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Haunting Photos of Europe’s Abandoned Buildings, From Steel Plants to Castles

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The main hall of a steel plant office in France. “The most painful thing in this is to watch it crumble”, says Hans. (All Photos: Hans van Vrouwerf)

This photo essay is one of a five-part series with Atlas Obscura and Olympus. We asked some of our favorite photographers to take a quest with an Olympus E-M5 Mark II camera, and these are the results of their adventures. All photographs in this story were taken with an Olympus E-M5 Mark II with a M.Zuiko ED 12-40mm f2.8 PRO lens. To see the full series, go here 

Photographer Hans Van Vrouwerf first started shooting abandoned buildings in 2010. He started with an old stone factory in a village in the Dutch countryside and when he got home, Van Vrouwerf started to research other buildings. As a committed urban explorer, with the countries of Western Europe as his backyard, he has sought out derelict buildings not only in his home base of the Netherlands, but also in Belgium, Germany, France, and Luxembourg. 

Over the past five years, Van Vrouwerf has photographed dozens of abandoned churches, hospitals and domestic spaces, all left to wither with time and neglect. Three spots topped his list when Atlas Obscura asked him to participate in our Olympus series: a steel factory in France, and a castle and swimming pool in Belgium.

As with a lot of urban exploration, this journey was not without its challenges. The steel plant, which had been on Van Vrouwerf’s photography wish list for several years, was a challenge to access, but once inside, Van Vrouwerf was awed by what he found: an interior that is “massive and just breathes history. The light was phenomenal.”

With Van Vrouwerf’s evocative photographs, it becomes easier to imagine those who lived and worked in these once-thriving environments. Here, we share the crumbling majesty of abandoned European architecture.

A detail of the pillars.

A cast-iron elevator in the dark interior of the steel plant. “The biggest surprise is the immense darkness,” Van Vrouwerf recalls, “You can wander through long corridors with very little light.”

The grand main entrance of the office at the steel plant. Van Vrouwerf notes that those who worked there ”knew how to make an impression on possible new clients.”

A long hallway in the steel plant leading to small offices. 

Damp and curling paperwork in the steel plant office. The glass ceiling is crumbling. 

Office equipment lies abandoned inside the steel plant. 

A close-up of the rusted typewriter. 

The abandoned swimming pool in Belgium.

At the swimming pool, where the other areas were trashed and covered in graffiti, the blue tiles somehow remained pristine.

The remains of a kitchen in the 17th-century castle in Belgium. 

The old castle had, at some stage, installed an elevator, and this is what remains.  ”It made me think of Dr. Who,” says Van Vrouwerf.