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Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Ghost towns

Ghost towns aren’t only to be found in the Old West of western myth. We have them here in Spain, too; thousands of abandoned villages.

These ruined buildings must have many stories to tell, some happy, others sad. People’s lives, their dreams and high hopes blossomed amidst these stones, but now they’ve gone – either elsewhere to create new hopes and live new dreams, or to join the dust of generations departed.

Currently for sale is a village of A Barca in the north-west region of Galicia, nestling in a hillside that overlooks the Mino river close to the Portuguese border. Selling price is zero euros. The twelve crumbling stone dwellings admittedly need work, too. This particular village dates back to the fifteenth century, so the catch is that the successful applicant must present a development project that will preserve all of the village’s buildings.

There are many reasons why villages are deserted. Some were left after the Civil War, when the men didn’t return; some sought greener grass for better farming, while others were abandoned gradually as people sought work in the towns and cities. The residents of A Barca left in the 1960s when a dam was built, which flooded their farmland.


Spain's National Statistics Institute estimates that there are around 2,900 empty villages across the country. There’s even a website specialising in the sale of deserted hamlets called aldeasabandonadas.com, which has to be an enterprising endeavour. Another site is galicianrustic.com. About half of this number is in Asturias and neighbouring Galicia, a mostly rural region that is home to the famous pilgrimage site of Santiago de Compostela.

The dismal economic climate of the past few years has prompted many writers and painters to sell up, too. There is also the problem of locating the owners of the abandoned properties. They may have moved away long ago and haven’t been heard from since. In other cases, property deeds have been lost or even destroyed.

Recently, British, Norwegians, Americans, Germans, Russians and Mexicans have purchased abandoned rural properties in these areas. One town, which is on sale for €62,000, is made up of five stone houses with slate roofs, surrounded by pine and eucalyptus trees. Apparently, the family who once lived here made knives, while others were carpenters and farmers.

Their ghosts may still remain, grinding blades, hewing wood, tilling fields…

 Jennifer and Hannah in a ruined building
[My accompanying photos were taken in Murcia; copyright 2014]

Real Spain, as above, can also be found in the pages of Spanish Eye,
22 cases of half-English, half-Spanish private eye Leon Cazador, as told to me 'in his own words'.
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4 comments:

Susan Roebuck said...

We also have ghost towns here in Portugal and some (mostly in the north) where people still live in their little stone houses with no heating, growing their own crops, dressing in the old way. I think they became abandoned when such a lot of the population emigrated in the 50s and 60s.

Nik said...

Thanks for commenting, Susan. That's interesting about Portugal, too. Of course it isn't just homes left, but factories and businesses.

Vanessa said...

Interesting post. We also have them here in SW France, where farmers progressively left the land over the 20th century. We stumble across ruined buildings all the time in the woods. A sad story of rural depopulation.

Nik said...

Thanks, Vanessa. Indeed, sad yet fascinating.