Abandoned Cyprus: Varosha Ghost Town

Since the attempted coup by the Greeks and subsequent Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, the country has been divided. Around a third of the Mediterranean island is occupied by the Turkish, a non-state, unrecognised internationally by everyone but Turkey.

The resort town of Varosha lies within the Northern side of the country- we crossed through a British Overseas Territory, through the UN buffer zone and through a “Turkish” border to reach it.

History of Varosha

Varosha was once a popular tourist destination, a vibrant enclave in the city of Famagusta, mostly populated by Greek Cypriots. Home to some of the best beaches in Cyprus, it attracted visitors from all over the world, including Bridget Bardot and Elizabeth Taylor. The town saw massive growth, becoming one of the most popular destinations in the world in the early 70s, giving rise to fancy shopping streets, and glamorous high-rise hotels.

After the invasion in 1974, Varosha’s Greek Cypriot residents fled to the south, part of a 200,000 strong ethnic migration shift across the island. Around 60,000 Turkish Cypriots also fled from the South to the North. This left the chic town, once home to 40,000, abandoned, stuck in the 70s, and no longer welcoming nearly a million tourists a year. Varosha fell silent, its hotels and shops empty, left to crumble and decay.

 In 1984 a U.N. resolution called for the handover of the city to UN control and said that only the original inhabitants, who were forced out, could resettle in the town. This cemented the abandonment of this concrete metropolis by the sea- its original inhabitants aren’t allowed back, and new inhabitants aren’t allowed in.

Exploring the Ghost Town of Varosha

Parts of the ghost town, which has now been abandoned for nearly four decades, have recently been opened to the public, much to the dislike of the Greek Cypriots and United Nations.

We passed through the security gates, security guards and soldiers on patrol and had CCTV cameras following our every move. The streets are freshly paved, with ropes fencing off the derelict buildings. As we wandered deeper into the ghost town, we passed through streets of decaying buildings- souvenir shops, hotels, houses and even a car dealership. The sun was beating down, adding to the peculiarity of such widespread abandonment in such a beautiful location.