Roofs caved in, staircases fallen, windows shattered and nature taking over – this is what happens when a whole town is neglected and left to decay for nearly half a century. And I loved every part of it – except the backstory, of course.
I was enjoying a beautiful swim in the emerald waters of Cyprus when I suddenly remembered a ghost town I’d heard about. I’d long been fascinated with abandoned buildings, towns and “things” my entire life and somehow I totally forgot that one of the biggest abandoned areas lay right here in Cyprus: a sealed-off city that had been deserted and shut tight since the 1970s. I opened up my GPS to find that this place—called Famagusta—was just 12 miles away. I had to see it.
Below I will show you Famagusta–more specifically the neighborhood of Varosha–from the outside, and then from the inside. I’ll also explain how to visit yourself. Soon the text will disappear and you’ll see all the photos – hang with me.
A Quick History
There is plenty about Varosha and Famagusta on YouTube and Google, so I’ll just give you the 30 second backstory quickly, so we can get to the photos.
The year was 1974 and the Turks invaded the island of Cyprus. The Greek Cypriots will tell you it was an “invasion,” and of course, the Turkish have their side of the story: that they stormed in to help the Turkish Cypriots who were being persecuted and needed help. I’m not here to take sides, nor judge – I don’t know enough about it all, so please know I’m being as objective as possible. Please understand I am an outsider who enjoys writing about what I see, hear and experience. I know there are two (or many more) different stories, arguments, takes, etc…you’re welcome to offer your comments below. I’m learning as I go and simply writing about my experience. I know the topic is sensitive.
So anyway, the Turks come in and absolutely out-gun the Greek Cypriot government of Cyprus. When it’s all said and done, the Turks take control of just over a third of the island nation, drawing up a border that runs right through the capital of Nicosia, which today, is Europe‘s only divided capital. The Turkish Cypriots go north and are joined by new arrivals from Turkey that will now call Cyprus their home. The Greek Cypriots in the north head south. This is the reason that today, you have a very divided country. By the way, Turkey is the only country that recognizes the new “The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” – no one else does. The whole thing is just wild and I’d be lying if I said I understood even 10% of it all.
One of the most interesting (and many would say sad) results of the invasion is the story of Famagusta, specifically the neighborhood of Varosha. From what I understand, in the 60s and 70s, Varosha was one of the hottest destinations in the Mediterranean, maybe even the world. It was Miami Beach, Hollywood and The French Riviera all rolled into one: an action-packed seaside resort. Hotels, beaches, nightlife, celebrities – this was where it was all happening. Overnight it would become a ghost town.
>>>RELATED: See my entire Cyprus trip (North and South) HERE.
When the tanks rolled in, the entire city fled, with only the shirts on their back. The lifelong residents of Varosha would leave behind their property, possessions, businesses and dreams, never to return. The Turks’ new borders and land would include Famagusta and its suburb of Varosha and the Greeks would not allowed back into their own homes. Terribly awful, right? And here’s the part I just don’t understand: The Turks would seal off Varosha, leaving it to just sit and decay for over 40 years.
Varosha was the crown jewel of that entire island. It was gorgeous and had all the rad stuff: the hotels, restaurants, retail and nightclubs, all laid out on beautiful, tree-lined avenues. Why the Turks invaded is mystery enough – but why the heck they closed up one of the sexiest cities in the world only to let it rot for decades – now that’s something I need someone to explain to me. Why didn’t they at least use it???
And Now…On With the Show
Okay, Varosha – let’s go! It’s important to know Famagusta and Varosha are only accessible through the northern, Turkish-controlled part of Cyprus. If you’re not planning on crossing the border–if you’re staying in “regular” Cyprus–you can only look at Famagusta from afar. I did this first – before realizing I could actually visit Varosha and get inside. I had no idea!
The Famagusta Cultural Center was a big building near the border, but unfortunately it had already closed for the day. I decided to follow the big painted signs that read “Famagusta Viewpoints” which led me to “Mr. John’s” place. This was a house/café/museum and lookout point to Famagusta, which lay across the line. My 2-Euro entry included an eight-minute video presentation, entrance to the museum and binoculars to use upstairs. My favorite part was actually the video, which told the story of Famagusta, from the Greek’s perspective of course.
