RUTOPIA - National Geographic Explorer Early Career In recent decades, there has been an enormous exodus of the Spanish countryside. Although urbanization is a trend all over the world that appears to be continuing for the time being, the boundaries of urbanization are becoming increasingly visible. Increased climate awareness has resulted in a revaluation of rural areas, which has been given an extra boost by the current Covid crisis.
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 the process of repopulating several abandoned ruin villages in Northern Spain. It aims to show not only life in these emerging communities, but also the efforts required to live there, often off-grid, and the challenges of the residents to create a utopian mini-society. It challenges notions of the city as the arena for endless opportunities and re-values rural living in the light of challenging and changing times.
Project funded by Matchingsfonds de Coöperatie and National Geographic Society
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. Aguinalíu, 7-12-2020
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. Aguinaliu 7-12-2020
Hannah Brüderer brings on make-up in a wooden yurt in Matavenero, Spain. She is among the founders of the village, where she brought up her two children. She still has a house in the village and visits the community regularly, a.o. to visit her son and grandchildren. Matavenero, 3-4-2021
Guillem Mateu Prat bought a ruin in Aguinalíu for 1000 euros. He recycles the rubble on the ground to construct his house. "In the city I get distracted. In the rural areas I reconnect to the essence of life." Aguinalíu, 11-4-2021
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. Solanell, 9-9-2020.
Marta Haro López, Sara Vallejo Sarden, Mauricio Noel Strübing and Yule Argüello Navarro have breakfast from a self-constructed wooden house at the self-governed isolated village of Matavenero. Matavenero is a longer-established repopulated village. A community was started by an international group of Rainbow attendants. In the meanwhile it is the fourth generation living here with currently around 50 permanent residents. One of the difficulties is that the place is so remote, that it is very hard to keep a stable job. Self-governed in a horizontal structure, the group is too big to share the same ideas. Matavenero, 5-4-2021
Horses roam the village of Solanell. Though they have an owner, they walk freely around. For the village it is not only problematic for the poo, but also because the horses lick the cement from the stones, what makes the ruins more susceptible to collapse. Solanell, 23-4-2021.
Joseph Nogue Invenon is repairing the cables of his car in the garage under his house in Solanell. 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." Solanell, 8-9-2020
A weekly meeting is held among the residents of the community to discuss the weekly tasks in Barchel. Among the daily tasks are herding the seven goats in the morning and in the afternoon, cooking lunch, cooking dinner, cleaning and vegetable garden. Communication is of crucial importance for a community to work. Strict organisation is necessary and all inhabitants should be commited to the communal tasks. Collective goals should be more important than individual ones. Barchel, 4-5-2021.
Peppers are being dried in a little rooms of the main farm. One of the dreams of Barchel community is to become self-sustainable. They try to grow as much food themselves, and the ultimate goal would be to generate income from within the community, with the products they grow themselves, so the residents do not need to work outside their community. Barchel, 1-5-2021
In the evening the inhabitants often sit together in the house of José Luís in Aguinalíu. 'We don't need much, just a bit of company.' says Felix. Aguinalíu, 10-4-2021.
Almudena Casino Navarra's hair is being shaved by her friend Delia Celada Belda. Both women live in Barchel, a self-governed eco-community in the region Valencia. A group of young people started the project to create an alternavive micro-society about seven years ago. Although they had the verbal permission of the official owners, who migrated and abandoned their houses more than fourty years ago, they are being charged for violating property rights and fear eviction of several houses they reconstructed. Barchel, 2-5-2021.
Everyday lunch and dinner is cooked for the entire group. According to a rolling system, everybody has a cooking turn. Most of the vegetables come from the large vegetable garden. Barchel, 2-5-2021.
Didac Costa feeds his animals in front of his house at C'al Amat. SInce from experience Didac knows the difficulties in communication with humans if people have different convictions and ideas, he prefers to live alone in community with 3 dogs, four cats, 2 donkeys and 35 goats. C'al Amat, 19-4-2021
Aerial view of Solanell. From above it is clearly visible the entire village has fallen into ruins. An architect from Taragona bought 70 per cent of the ruins in the past 15 years, but so far only 6 houses have been reconstructed. Slow bureaucratic processes, and interpersonal conflicts have failed his dream to create a community. Currently four people reside in the village. Solanell, 19-11-2020
The group is sharing a dinner at community Barchel. Every day two communal meals are prepared in a rotating system. Most of the ingredients come from their own vegetable garden. Other ingredients have to be bought in the supermarket. There is a shared economy, divided into 3 boxes: food and supplies, communal tools, and lawyers. If people gain some money, for instance working abroad, they have to give 30 - 50 per cent of their income to the group account. Barchel, 1-5-2021
Water is crucial for living off-grid. Matavenero has water year round. Still, it is important to clean the filtersand make sure the self-constructed garden hoses are not leaking. Matavenero, 3-4-2021.
Polina Viana holds her daughter Naya in the house they rent in Aguinalíu. During the pandemic the couple decided to move to a rural time. "It was not so easy to find a place, since many owners do not want to sell ruins to 'outsiders'. Besides, there was a pandemic. We are renting a place in Aguinalíu. After almost a year we have to admit we are a little disappointed, since it is hard to create community with the other residents." Aguinalíu, 13-4-2021.
Jürgen Pluindrich stands next to the San Pedro cactus that he grows in his house and uses for for sweat hat ceremonies he organises in the village. He was given the house in exchange for three weeks of labour when helping out another resident. Matavenero, 5-4-2021
Felix Franco Escobar and Guillem Mateu Prat share a barbeque in the corral that Felix is turning into a house in the village of Aguinalíu. Since Felix does not mind luxury, he uses the ruin like his house is already complete and enjoys his space to the fullest. Aguinalíu, 11-04-2021
RUTOPIA - National Geographic Explorer Early Career In recent decades, there has been an enormous exodus of the Spanish countryside. Although urbanization is a trend all over the world that appears to be continuing for the time being, the boundaries...