As world citizens, you are used to normal cities and towns where everything is sane, standard and conventional. If you thought that “regular” and “normal” defined the world, take a look at these towns that defy all conventions. Some are weird; some are outright alien; and some straight from the pages of history books.
Here is our collection of some of the strangest towns and townspeople from far-flung corners of the world:
1. Roswell in New Mexico: The town from outer space
Roswell is the site of an unidentified flying object crash in July, 1947. Ever since, the town has taken on the character of an UFO, with most features and houses themed around space, aliens and flying saucers.
Known as the UFO Capital of the World, it also plays host to an annual UFO Festival where UFO enthusiasts and sceptics come together to celebrate the most debated outer space event in the century.
An International UFO Museum and Research Centre houses the debris from the 1947 crash and other UFO incidents from around the world. Observatories, planetariums, Aviation Museum and themed cafes add to the bizarre alien fun.
2. Longyearbyen in Norway: Where it is illegal to die
A former mining town and World’s Northernmost City, Longyearbyen is a town where it is legal to carry rifles and for reindeers to roam the streets, but not to die.
The place is so cold and the ground permafrost, that dead bodies do not decompose. Following an influenza epidemic in 1917, the town’s graveyard stopped accepting new burials. So death is prohibited as the body cannot be buried here. If a person is to die he is expected to go elsewhere to die. That’s the law! There’s more. If a resident happens to shoot a polar bear in self-defence and the animal dies, it has to be sent away for its final resting spot elsewhere. So hunting too is illegal.
3. Coober Pedy in South Australia: The ultimate “Underground Town”
The accepted norm is for people to live above the ground, but at Coober Pedy, people prefer to live underground.
Known as the Opal Capital of the World, Coober Pedy is an underground town in the middle of the Australian Outback. Chimneys rise from the sand and big signs warn of unmarked holes. The entire subterranean community lives underground to escape the 100-120 degree heat. Entire mansions are carved in underground dugouts.
The practice of opal miners taking refuge in the mines to escape the heat, gave way to permanency. Residents opted to stay in abandoned opal mines and later continued to carve their homes underground in the sandstone base. The under-the-ground homes have all the amenities of modern life – electricity, internet, and water – just no sunlight. Houses are connected with tunnels that are Coober Pedy streets. The town sports all the urban features like pools, book shops, jewellery stores, supermarket and even a four-star underground hotel. This is perhaps the only town in the world that has a church service 55 feet below the earth’s surface!
4. Elista in Russia: The chess city of kings and queens
Chess players are known to be obsessed by the game, but Elista takes chess fixation to a whole new level. The Largest Buddhist City in Russia, Elista, is where large Buddhist monasteries and sculptures vie for space with open-air giant chess boards and a chess museum.
The town was built in 1990 by chess fanatic Kirsan Ilyumzhinov to host the 33rd Chess Olympiad. It has a giant sized chessboard in the town square and various chess-themed sculptures in the neighbourhood. However, its Chess Palace does not have any resident royalty. The Chess City section is a domed complex that held the 1998 Chess Olympiad. That’s why Elista is a major tourist draw for chess lovers around the world. One anomaly remains. The people of this town are the “pawns” held hostage to a chess-inspired tradition, without any “King” or “Queen” in their midst!
5. Noiva Do Cordeiro in Brazil: Where women have the last laugh
Men folk, beware! Women have moved beyond the liberation movement of the 60s to creating a counter space against patriarchy.
Way back in 1891, Senhorinha de Lima was a woman ostracised from her community because of adultery. Along with like-minded women and single mothers, she relocated to this rural corner in Brazil to form the one and only “All-woman Village” in the world.