Upstairs at the lookout post, I really couldn’t see much with the binoculars. And the “museum” consisted of no more than a hodge-podge of literature pasted across the walls. Besides the video (which I really loved), my other favorite part was taking a selfie in front of the “No Man’s Land” sign. That just felt “cool.” I was the only one there by the way.
Next Day’s Function…
The next day I headed to Europe‘s only divided to capital to cross into the Turkish controlled “Northern” Cyprus. It was only while checking into my guesthouse in Nicosia that afternoon, that I was informed that Varosha was indeed open to visitors. My awesome host went on to even call a driver and arrange a trip. I could be there in less than an hour. I was excited – less than 24-hours ago I was renting binoculars to try and sneak a peek from thousands of feet away. Now, I would actually be entering the ghost town with my own two feet. I wouldn’t believe it until I was there.
V is for Varosha
My driver had his foot to the floor most of the ride over and before I knew it, he was dropping me off at the entrance to Varosha, Famagusta. Is this a dream??? The gated entry had three guards, a turnstyle and a big sign posted with rules – mostly reminding guests to stay on the path and not to enter (or even approach) any of the buildings. My driver–whose name escapes me–told me I could meet him back at the car in an hour. But not 20 feet inside Varosha I turned right around. Sprinting back to his black Mercedes I asked, “Is a couple hours okay?” One look inside and I knew I’d be awhile. This was incredible.
The hairs on the back of my neck stood up at attention. I couldn’t believe I was here. Apparently, they’d just opened Varosha to visitors a few months ago. It was a really big deal. The entire area had been sealed tight for over 45 years. I definitely came at the right time, and I was so glad I’d inquired about it all at the guesthouse. My heart would’ve been broken if I would’ve left Cyprus without seeing Varosha and later learned that I could’ve.
>>>RELATED: See my entire Cyprus trip (North and South) HERE.
Having free reign to explore a real live ghost town was a dream come true for the kid in me and I didn’t know where to start. Most streets were open and I was given access to just about everything in every direction; I just couldn’t cross over the rope fences that separated the sidewalk from the properties. Red signs were everywhere warning visitors to stay away from and out of the buildings, which were unstable and at risk of collapse. And I believed it – these buildings were trashed! Roofs caved in, staircases fallen, windows shattered and nature taking over – this is what happens when a whole town is neglected and left to decay for nearly half a century. And I loved every part of it – except the backstory, of course.
You can book a tour to Famagusta HERE.
These Boots Were Made for Walkin’
I walked and walked and walked and walked and walked. Over the next two hours I must’ve walked 10 miles. Bicycles were available to rent – and in hindsight, I probably should’ve – but I enjoyed stopping in front of almost every property to pause and take in every detail. I was most fascinated with the businesses whose nomenclature still remained attached: A fur shop, a custom suit tailor, a café, a disco…anything and everything you could imagine that a thriving city would have – it was all still there, but neglected and rotting. The giant TOYOTA sign had me reeling. You gotta think about it: All these things were left behind as the tanks moved in and the residents escaped for their lives, including complete car dealerships! But perhaps the banks were what really had me taken aback. A soldier reprimanded me for yanking on the safe deposit box as the locked night safe made a loud clank on the quiet street. I couldn’t help it!
You can book a tour to Famagusta HERE.
I tried to temper my excitement by reminding myself of the tragedy of it all. I did my best to put myself in the shoes of the people who lived here. They lost their homes and all of their belongings. Many lost their business. Their entire lives, livelihoods and fortunes taken away in just minutes. Their dreams. For 45+ years, they had to helplessly watch their old neighborhood and family property just rot away. I can’t begin to imagine how I’d feel and how that would affect me. And here I am, treating this place like an amusement park. I tried my best to train my mind to continually use this experience educationally, rather than as a novelty, to just gawk at these abandoned buildings. There was a tragic story behind it all.
>>>RELATED: See my entire Cyprus trip (North and South) HERE.
