Photographer: Sanne Derks
Title: Rutopia
Location: Several locations in rural Spain
Period: 08/2020 - 09/2021
Category: Solutions

In recent decades, there has been an enormous exodus of the Spanish countryside. According to the Spanish Ministry of Planning, only 10 percent of the 42 million inhabitants live in 70 percent of the country. 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. It rethinks the re-use of abandoned spaces and shows citizen-driven attempts towards a sustainable future.

Project funded by Covid-Emergency Funding by Matchingsfonds de Coöperatie and the National Geographic Society

Aerial view of the partly repopulated ruin village Solanell

Aerial view of Solanell From above it is clearly visible the entire village has fallen into ruins showing a labyrint of walls and houses without roofs The houses with roofs are the ones renovated and reconstructed 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

Minimalist life-style

Felix Franco Escobar is taking a nap in the ruin he is slowly reconstructing in Aguinal u He was donated a corral by one of the former residents of the village as a favour for the work he was carrying out to improve the village Felix renovated the church roof and constrcuted a basin for the water well Though his house is not finished he enjoys his house to a maximum Felix does not need luxury and is not materialistic Aguinal u 11-4-2021

Matavenero's long-term residents

J rgen Pluindrich stands next to the San Pedro cactus that he grows in his house and uses for for sweat hat ceremonies he organises in his village Matavenero He was given the house in exchange for three weeks of labour when helping out another resident more than 20 years ago J rgen tells how he could not find his place in society beteen all asphalt and concrete Here in the mountains in his minimalist house he feels he belongs Matavenero 5-4-2021

Horses roaming the village of Solanell

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

Morning routine at Matavenero

Hannah Br derer brings on make-up in a wooden yurt in Matavenero Spain Matavenero is one of Spain s oldest repopulated villages founded in the seventies by a group of German hippies 50 years later there are still 50 residents in the off-grid village that only can be reached by foot Hannah 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

Community dinner at Barchel

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

Dead chicken buried in nature

Andre Mart n Moreno found for the third time in a month one of the chicken dead in the henhouse in Fraguas She took the chicken to bury it in the community Since we do not know the death source we prefer not to eat it since it might contain poison Besides most of us are vegetarian Fraguas 18-8-2021

Renovating a ruin in Aguinalíu

Guillem Mateu Prat bought a ruin in Aguinal u 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 Aguinal u 11-4-2021

Ecological home-grown food

In Barchel most of the food is home-grown The group invests enormous amounts of time to grow their ecological vegetables They are organised in such a way that everybody has a daily task like preparing dinner working in the vegetable garden or herd the goats Although they all recount to value the unpaid work inside the community more than working outside for money they cannot be totally independent from money If people have a paid job they donate 30 per cent of their salary to the community With that money the group can buy the food they cannot produce themselves pay for materials and machines and to pay for lawyers Barchel 2-5-2021

Off-grid living

Wash is drying in the sun close to the solar panels in the backyard of the off-grid community of Barchel Seven years ago a group of young alternative people started an eco-community in the ruins of a farm that was abandoned for more than forty years 26-8-2021

Morning coffee in freedom

The current inhabitants of Fraguas community near Madrid enjoy their breakfast in the morning light Founder Lalo Aracil right and several of the previous residents are facing a 2 year and 3 months prison sentence for violating property rights Eight years ago they started repopulating an abandoned village expropiated during the Franco-period and are involved in a legal procedure with the local municipality since seven years Fraguas 17-8-2021

Harmonious winter dip

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 29-11-2020