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The Abandoned Village of El Mas De Balust, Catalonia, Spain

Updated on March 27, 2016
chef-de-jour profile image

Andrew travels extensively, contributing articles to newspapers and online sites. Recent trips: Brazil, the Amazon, the Pantanal, Bulgaria.

To the Catalonia Pyrenees!
To the Catalonia Pyrenees!
A markersanta engracia tremp catalonia spain -
Santa Engrácia, 25636 Tremp, Spain
get directions

Introduction


In certain areas of the Catalonia Pyrenees you can discover whole villages that have been left to their fate, still intact, abandoned yet preserved. Empty shells where communities once lived and thrived.

One such village is El Mas de Balust, a collection of stone houses and farmsteads roughly 1000m above the Tremp valley. It is now completely at the mercy of mother nature but has remained remarkably well preserved. The church for example still has its chestnut wood door, upstairs balcony and painted blue and cream altar. A large farmhouse holds iron bedsteads and cupboards still have items inside, as though ready for use. It can feel a little eerie up there by yourself.

Yet, this is fascinating territory to explore because it's both disturbing and exciting. You don't have to know why no one lives here anymore, you can just imagine. Tyrant landlord? The water dried up? The patriarch died? Epidemic? Murders? Civil war family strife? The money ran out? The call of Barcelona just too strong?

I know, it's not everybody's idea of a holiday, to climb up into the clean air of the wild Pyrenees, get close to vultures and other raptors and visit half collapsed villages. Most sane people would want to spend long lazy hours on the Costa del Meresme, soaking up the rays, sipping their chilled Estrellas or fancy iced liquers. For me that equates to a whole lot of boredom. I'd much rather head off into el campo alta for some alternative culture.

I'm glad you've decided to join me.


_______________________________________________________

Looking up at an old bedroom.
Looking up at an old bedroom.

Abandoned


There is a huge farmhouse with an ancient olive tree outside. Its outer wall backs onto a sheer barranco, ravine. It's possible to explore the interior of this incredible old building and get a feel for the kind of people who lived, worked and died here. The last inhabitants must have left in a hurry. They forgot to take their pine table and one or two picture frames. On a shelf are two enamel plates and a wooden spoon.This is like a scene out of one of those disaster movies we love to go watch. What could have gone so wrong?

I go scrambling up into the half collapsed rooms to explore, negotiating a stout cross beam then some rough stone work before climbing up to what is the second floor. There are two large bedrooms and two small ones. These all have beautiful little carved balconies facing out onto a courtyard, with views down to the valley and up onto the crags. Once upon a time a family would have gathered here to greet the new morning blue. Wonder what that last time was like?

____________________________________________________________

The Old Church

Church and ancient olive tree.
Church and ancient olive tree.

Church

The church door is open. It's an amazing door made out of local chestnut, you can tell by the rich grain and colour. Inside, the altar is intact, paint and plaster starting to fade, a wooden balcony for the choir is reached by a beautiful set of steps.

The beautiful chestnut door.
The beautiful chestnut door.
Beams and collapsed bedroom
Beams and collapsed bedroom
Church altar
Church altar
Door and number 36
Door and number 36
Tiny black shoe.
Tiny black shoe.

The Black Shoe


Then this tiny black shoe made of leather turns up, decorated with white trim thread. Despite the years of soil inside it is still exquisite, hand crafted with dozens of tacks. What dark haired senorita stepped lightly down from the church step I wonder? Were these the last steps ever to fall on the stones of El Mas de Balust?

The griffon vultures are spiralling overhead. Dozens of them. Although it's still light I think I'll move on down the narrow track that takes me up to Santa Engracia, another mountain village perched on a sloping rock - still thankfully very much inhabited. Time to get back to my bed and breakfast. In an hour the wild boar will be out.

__________________________________________________________


Song



Everyone has gone

but the girl, she is still here

looking down as the last family

disappears into the evergreen oaks.

Everything has a new silence

the girl has come to love.

The orange mountain takes over

and the skin of time that people

made smooth, roughens in the wind.


Vultures eat the sun to flesh out the rock.

The girl forms from the black shoe,

dances buried under sky blue.