You Can Check in Anytime You Like…
It’s important to realize that Varosha, in its time, was an international tourist destination and one of the most coveted vacation destinations in the Mediterranean. Once referred to as The French Riviera of Cyprus, the town brought in over 700,000 visitors each year. The Hollywood elite were no strangers to this glamorous destination, including big names like Elizabeth Taylor and Brigitte Bardot. Its 12,000 hotel rooms, recreational activities, restaurants and nightclubs made Varosha the place to be. Amazing, that overnight, the city would be left abandoned and stay that way for decades.
>>> RELATED: See my trip to CHERNOBYL here.
People, Facts, Questions
While most of my photos didn’t show a soul in sight, it would be misleading if I didn’t mention that I was among other visitors. Not hundreds – I’d guess maybe I came across two dozen people during my two hours here. The area is vast and spread out, so often I was indeed the only one in sight. Other times, I passed couples, families and kids; on foot and bicycle. I tried so hard to make out what languages they were speaking. Where were they from? Were they all Turks? Families enjoyed ice cream cones while strolling down the abandoned boulevards. (If they were Turks) did they feel any sense of sadness or guilt? Did the Greek Cypriots visit, and if they did, how emotional and difficult must it be – especially knowing the area (and possibly their property) is still being held by the Turks. These are the things I wonder about.
You can book a tour to Famagusta HERE.
The whole area was also very heavily patrolled by police. Officers manned corners and cruised down the avenues on electric scooters. They are there, for the most part, for the safety of the guests – to make sure curious rule-breakers don’t try and slip under stanchions and into the condemned structures.
It looked like some of the police (or other government staff) actually lived on site, too. I walked down a small street with fences on each side – obscured with artificial hedges to conceal what was happening on the other side. There were “NO PHOTOS” signs on each end of the street and obvious activity going on behind the fences. I saw a few men enter and exit and snuck a quick glances to see what looked like offices inside. The high rises behind the fences had signs of current occupancies, including clothes hung out to dry on some of the balconies. Oh, how I wonder what goes on behind those barriers.
The UN presence inside Varosha was probably what I found most intriguing. Truth be told, I don’t know a lot about what all the UN forces do, in general, and I need to do my research. I’ve seen them plenty of times during my travels – mostly in Africa and through unstable places like The Central African Republic and South Sudan. But what were they doing in Varosha, an area already so super-secured by Turkish forces? I saw a corner UN post with its officer behind the glass of an old, abandoned storefront. Big, clear signs saying “NO PHOTOS – DO NOT APPROACH” kept me from sneaking any pictures. Another UN post was atop a high rise building. My questions: What is the UN here for? What specific scenarios are they aiming to prevent from happening? More importantly, what’s their daily life like here. I imagine they must be bored to torture.
>>> RELATED: See my trip to CHERNOBYL here.
Thanks for Coming By…
Thanks for reading my article about Varosha. I took this trip in June of 2021. I hope you’ll explore the rest of my website, as I’ve documented some other really cool, lesser-visited places. From North Korea‘s underground metro in Pyongyang, to Saddam Hussein‘s palace atop a hill in Babylon, I’ve been so fortunate to explore some of the craziest things in this world. You can check out my trip to Chernobyl or see the chaos of an out-of-control depression in Venezuela. It’s all here. See you soon.
You can book a hotel in Famagusta HERE.
UPDATE: Since publishing this article, I have spent many, many hours studying the history of Cyprus. As I’d imagined, its backstory is a lot more complex than the one paragraph I wrote above. Here are a couple of YouTube videos I found helpful: Cyprus Dispute Explained, The Cyprus Problem, Divided Cyprus. There are many more that dive deep into the detailed history and intricacies of the division here.
49 thoughts on “Exploring the Abandoned City of Varosha, Famagusta”
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Perhaps the guy should have a little more background research on pre invasion history.
I’m the guy! And I’m still learning.
I absolutely agree. The story of 1974 started with something else on Cyprus.
The trick is to do a bit of research before you start writing 🙂
This “trick” is to understand sometimes we “learn as we go.” 🙂
I agree with you Randy. This was not a history lesson. This was simply a candid visit to an abandoned place. And I enjoyed every bit of it. If you chose to know more about the political aspects of it then that information is available to read & learn. Quite frankly anybody can do that without spending a dime. But to take the trip and visit Varosha to share for the world to see in 2021…I that that is priceless. Good job Randy. Don’t listen to them!
