Aguinalíu is located in the desolate province of Aragón and is risking depopulation since decades. The village consists of two parts: on top of the mountain and at the bottom of the valley. The upper part has been abandoned in recent decades, but has been almost completely rebuilt by new residents in recent years.
Winters are cold in Aguinalíu. Houses are heated by wood stoves, due to lack of central heating. One winter morning, Manuel inspects the peppers in the vegetable garden. The residents try to grow their vegetables themselves and become as auto-sufficient as possible.
Houses falling to ruins still have owners. People interested in living a rural life have to find out who is the owner to see if the person is willing to sell their houses. Depending on the state, location in the village, the ruins can cost between a few thousands and multiple thousands of euros.
In search of a simpler life close to nature, the young couple Gorka and Polina Viana moved with baby Naya to Aguinalíu in April, during the first strict lockdown. They could rent a house that had recently been renovated in the upper part of the village. Their main concern is how they can get work and income in the region.
José Luis Alcázar Crouseilles set up a cooperative in 2001 to renovate houses in Aguinalíu with the dream of transforming them into a macrobiotic center. He owns a total of 6 ruins, two of which he has renovated in the past seven years. The economic crisis caused financial problems, so his dream is only slowly taking shape. He decided to do everything himself, with as much recycled material as possible. In total, he spent 5000 euros on renovating the house, over a period of 8 years.
One of José Alcázar Crouseilles dreams is to create an atelier and art centre at Aguinalíu, but as he is doing all renovations himself, it takes a long time. So it is a dream to hold on to. Until that time, he regularly visits the art centre in the nearby city of Graus to inspire his soul.
Night falls over Aguinalíu. The upper part with the new inhabitants, looks down on the lower part of the villages, that is totally deserted at night. All youth have migrated in the past years.
In La Garrotxa National Park in Catalunya, Didac Costa is building an eco-village. With the help of an inheritance, he bought 70 hectares of land, including four ruins of a hamlet. He has put all his money into building one house. His dream is to turn it into an ecologically conscious community of like-minded people based on collective property.
Until today, Didac Costa, sociologist, activist and anarchist, lives there alone, together with two dogs, four cats, two donkeys and 30 goats. "It is especially difficult to find people you can live with. Most hippies have no money to invest in renovating a ruin. I have run out of money to do it myself. There are also so many movements within anarchism that it always leads to discussions."
Didac wants to create his own vegetable jardin, but his goats have eaten everything. As his house is in the middle of a national park, he has to cross two rivers to get to the supermarket.
Together with an Irish friend Didac is setting up a business in box wood, since it is one of the branches that grows extensivel on his 70 hectare land. Many of the trees are dying due to a plague of moths. Therefore, they do not need to kill healthy trees but can just cut the dying ones and export them.
Didac lives completely off-grid and wants to withdraw from the capitalist system as much as possible. For example, he introduced his own monetary system based on exchange in the region, outside the dominant system of money. "Of course it is not possible to live completely independently of money, but being driven by an utopia means that it gives you a direction for your acts. And every step brings you closer to the ideal.”
Because freedom is an important value that he pursues, he also allows his animals to roam freely. But they do not stick to the boundaries of his territory. The donkeys have broken into the neighbors houses several times, his dog runs freely through the woods and barks at the hikers in the park. Didac has already had to appear at the police station 11 times because his animals had caused problems.
There are several restrictions for rebuilding the ruins. Building style should be in style of the antique houses. The stair was still in tact when Didac bought the ruins.
Solanell is a remote ruined village in the Pyrenees, under Andorra, where previously 300 people lived. In the 1970s the village was completely deserted and all the houses fell into ruins. In recent years, a total of six houses have been built, where four people live permanently.
Two of the current residents are Joseph Nogue de Invennon and Blanca Nava de Nogue, a working-class couple who live with five dogs in one of the built-up houses. Both grew up in a rural environment: Joseph in Andorra and Blanca in Venezuela. They like the simplicity in the village, although it is not easy: "Joseph has no job, and I work in Andorra, which is difficult and expensive to reach.”
Life is more expensive than anticipated. "Things keep breaking, and we don't have the economy to replace them.” The cars break down on the dirt mountain road to Solanell. And now the mice have bitten the cables while the car was in the garage under our house, "says Joseph, who tries to replace the cables himself.
Since the entire village of Solanell consists of ruïns, there is a danger of collapse. At some ruins little signs are placed to remind visitors of the dangers of the charming village.
A friend of Tomas Ballesté García, who temporarily lost his job due to the corona-virus, stays over at Tomas' place to help in construction and unwind from his daily life.
The village of Solanell has an elevation of 1200 meters in the Pyrenees. As it can get cold, Tomas Ballesté García starts cutting wood in summer to prepare for wintertimes.
Architect Pere Lopez Gausa had built a second home in Solanell, next to his apartment in Barcelona. He has been living there permanently since the start of the pandemic. Every day he walks to the river for a refreshing swim. He finds the biggest challenge living together with different characters in a small village: "If there were more people, you could avoid each other, but now you keep bumping into each other, which causes tension and conflict."
RUTOPIA In recent decades, there has been an enormous exodus of the Spanish countryside. ‘Empty Spain’ has become a household name. According to the Spanish Ministry of Planning, only 10 percent of the 42 million inhabitants live in 70 percent of the country. There are areas in Spain more sparsely populated than Siberia. The aging population, lack of investment in infrastructure and facilities, combined with a profound and long-term economic crisis, have led to the depopulation of rural areas.
Urbanization is a trend all over the world that seems to be continuing for the time being. At the same time, the boundaries of this urbanization are becoming increasingly visible. Extortionate prices, lack of space and pollution; the city is no longer a place of unprecedented possibilities for everyone. Increased climate awareness has resulted in a revaluation of rural areas, which has been given an extra boost by the Covid crisis, which hit Spain badly and resulted in one of the strictest and long-lasting lockdowns.
In addition to depopulation, a reverse movement is also underway, in which people want to bring abandoned rural villages back to life. This project documents three abandoned ruined villages in northern Spain that were recently repopulated, the people who choose to live there and the efforts to create a, often off-grid, utopian mini-society.
Project funded by a Covid-19 photography grant by Matchingsfonds de Coöperatie and an explorers grant (2021) by the National Geographic Society.