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Spain Has Turned a Ghost Town Into an Off-Grid Eco-Village

A photographer documents the remote, self-sufficient lifestyle

A domed building serves as the village center and is visible from everywhere in Matavenero, Spain (Kevin Faingnaert)
smithsonian.com

The allure of withdrawing from it all beckons some strongly enough that they do it. In America, that might be an excursion into the wilderness. In the more populated Europe, it might take the form of living in a reclaimed ghost village. And the inhabitants of Mataverno, in northwestern Spain, have done just that. Laura Mallonee for Wired reports on the work of photographer Kevin Faingnaert who has documented the lives of the people living in Mataverno. 

Matavernero is one of hundreds of such reclaimed villages where people live off the grid. Decades ago, it was abandoned as those living there left to seek employment and opportunities elsewhere, in less remote regions. Matavernero was once home to miners. But in 1989, a group of Germans with a back-to-nature ethos arrived. Mallonee writes:

They raised tents and teepees, cleared paths, and even dug a canal to bring in water. Word spread as the years went on, drawing more like-minded souls. Today, it is home to around 60 people.

The village is a three-hour walk from the nearest neighbors. Faingnaert visited last spring, curious to see what life was like for these residents. He volunteered around the village, cleaning the village bar and organizing the library, to get to know the people of Matavenero. The result of his work is a captivating, series that shows the cobbled together, whimsical homes and the faces of those he grew to know. 

(Kevin Faingnaert)
(Kevin Faingnaert)
(Kevin Faingnaert)
(Kevin Faingnaert)
(Kevin Faingnaert)
(Kevin Faingnaert)
(Kevin Faingnaert)

“They want to live self-sufficiently and ecologically, in harmony with their environment and with respect for each other at their core,” Faingnaert tells Wired. “These are people who transform their ideals into deeds and hard work.”

Those that enjoy Faingnaert’s work can see the full series of Matavenero, including portraits of some of the residents, on his website (where they can also peruse photographs of "Ugly Belgian Houses" and an in-progress series on professional wrestling in Belgium

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