Thanks so much!
His aim was to show us the buildings, not give a history lesson.
“Why the Turks invaded is mystery enough” – NO, there is no mystery. After years and years of genocide, oppression, living in enclaves, persecution and finally a Greek coup to unite the island with Greece (Enosis) the Turkish army had no choice but to “intervene” to save the Turkish Cypriots from extinction!
Thank you Peter. I meant “mystery” to me, as an outsider. Please pardon me – I’m an outsider seeing and learning about this for the very first time, and as I mentioned, had only been presented one story – it’s why I have so many questions.
Great website by the way and what a wonderful life you are living. Keep going and enjoy 🙂
Is that why Denktash said during the 1974 coup by Greece against the Cyprus government “this has nothing to do with us, it is an internal affair between the Greek-Cypriots”?
If you think the whole tragedy had nothing to do with Greek and Turkish nationalism brought into Cyprus after WWII then you have not opened any history books.
(If they were Turks) did they feel any sense of sadness or guilt?
No. Why should we? They reap what they sow. Turkey was so OK to an one-state Cyprus since the beginning as it was one of the three guarantors of the Republic of Cyprus, hell even the flag drew by a Turkish. From 1960 to 1974, Turkey called/warned Greece and UK -as they were the other two- about EOKA raids to Turkish villages and mass murderings, systematically ethnic profiling, discriminations against Turkish bureaucrats in governmental body, and rapid & intentional Helenization attempts. Coup d’etat in Greece by pro-nationalist & expansionist soldiers and their declaration about ENOSIS (annexing and making it a city of Greece) was the last drop in the glass.
That’s one side of the story. I can give you gazillion of stories in which the Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots were at peace and living like bothers and sisters. However, please remind yourself that the majority of Turkish-Cypriots (that historically are the result of Janissary bodies of the Ottoman empire and their roots were Greek) did not speak turkish even until the late 30s (you had villages in Pafos, Karpasia full of Turkish-Cypriots that had no clue of how to speak Turkish but only Greek!). The third generation of those Turkish Cypriots were the first to be “invited” and radicalised by the Brits and some Turkish nationalists to join the British-controlled police force back in the 40s (those were the pre-TMT people and this was way before the independence in the 60s and way before the revolution in 55) and they were giving away any Greek Cypriots that were sympathetic to Greece to the authorities to be hanged in public (and many of those Greek Cypriots later on yes, they fought for Enosis -that was “promised” and not given on 1957 since the majority of the island population (80%) is and was Greek and not Turkish!) – do you find this unreasonable? If yes, then you do not respect history at all but rather cannibalise on it. Also, the Zurich agreement was for the three forces of Greece, UK and Turkey to establish peace on the island and not CONQUER 1/3 of it for 40+ years! Huge difference and get your facts right. After all, it’s illogical to say that this is the correct act as this act is only considered as correct by only one country whereas the whole UN has considered it as an ILLEGAL activity. Finally, modern (and old) Turkish-Cypriots don’t really fancy the “Ottoman empire” dream of motherland Turkey neither the colonizers brought from Anatolia that took and exploit our homes/properties. They prefer to re-unite with GreekCypriots and they of course chase every chance to maintain/renew their Republic of Cyprus passports -and even move from the occupied area to the free area of the republic- rather than using the illegitimate and “fake” ones from the “northern republic”. Some reality check would be OK from time to time.
@AM well said!
Greek and Turkish cypriots lived in harmony before 1950s. Of course political tension was high sometimes but daily life was going on somehow pracefully. Then Greek side decided that Cyprus is a Greek property and if Turks not ok with this idea, they had to leave. either willingly or by force. You can’t ignite a war that brings death and destruction and expect things go normal as if nothing has happened. Price has to be paid. If Varosha is still an empty land today, it only proves good will of Turks, otherwise it would take 1 hour to take this town and open it for Turkish settlement back in 1974. May peace be with you my friend.
