for occasional concerts and special services.
In the late 1800s, Chile experienced a rush not on gold, but on salt. Entrepreneurs and miners high-tailed it to the Atacama Desert, which is rich in potassium nitrate, or saltpeter. A major ingredient in agricultural fertilizers, saltpeter made up 80 percent of Chilean exports in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, according to the BBC.
One of the mining towns that sprung up in this saltpeter rush was Humberstone, founded in 1872. It was once home to more than 3,000 people, mainly saltpeter diggers and refiners and their families. But during World War I, Allied powers blocked Germany from importing saltpeter, and the Germans developed synthetic fertilizers in response. Saltpeter lost its value. Humberstone became a ghost town. The dry desert air has kept the rot away, and many of the town's buildings stand just as they did a century ago.