__________________________________________________________


Catalonia

The nearest living village - Santa Engracia.
The nearest living village - Santa Engracia.
Looking north towards the border with France. You can just make out the first snow on the distant peaks above 3,000m.
Looking north towards the border with France. You can just make out the first snow on the distant peaks above 3,000m.

All images by chef-de-jour

© 2012 Andrew Spacey

Comments

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  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 4 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    Thank you for the visit and comment. Spain has so much to offer in terms of history, wildlife and survival! This abandoned place reflects the trend of movement away from the traditional village to the cities for work - ironical that today there is little real work to be found.

  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 4 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    I appreciate your visiting comment Trish. Millions flock to Spain each year for the beaches and the sun (plus the vino!) - understandable - yet there's so much more cultural stuff to explore.

  • Trish_M profile image

    Tricia Mason 4 years ago from The English Midlands

    Hi :)

    Fascinating! I'll have to go in search of such villages, next time I'm in the area. I, too, prefer to explore, when I'm in Spain.

  • Daisy Mariposa profile image

    Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

    Andrew,

    What a fascinating article...and part of the world! I enjoyed reading about your adventure. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 5 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    Please see above!

  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 5 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    Many thanks for the visit and comment - the Pyrenees are not so threatened by fire thank goodness but those fires down south can be devastating. I spent 6 months in Andalucia (south of Granada) and saw a little fire damage there but your descriptions bring home the vulnerability of wooded mountains in dry weather - one spark and hundreds of acres are lost! Let's pray for rain.

    Please keep us all informed - a special hub maybe?

  • bac2basics profile image

    Anne 5 years ago from Spain

    Hi Chef. Just saw your comment on nettlemeres hub about Lancashire ( where I used to live) and read you were from Yorkshire like me so checked out one of your hubs...fate works in mysterious ways because I now live in Spain in the mountains of Valencia. Unfortunately we have just had a really devastating fire..which for some reason was not mentioned very much at all in the UK press. The once beautiful mountains remain, but unfortunately for the time being are denuded of plant life..strangely though one green pine tree stands alone in all this chaos and destruction...A bit like the little shoe you discovered in the deserted village.

  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 5 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    Yes ok, miles from anywhere right? No sign of civilisation? (As long as you still have the map in your back pocket!!)Thanks for the comment.

  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 5 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    Thank you for the visit and comment and vote, much appreciated. I think you'd be pleasantly surprised by the Pyrenees as they have so much to ofer in terms of history and wildlife....the raptors up there are wonderful. Check out the Lammergeier vulture for its unusual behaviour and stunning looks.There are many trails, pilgrim routes and other nooks and crannies to keep the heart and soul busy.

  • Suzie HQ profile image

    Suzanne Ridgeway 5 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

    Definitely, its my kinda place also. Off the beaten track!!

  • bdegiulio profile image

    Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

    What a great Hub. Very interesting and the pictures are stunning. I have always wanted to visit Spain and especially the Pyrenees. Very well written. Voting up and sharing.

  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 5 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    Yes I'll always choose the higher ground if I can, up where the big birds fly, here you can get inside the wind, clear your head and walk til the stars greet you....I want to plan my next mountain trip now!

    Appreciate your comment and visit and vote! Thank you.

  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 5 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    Suzie HQ, thanks for the visit and comment. Yes this was the first I think. Seems an age away now..... but on we hub! I'd recommend a visit to that part of Spain if you ever get the chance. Such variety - wildlife,bird life,architecture...and the majestic Pyrenees as backdrop. Splendiferous.

    Much appreciated.

  • brenda12lynette profile image

    brenda12lynette 5 years ago from Utah

    What a great adventure!! The pictures are beautiful. I would much rather be up in the mountains than down on the beach. Voted up!

  • Suzie HQ profile image

    Suzanne Ridgeway 5 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

    Excellent piece chef-de-jour - your 1st?? So interesting, sounds magical.Love your style of writing looking forward to reading more!!! voting and sharing this descriptive gem.

  • chef-de-jour profile image
    Author

    Andrew Spacey 5 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    many thanks - the first hub and hopefully many to follow.

  • cherrycrime26 profile image

    January Moon 5 years ago from NY, Now Living in Atlanta Ga

    Interesting Hub, voted up