Thank you! To you as well.
My friend, you mentioned it yourself that political tensions were also present since radicalised people were in both sides. The main difference is that the Greeks were and are the majority. In good will, the greek cypriots enabled the turkish cypriots to be represented in the newly formed 1960s government having a vice president and 15 out of the 50 members of parliament (and that percentage was more in relation to the population percentage). The 1974 invasion from Turkey is as if France invades London because there is a 10% of London’s population being French-British. I doubt that “good will” is setting up plans for a touristic area (with a map of developed Varoshia) as presented in one of Erdogan’s visits in 2019. Keep in mind that in 1975, Etzevit (Turkey PM) announced that Turkish troops will leave the island and Varosha was supposed to be given back to its legitimate Greek-Cypriot citizens; they never did and it remained as a ghost town. Also, I doubt that good will is shown by neglecting the UN agreements as well as the Zurich agreement of the independence and “deliver” peace for 47 years, using our orthodox churches and cemeteries as farmyards, our houses/properties taken by people that is not theirs and keep on enhancing and developing military power in the occupied area of the island (i.e., the so called “TRNC”), and still utilising, by good will of the greek cypriots, the main power distribution grid and water distribution system of the republic of Cyprus but claiming to be autonomous. Drive around the free area of the republic and you will see that the GreekCypriots still respect and maintain the mosques that the Turkish-Cypriot minorities used prior 1974 , allow to the Turkish Cypriots that fled the oligarchy of “TRNC” to leave freely, work and operate their mosques and cemeteries…always complying with the original 1960 independence agreements. I am sorry but as a refugee from Varoshia I would love to re-live peacefully with Turkish Cypriots, but not with the Turkish invaders in a unified Cyprus.
The sign on the building to translate, I think it was probably the representative office of Olympic Airways
The building you liked was a school entrance as the signage above names it.
Regardless the background of the invasion, nowdays it’ s an issue of military occupation of a small state by a far larger and powerful one and illegal installation of settlers from Turkey to Cyprus. Before 1974 Greek-Cypriots made up the 80% of the population while Turkish-Cypriots made up the 18%, but nowdays Turkey occupies the 37% of the island’s area. Anyway, I just wanted to answer your questions about two pictures. At picture 103 the sign says “Ολυμπιακή Αεροπορία” that means Olympic Airlines, e.g. the greek airlines at that time. At pic 17, the beautiful building, it is written “Λύκειο Ελληνίδων Αμμοχώστου” that means High-school of Greek Girls of Ammochostos (the greek name of Famagusta). So, this building was a high-school of a greek foundation.
Noone knows the real Varosia story but probably the truth lies in a series of secret and unknown plans. Cyprus division plan (Green Line) was initiated in 1963, from that time Turkey’s policy was to devide the island and all its effords causing problems in Cyprus Republic was towards giving an excuse for invasion. This Green Line was always an agenda on the table from 1963 but USA never gave green light. Fast forward to 1974 and USA plays a trick, they say to Greek Junta that they can stage a coup in Cyprus and that they will keep Turks at bay, but at the same time give the green light to the Turks to invade and promished the will keep the Greeks away, probably Turkey had more to offer as ally. Usa permission to the Turks was based on this Green Line plan agreed between them and not a mile further. In this plan Turks could get old city Famagusta but Vasosia would stay under Greek administration. However after being defeated militarily the Greeks abandoned all the aeria when Turkish army came close, 100% of Greek population and army left to Paralimny cause there was no point of fighting as they had no arms against tanks. Turkish army entered Vasosia as it was totally abandoned but because it was out of the deal they had with USA they cannot use the city, so the locked it and waited to exchange it on some deal. Timed passed and we still don’t have a deal. Should a token Greece force was left to defend Varosia, it would be a Greek city today, but noone knew about the secred deal back then.
And one more interesting fact, from 1963 till 1974 where the so called “Greek pogrom” against the Turks happened, Turko Cypriot population increased. From 1974 till 2021 Turko Cypriot population decreased and they are a minority in their own country as the settlers outnumber them. In 50 years there will not be Turko Cypriot identity, the Turkish invasion is the biggest genocidal factor in Cyprus.
