Like many countries around the world, Spain is struggling to address the problem of rural inhabitants abandoning villages to migrate to urban areas. However, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel for Fraguas. Nearly 50 years after residents left the small area in northern Castilla-La Mancha, an eco-minded group of people decided to revitalize the village. Since 2013, the community has managed to breathe new life into Fraguas by rebuilding dilapidated homes, installing solar panels, planting vegetable gardens and restoring the area’s natural forest growth. By most accounts, it is a heart-warming story of the reformation of a once-beloved village — that is until the Spanish government decided to start legal proceedings to kick the new residents out of town.
After decades of urban migration, the Iberia Peninsula is currently teeming with hundreds, if not thousands, of extinguished communities, many of them up for sale. While most of the villages were left abandoned, the previous residents of Fraguas were bought out by the government in the late 1960s to make way for a planned reforestation program. The village had only a handful of full-time inhabitants and became overgrown by nature’s creep. At one point, it was being used as a military training camp for Spanish soldiers, who took to blowing up the remaining buildings.
When the group arrived at the derelict site, they were set on bringing the land back to life through sustainable principles. The members began by clearing out the mass plant growth that had taken over the buildings and streets. Then, they started to reforest the area in and around the village, clear out roads and walking paths and plant orchards and large crops of vegetables.
To restore the many dilapidated buildings and homes, the group researched as much as they could about the village’s original layout. As they created their master plan, the team started to draw up plans for installing various green technologies such as solar panels and a communal gray water system.
When the group began to revitalize as an eco-village, they met with various former residents, most of whom gave the group their blessings. One such supporter, Rafael Heras, was born in the village 71 years ago, but left at 19 to work in Madrid. Heras helped the team by describing life in what he calls a simple and self-sufficient area. “There was no electricity and no proper road; we used to keep it clear so that cars could come through,” he said. “It wasn’t a prosperous place, but I had a happy childhood here and people got by quite well.”
Another former resident, Isidro Moreno, was also instrumental in the village’s rebirth by providing maps, plans and photos of the area as it was when he was growing up. In his guidebook, he addressed a heartfelt letter to the group. “To the new residents of Fraguas,” it reads. “Let’s see if you can recover this village’s history once more … I want to remind you to treat these stones with the love and respect they deserve, even if today they’re dead and lost among brambles and weeds. In another time, they were alive and were part of the story of the people who struggled so hard to live and who went through so many calamities.”
Despite the support of many, there are some powerful adversaries that want to put a stop to the group’s hard work. The regional government recently said that the new residents can no longer stay in the village. In fact, not only is the government trying to evict the collective, but it is going through legal channels to punish the members for their “invasion” of the area. Currently, six members face more than four years imprisonment each along with a fine of up to $30,000 that will be used to demolish and destroy all of the effort that the group put into rebuilding the village over the last five years.
According to The Guardian, the regional government’s representative in Guadalajara Alberto Rojo has suggested that the group would had been better off rebuilding a village on the brink of extinction. He explained that there are more than 200 villages in the same area that have fewer than 50 inhabitants and would love to welcome new neighbors. “Of course we agree that there needs to be re-population initiatives in the province – and let’s hope there will be many – but only in the right kind of places,” he said, adding that the area of Fraguas is part of the Sierra Norte natural park, which is protected by law. Rojo also claimed that the village is in a danger zone for forest fires.
Jaime Merino, one of the new residents, dismissed Rojo’s argument about the potential fire danger, insisting that the group has significantly reduced the risk of fire by cleaning up the overrun vegetation, and they have even offered to dig firebreaks around the village. He explained that the government says one thing, but does another. “There’s a certain resistance to this kind of project in this country,” Merino said. “They always say they’re going to take steps to tackle depopulation and find ways to get people back into rural areas, but this is an example of that. That’s the paradox: it’s Guadalajara’s department of agriculture, the environment and rural development that wants to demolish the village.”
At this time, the Fraguas collective is going on the offensive to protect the home that they have spent years rebuilding. A Change.org petition has already attracted more than 76,000 signatures, and the group has launched an appeal for contributions on their website to fund legal bills. The group regularly posts updates on their Facebook page as well.
Via The Guardian
Images via Fraguas Revive