on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

The Abandoned Village

Chris Wilson

Chris Wilson

I have been interested in landscape photography since a kindly uncle bought me my first camera as a 13th birthday present in 1969. I have spent my career as an academic, occasionally dabbling in photography as hobby. I knew that my efforts were rarely if ever of professional quality, as I have never been comfortable working with a tripod.

One aspect of the landscape that has always fascinated me is the transience of human impacts. The face of the land is always changing, and with it the structures created by people. As more and more Europeans have moved to live in cities over the last 200 years, villages that once flourished have lost their populations and decayed. There is often an overwhelming sense of poignancy in such places – for centuries people struggled to wrest a living from the land, but the results of their efforts are crumbling into nothing.

The village of Drave, hidden in a cleft in the mountains of Northern Portugal never had running tap water or mains electricity and was never accessible by road. It is four kilometres by a rough track to the nearest road – in the next village. Its inhabitants gradually drifted away after World War II to less remote spots, with the last permanent resident leaving around the turn of the century. Today the only buildings that are reasonably well maintained are a small chapel and a few houses used by the Scouts as a base for their outdoor activities. Most of the houses are in varying states of decay, from the almost-habitable to the utterly ruined. They were all made using local stone – schist – that breaks naturally into blocks with flat surfaces; doorways and other larger gaps were reinforced with large blocks of granite. There were few windows and the roofs were covered in loose slates. Streets and paths were simply carved from the bare underlying rock. Looking at the remains of the village today it feels more like an archaeological site – perhaps a Neolithic settlement – than a part of the modern world. It seems unimaginable that people in Western Europe lived in such primitive structures so recently.

Although the village is publicised in tourist literature as part of the Arouca UNESCO Geopark, an innovative and well thought-out way to enable visitors to appreciate the diverse geology, landscapes and history of the area, no one is responsible for curating Drave as a whole, and its buildings are rapidly falling into ruins. Most of the roofs have collapsed, even the precious wooden maize store has been vandalised. None of these images is a great photograph, but together they give a flavour of Drave at one point along its path towards oblivion.

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