@Lary exactly!! To add to this, I can bet you, that none of the above comments made by Turks, are from Turkocypriots, but most possibly are made by Turkish settlers or even worse from mainland Turks. The Sultan wants to forever divide the island and adjust it to Turkey. He is clearly against reuniting. More settlers come on the island and I am afraid that the sad history of Cypriots, is simply not over yet, unless significant changes will take place in Turkey.
Ramblin’ Randy, you ask what happened to all that money in the banks, all that jewellery in the jewellery shops and all the cars in the car dealerships? Looted by the Turkish army. Every home’s contents looted as well. My father’s factory looted and its machinery sold to an Israeli entity. Conquest and pillage is all that Turkey knows well. Everything Turkey has to be proud of and the tourists come to admire has been stolen from others. The previous presidential palace before Erdogan built the thousand-room monstrosity was stolen from a prominent Armenian family. ‘Nuff said.
Your “most beautiful building ” marked ΛΥΚΕΙΟΝ ΕΛΛΗΝΙΔΩΝ, was the local department of a greek women club, that is mostly involved with the preservation of traditional dances and women outfits throughout history.
Wow, THANK YOU!!!
Actually it’s a high school for girls. Back then high schools separated girls from boys.
That is good to know…Thank you for sharing.
Excellent and educational write up.
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1. My aunt’s apartment was in Kennedy Court.
2. The building with the blue letters says Olympic Airways I assume it was the travel bureau for the airline.
3. Varosha was a more exclusive area, so the banks were filled with jewlery and gold. My aunt kept almost all her wealth in the bank safe. Everything was looted by the Turkish soldiers in 1974. Most Cypriots who fled the town thought the would return withn a few hours to a day. They left everything including their pets behind never to see any of it again. This is what my aunt told me who was one of the people who left her apartment with just some cash in her back pocket and the keys to her flat.
Unbelievable. Just WOW. Thank you so much for sharing this with me, Marian. So great to hear from you. Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions and more.
Randy, this is unbelievable info shared. It appears you started a fire fight above between these rival groups…but God only know what else might be hidden in the walls or beneath Turkish rugs…I would love to spend the day there…truly amazing.
Thank you sir!
Extinction…lol….thats what Turks do
May I use some of your blog photos for my presentation on Varosha?
Thank you for the work, big fan of it.
You may! Please credit ramblinrandy.com
Wow! I have been fascinated by this for many years. Like you, I visited the lookout posts and museums many years ago. How do you book a tour? Can you just turn up?
When I was there, last year, yes! I was so surprised – apparently it had just opened to the public.
I lived there as a kid between ‘71 and ‘73. During the invasion we were living on the British Sovereign Base, Dhekelia, near Larnaca. For us kids Famagusta was the worlds best playground, in the summer school finished at lunchtime and we spent every afternoon on the beach, I remember waterskiing at the Venus Beach Hotel. We used to sneak into the hotels and take the elevators up to the roofs.
When the invasion happened we had a 12 refugees from Famagusta billeted in our house in Dhekelia, we were already a family of 6. I do remember on older British refugee complaining to my mother about the food, she got short shrift from my mother,
I went back in ‘84 to North Cyprus when the Green Line was firmly closed. I persuaded a U.N. soldier to sneak me across the border hidden in the back of a Land Rover, the difference was incredible, especially Ayia Napa which used to be a small sleepy village when we were there and we used to have Nisi Beach to ourselves.
WOW!!! Just incredible! I visited both British territories on this same trip. Such an interesting island with all the borders, history, etc.
I think we often look back in time with rose tinted spectacles. I wonder how I would find it now? I don’t speak Russian so that might be a disadvantage.
For the last 11 years I’ve been sailing around the world, currently in Fiji. I will definitely try and pull into Cyprus when we eventually get that far.
Amazing! Heading your way in December.
I am planning to visit Varosha next month and stumbled across your website while looking for info. According to the rules displayed on one of your pics and photos you did, I assume it is officially allowed to take pictures within the city as long you are on the marked walking (cycling) path?
Correct, pictures were no problem when I was there.