Here's a fascinating issue to contemplate. When does a ruin become a tourist attraction? The Colosseum in Rome is just about 2,000 years old. The Acropolis in Athens even older. Ruined castles, archeological remains, we flock to them. So, how about Chernobyl? It's 23 years since the reactor at the Soviet nuclear plant exploded, it's encased in a temporary sarcophagus, and the land around it is deserted, uninhabitable by humans. It's ruined all right, but would anyone want to go there?
It may sound crazy, but the nearest city to the plant, Pripyat, is proving to be a pretty fascinating tourist destination. Now an enormous ghost town, it's like a land caught in time, and it's being reclaimed by nature at a rather staggering rate. In fact it was featured in a History Channel documentary about what would happen to our civilization if humanity was wiped out.
This was Pripyat in the early Eighties. A model Soviet town of 50,000 people, built to serve the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. A fairground was set to open the day after the infamous explosion… It never did.
In the days that followed, the entire population was ordered to evacuate and take with them enough clothing for a few days. They never returned. This is Pripyat today.
Slowly but surely, nature is devouring the once prosperous city, amusement park, classrooms and even children's toys.
Earlier this year, a journalist for the Mercury News visited the site and told a fascinating tale of entering the exclusion zone, passing through security barriers and radiation sensors, escorted by a tour guide with a radiation dosimeter that beeped as they marched through the empty streets of Pripyat.
They passed tanks that set the dosimeter into overdrive, half-completed cooling towers and stagnant cooling ponds. And the sarcophagus over Reactor No 4 itself, which he was told is in dire need of repair (hardly reassuring news, given what it contains).
If you're intrigued enough to want to go, you can book an 'Ecological Tour to Chernobyl' through Solo East Travel. It's the ultimate ghost town, if you can handle the radioactivity.
An archeological monument in the making, only 23 years down the road to ruin. If, understandably, it's not all that appealing a prospect, check out this great website instead: Pripyat.com. RM
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Images: Pripyat.com, Wikipedia