Noiva Do Cordeiro has 100% women inhabitants, mostly under 35. Although some of the women are married, their men folk – husbands and sons over 18 – are made to work away from home and allowed to enter the town only on weekends. That means, women power the rules and take charge of town planning, policies and even religion. They do all the physical and manual labour brazening it out on their own, no matter the challenge. Whether working the village fields, hosting all-girl parties or looking for love, this is certainly the most unique town in the world. The entire 600 plus population is made of beautiful young women, where any visiting male has to live by the rules of women.
6. Chefchaouen in Morocco: Where belief has created “blues”
Nestled in the Rif Mountains is a beautiful town that has welcomed Jew exiles from Spain. What’s so unique about this place is that all buildings are painted a powder-blue, mirroring the clear Moroccan skies. This Blue Town was painted blue by its Jewish inhabitants in the 1930’s.The reason is less on aesthetics and more on religion. According to Jewish beliefs, dyeing thread with an ancient natural dye, the tekhelel, and weaving it into prayer shawls, remind one of Divine power. This tradition reflects in the buildings too, even though the present community is a mix of Jews and Muslims. The Berber people love to live in their jumble of blue houses on the waterfront. Rather than getting the blues from the blue-coloured overkill, their spirits are being lifted from the tourist attraction and revenues.
7. Yangsi Dwarf Town in China: Where everything is pint size
Scientific community puts the odds of a dwarf being born as 1 in every 20,000. But this Dwarf Town in China defeats all science, by having the highest concentration of dwarfs in the world.
Yangsi has a unique demography. Forty percent of its people are dwarfs, all of them born and raised here. The tallest is 3’10” tall and the shortest 2’1”. For 60 years the place has remained under the influence of this unnatural phenomenon. So Yangsi continues to be the comfort zone of dwarfs, where the tiny people not only don’t get stared at or persecuted, but also enjoy the comfort of houses and features build around their own comfort height.
Today, the town has its own police force and fire department. To create a source of income, the residents have turned Yangsi into a tourist attraction, with the first ever live-in theme-park where dwarfs dominate the landscape.
8. Busingen Am Hochrhein: The town shared by two countries
In this era of smart cities, where cities plan to make infrastructure seamlessly connected, the town of Busingen Am Hochrhein takes the “smart connectivity” to a whole new level.
Due to a near-war situation in the 17th century, the Austrian had relinquished control of the town to the Swiss. In 1805, it was further handed over to Germany. A 1919 referendum by the townspeople, voted for annexation by Switzerland, but as the Swiss could not offer any territory in exchange, it remained German.
Today, Busingen Am Hochrhein lies at the crossroads of two countries and two cultures, Switzerland and Germany. Essentially a German enclave enclosed within Switzerland, it is governed by both countries and has a cross-cultural allegiance. From signposts to currencies and languages spoke, the German and Swiss influence is all round you. It is mandatory for every house to have two landline numbers, and for every sign to be in both, French and German. You can expect to come across quaint features like two phone booths at a petrol station, each belonging to one nation. Busingen Am Hochrhein is the only town in the world with two postal codes and two-nation governance. Residents are free to use any postage stamp or currency, as long as they belong to Switzerland or Germany.
9. Matmata in Tunisia: Cave town with modern dwellers
If you thought “The Flinstones” belonged only to the digital world of TV, then you’d be mistaken. There exists a cave town in real world, although with a difference. Real twenty-first century people occupy the town.
Medieval century invaders had forced the Berbers to retreat to the Matmata plateau, where they began to dig homes high in the mountains to escape capture and torture. Later, the Berbers moved down and build villages and homes in the lower mountain slopes and plains. The reason was to escape the extreme heat. The sandstone shelf is soft enough to be excavated with hand tools, but strong enough to provide homes for centuries. So Matmata became the only surviving Cave Town in the world, where houses are caves dug out of large pits in the ground. The open pits function as courtyards while the cut-outs serve as rooms. Cave houses are connected to other courtyards through trench-like passageways, forming a huge underground maze of dwellings and primitive infrastructure. Visit Matmata for a glimpse into life as early pre-historic cave dwellers!