This Deserted Turkish Village Is Filled With Hundreds Of Creepy Disney-like Castles

Builders once envisioned Burj Al Babas as a getaway for investors from the Persian Gulf: a village full of Disney-style, castle-like villas. But that was never to be. Instead, every single one of the destination’s chateaus sits empty, together forming a creepy ghost town in the mountains of Turkey.

Traditionally, a ghost town has a past – and it usually includes a once-thriving population that is now no more. People will have most likely left such settlements when the industry that supported them left too. For instance, mills or mines might have previously drawn in workers – but the areas’ economies may have tanked when the resources were depleted.

In other cases, natural disasters, such as drought or flood, might have pushed people from their homes. Even something as dangerous as heavy pollution, war, crime or nuclear disaster could have transpired, forcing an entire town’s population to flee – and never return.

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Yet although the story of a ghost town may be distressing, the abandoned structures left behind can certainly spark intrigue. They can also draw tourists. In Bannack, Montana, for example, State Park employees revitalize their ghost town once a year. How so? By reenacting what life used to be like when Bannack was a bustling mining center in the mid-1800s.

Much as with abandoned towns, once-thriving commercial buildings, too, can become eerily empty. Just ask photographer Seph Lawless, who has made a name for himself by capturing images of America’s forgotten malls, theme parks and other structures – places that undoubtedly used to be beloved by the communities in which they still stand.

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“I’ve been documenting the most forgotten places throughout America and listening to the compelling personal stories of people who still live in these places,” Lawless wrote on his website. “Their stories and experiences are part of an untold chapter of American history that needs to be heard.”

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One of the deserted Ohio shopping centers that Lawless photographed has special meaning for him, however. Randall Park Mall used to rank as one of the nation’s largest malls, but it has been abandoned over time. Yet the photographer has a slew of memories from when the mall was bustling – from meeting Santa Claus while he was a child to getting his first job in a retail store.

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“We all remember spending time there, and for the most part it was in happier times,” Lawless told Gizmodo. The ghost-town mall and the haunting images of it serve the photographer’s greater purpose, though. As he told The Today Show, “Sometimes words just aren’t enough, so I started taking pictures.”

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For most of these shopping-centers-turned-ghost-towns, the desertion is due to a lack of cash flow. Perhaps an anchor business – such as a popular department store – leaves, which reduces foot traffic. And as a result, other stores suffer and close – until ultimately the entire mall is empty.

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Around the world, newer residential developments have suffered a similar fate – that is, a lack of interest from buyers or economic downturns have shut them down, too. China is notorious for building modern cities that remain unfilled, and there are multiple theories as to why this happens so often there.

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For one thing, it costs a lot to buy real estate in China, which can leave the country’s new constructions unsold. On top of that, some believe that developers have no intention of filling their properties – at least, not right away. Instead, they apparently build new cities outside metropolitan areas in case of conflict. That way, those forced to flee their homes during war will have new places to go to.

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It’s worth remembering, too, that China already has around 1.4 billion people living within its borders. And so China’s empty cities may also lie vacant in preparation for a population boom. Kai Caemmerer, a photographer, traveled to the country after he had found out about its many ghost cities – and that was his explanation for the countless empty buildings, in any case.

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“Many of these new cities are not expected to be complete or vibrant until 15 to 25 years after [the developers] begin construction,” Caemmerer told Business Insider. “They are built for the distant future. At present, we can only speculate on what form they will have taken when they reach this point in time.”

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One such Chinese ghost town isn’t really a town at all, though; it’s a full-on city. Kangbashi, as it’s called, was designed to house one million residents. Along with the residential buildings that it contains, the conurbation also has an airport, a museum, parks, theaters and statues. The only thing missing are the people – who may or may not show up to live there.

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Another interesting Chinese ghost town lies in the country’s eastern region. Called Tianducheng, the huge vacant housing development has a very famous inspiration: Paris. Builders didn’t take their vision boards lightly, either; they built the town with its own Notre-Dame, Champs-Élysées and even an Eiffel Tower.

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Those who constructed Tianducheng’s French-inspired landscape in 2007 hoped that it would draw city dwellers who wanted to exchange their urban lifestyles for a more serene way of life. However, the price of buying a Parisian-style property proved too high. And so today the sprawling estate remains empty – except, of course, for newlyweds, who use it as a backdrop for their wedding photos.

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Like Tianducheng, China’s Thames Town, too, draws its inspiration from a famous European source. This time, though, the emulated city is London. The Chinese version has its own snaking waterway – just like the English capital – as well as a plethora of the city’s iconic red telephone booths. There are even sculptures of James Bond and Harry Potter.

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But the $800 million Shanghai construction project – which spans just a single square kilometer – failed to attract the 10,000-strong population for which it was designed. Instead, Thames Town, too, sits eerily empty – save for its few residents and those who drop by for photo opportunities.

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In nearby North Korea, meanwhile, a ghost town served a political purpose. Next to a military-free zone stands Kijong-dong – a Northern settlement meant to entice South Koreans into defecting. The village – which was constructed during the Fifties – displays the seemingly wonderful lifestyle that to all appearances awaits on the other side of the border.

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Official reports state that 200 families live in Kijong-dong. However, those who’ve observed the village over time have realized that this simply isn’t the case. Instead, lights switch on and off within the buildings at the same time every day. And soldiers and housekeepers, rather than moms, dads and their kids, can be seen on the premises.

