Every four years a new host city erects a new host of grand buildings and sweeping stadiums hoping to shine in the global spotlight. How long those buildings stay pristine is another matter.
As the 2016 Summer Olympics opens this Friday in Rio de Janeiro, athletes have started to settle into the Olympic village. And while the fate of the village is still undetermined, if the present conditions are any indication, the future doesn’t look bright. Indeed some athletes have already abandoned the living quarters, which are plagued with problems like electrical outages, clogged drains and leaky pipes.
If the Olympic village in Rio does fall into disuse and desertion after this year’s Games, it will certainly not be the first. The world is littered with the relics of past Games, some repurposed and still in use, but many abandoned for years, left empty and crumbling, overrun by nature and forgotten to time.
Here are five abandoned Olympic places in the Atlas you can see today—some with a dark post-Olympic history, all fascinating.
HADŽIĆI, BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
The area around Igman Mountain outside of Sarajevo has been the site of cross-country skiing, the 1984 Winter Olympic ski jump—and, jarringly, some wartime atrocities. This abandoned Olympic skiing facility still bears the scars of the Siege of Sarajevo. From 1992 to 1995 the area became the scene of fierce fighting. The angular Olympic pavilion was even used as a backdrop for summary executions. Today the remains of the fighting can still be seen on the ruins of the Olympic facilities; traces of UN symbols still linger on the abandoned judges’ tower, and some of the structures are still riddled with bullet holes.
Little known to most tourists and even Germans, on the edge of Berlin lie the chilling abandoned remains of “Hitler’s Olympic village,” built for the so-called Nazi Games of 1936. During World War II, the Olympic complex was used as a hospital for German soldiers, until it was taken over and used as a barracks by the Soviet Army. After the fall of communism, the complex sat abandoned for years and fell into ruins. The old Olympic village has been left largely untouched, though you can still tour the site today, and so far one room has been fully restored: the reconstructed dormitory used by Jesse Owens, a shining superstar in the otherwise dark history of the 1936 Summer Olympics.
Built to accommodate the Moscow Summer Olympics in 1980, Estonia’s Linnahall now stands as an imposing concrete ghost town. The massive, 5,000-seat amphitheater was commissioned by the Soviet Union to show the world its mastery over concrete-pouring. But Estonia could not fill the thousands of seats after the Olympic crowds returned home. The hurried construction of the building has begun to show over the past 20 years as the poorly finished rock crumbles under the stresses of time. Still, locals and tourists can enjoy taking the external steps up to the roof of the hall, which provides a rather stunning view of the surrounding city.
Originally built in the 1980s and used for the Athens Olympic Games in 2004, this athletic complex was stunning and graceful—but is now in a state of dereliction and disrepair. Today, the complex as a whole is empty and unkempt. It’s open for visitors, though you may be the only one there. Examining the velodrome’s soaring arches contrasted against rusting pools, broken fountains, and weed-filled stadiums all sprawling out over 96 hectares leaves one amazed how such a project declines in less than a decade.
SARAJEVO, BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
Once a proud feature of Sarajevo’s 1984 Winter Olympic games, the bobsleigh track has since fallen into ruin after being the victim of military actions. When the Yugoslav Wars began in 1991, the 1300-meter track, like the rest of the country, became embroiled in the fighting. The curled turns were used as defensive positions for Bosnian forces, and the whole of the track became pocked with bullet holes and other wounds. Today, the track still stands as a favorite spot for local graffiti artists who have decorated whole swaths of the curving lane. The Sarajevo Bobsleigh Track is literally a concrete reminder of a more prosperous time.