I’ve spent the last four weeks in the North of Spain. If you follow this blog, you’ll already know that I spent some of the time here recording for a report about the Mondragon Corporation, a network of worker owned cooperatives. But I was also here to research a different story idea I have been working on for some time, about abandoned villages, self-sufficient ecological communities, and the Spanish housing bubble.
I’d found out that Spain has an enormous number of pueblos abandonados, abandoned villages, in rural, remote and mountainous regions. Estimates suggest there are perhaps as many as 1500, and there is a fantastic website all about them, which maps many of them. There are likely to be many more small hamlets which are still not known about, swallowed by vegetation, or crumbling back into the ground.
Some of these abandoned villages were occupied in the 1970s and 1980s by people seeking a different way of life – one with greater self-sufficiency, and a degree of political autonomy from the Spanish state and society. There are quite a few of these communities, but there were two that I wanted to visit in particular – Matavenero in the mountains in Leon, and Lakabe, in the foothills of the Navarran Pyranees. My girlfriend and I where both interested in seeing how these communities worked, so we decided that we would all go together, taking our camper van and our three year old daughter on the adventure.
Aside from a personal interest in seeing how these communities operated, I had some questions I wanted to ask. Where more people trying to come to live in the communities over the last few years, since the economic crisis, La Crisis, had begun? And are these communities insulated from the turmoil that has been affecting the rest of the country?
Spain is suffering the highest unemployement in Europe and the ongoing threat of a banking collapse, the result of the worst housing bubble in the continent. I wanted to know if decentralised and independent rural communities might be a way of creating a more resilient society, as well as being good for the environment, and for people.
As it turns out, on this first trip I was only really able to scratch the surface, but I wanted to share a little of what I learnt about these places on this blog – and a little of the adventures we had getting to them. So, the next two blogposts will be devoted to the two communities I visited – Matavenero, and Lakabe.