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The visuals weren’t enough for North Korean leaders, in any case; you see, they set up loudspeakers in Kijong-dong, too, to also send an audible message to South Koreans. The authorities would in addition play the sounds of military marches at full blast for 20 hours every day. But one day their neighbors fought back: they blared rock music at full volume toward the North. And eventually, both sides agreed to turn off the music for good.

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In the case of Burj Al Babas, however, political tension was not the destination’s undoing. Rather, it was the developers’ lack of funds, which hit them more than halfway through the project. At first, though, the developers envisioned hundreds of gorgeous French-style chateaus tucked into the mountains of Bolu in Turkey.

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The Sarot Group started to develop Burj Al Babas in 2014, imagining – as noted – that their chateau-style homes would draw in wealthy investors from the Persian Gulf. Each abode was to have the same aesthetic, according to the destination’s website. “On the outer facade of the buildings, no modification shall be allowed,” said the site.

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That way, each property would have identical features. These clearly visible hallmarks include curved turrets, Juliet balconies and ornate details to mimic the look of a fairy-tale castle. Meanwhile, inside the properties buyers would be permitted to personalize the look to their tastes, even if it didn’t match the given home’s romantic, Disney-like exterior.

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Within Burj Al Babas, there was to be plenty for residents to do as well. Along with including the aforementioned shopping center, developers promised to build a fitness center, restaurants and meeting rooms. The list doesn’t end there, either: Turkish baths, steam rooms, basketball courts, tennis courts, walking trails and movie theaters were all also to be part of the development.

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Depending on the location of the home, buyers would each pay anywhere between $370,000 and $530,000 for their chateau. A lakeside villa, for instance, was the most expensive option, while a corner lot cost $440,000. No matter what, though, future residents had to each make a deposit of $50,000 to secure their spot.

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What’s more, the project did indeed generate interest and intrigue from buyers based in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait. Developers hoped to construct more than 730 of their royally inspired abodes in total. And they successfully sold 350 homes – nearly half of the properties on offer.

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Meanwhile, construction crews blazed forward – even though the developers had only sold 50 percent of Burj Al Babas’ homes. They had, however, completed 587 properties – 237 more than had been purchased already – before they ran into a huge problem. They were now out of money and couldn’t continue with the project.

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According to Bloomberg, the Sarot Group, Burj Al Babas’ builder, had racked up a debt of $27 million while building the development. And while the Sarot Group applied for bankruptcy protection, Turkish courts ruled instead that the company had gone bankrupt. Clearly, there is a distinction between the two options here.

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A person or an organization can declare bankruptcy if they are too far in debt to recover the funds that they’ve spent. The courts will then choose a trustee, who in turn calculates the financial assets and liquidates any physical ones. And the cash that the insolvent entity subsequently receives is then used to settle as much of the debt as possible.

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But the Sarot Group hoped to file for bankruptcy protection, which would allow them to continue working on the development. You see, if an individual or a company shows that losses could be recovered, then – with time and the chance to restructure – they can pursue this option instead.

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According to Mehmet Emin Yerdelen, the Sarot Group Chairman, Burj Al Babas deserved bankruptcy protection. “The project is valued at $200 million. We only need to sell 100 villas to pay off our debt. I believe we can get over this crisis in four to five months and partially inaugurate the project in 2019,” he told Bloomberg.

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Yerdelen also had an explanation as to why the Sarot Group had fallen into such deep debt: buyers had failed to pay up. “We couldn’t get about $7.5 million [in] receivables for the villas [that] we have sold to Gulf countries,” he said. But he did add that the company would “appeal the ruling,” which came down at the end of 2018.

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For some, though, the destination’s failure came as a relief. You see, many of those who live near Burj al Babas do not like the buildings’ fairy-tale style. They feel that it lies in too stark a contrast with the rest of the area’s structures, which include a centuries-old mosque, wooden houses and Byzantine-era architecture.

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In fact, since construction began on Burj al Babas, the Turkish government has rolled out regulations that would prevent such a development from going ahead in the future. In many places, therefore, new construction now has to fit with the surrounding settlements, and housing complexes must comprise low-rise buildings.

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Yet some experts believed that it was too little, too late. As one particular researcher in urban development, Yaçar Adnan Adanah, told The Guardian, “I worry that projects like Burj al Babas opened Pandora’s box, in some respects. Developments without proper planning that do not contextualize the geography and history of their surroundings have exploded in Turkey.”

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Even Turkey’s President Erdo?an has pushed for construction projects within his country’s borders. It seems that the bigger the infrastructure change, the more jobs it provides. But the building bubble had burst by the end of January 2019, and Burj Al Babas was just one of many ghost towns left behind by construction companies deep in debt.

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In the case of Burj al Babas, it was, as we know, the Sarot Group that went bankrupt. But GlobalSource Partners’ Turkey analyst, Atilla Yesilada, has said that the entire industry was dealing with a lack of funds. “It’s not just the home-builders who go bankrupt. The people who supply goods to those industries, those people suffer, too,” he said.

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So, Turkey has taken steps to bring in more money, just as the Sarot Group did, by enticing foreign investors to purchase property. For one thing, the country has made it easier for non-Turkish people to become citizens. How? By loosening the financial criteria required to be met by those who want to settle within its borders.

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And all of this gave the Sarot Group hope that their currently empty Disney-style development might soon be up and running again. Until then, though, it remains unfinished and vacant – an eerie ghost town of cookie-cutter houses tucked into the tree-covered mountains of northern Turkey.

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