Faustino, the discoverer of uninhabited towns: "The ruin impresses me, imagining that one day there was life"

Faustino Calderón has been visiting for 30 years uninhabited villages. What began as a hobby after reading an article about an empty town in Guadalajara in a Sunday supplement has become an extensive documentation work with photos and interviews with the last inhabitants of disappeared places. This 58-year-old from Madrid has visited more than 1,100 towns and, for several years, he has been reporting everything on his blog. The ruin, the silence and the loneliness are the three things that move him to make trip after trip during the weekends. From Monday to Friday she works in the Madrid cleaning service. He is the driver of "one of the trucks that water the streets," he says.

"The ruins can be beautiful, it just depends on the eyes that look at them," he explains on the other end of the phone. He does not usually decide his excursions in advance. Wait until Friday to see what the weather will be like and decide on your next getaway as you go. It has some towns in the mountains of Guadalajara and the area of ​​El Burgo de Osma, in Soria.

When did you start looking for uninhabited villages?

I have more than 30 years. I have always liked the theme of the towns that have been left empty. Before, since there was no Internet, for pure entertainment, I would visit them. I took some photos, recorded them on video. Later, when the Internet arrived, it occurred to me to publicize all these places that I had been visiting for so long with a blog. At the same time that I showed the towns, my desire was to reclaim their memory, which was going to be forgotten. Tell what life was like in them, the reasons why people left, agriculture, livestock, school.

I embarked on this task looking for people who had lived in those towns so that they could tell me what life was like there. I have been visiting them for more than 30 years and 12 years ago I launched the page and I have already had more than 1,100 towns.

What was the first town found?

The first town was Villacadima, north of Guadalajara, which today is no longer uninhabited. Some houses have been recovered for weekends by the descendants of those who lived there. Villacadima was one of the things that made me become a fan.

I had always liked the rural world. At the end of the 80s, a Sunday supplement of the newspapers of that time fell into my hands and it had a report on this town. The author showed a series of photographs and made a semblance of what was in the town. This is added to the fact that Labordeta has always fascinated me, what he sang in Aragón to the towns that remained empty there. He captured it through his lyrics with a lot of bitterness and a lot of sadness. All this was germinating in my head.

The weekend after reading the Villacadima report, I went to that town and was impressed with what I saw. It seemed that people had just left. The houses were open, there were belongings inside, the church was open, but there was not a soul on the street, not a dog barking. Any. Since then, it has been a continuous race until today.

Do the 1,100 towns appear on your blog?

No. In the blog I will have documented about 230 or so. Before, I used to visit them without further ado. With the Internet is when I took the step of wanting to document them, of wanting to delve into their entrails, of looking for people who lived in those towns so that they would tell me what happened.

Do you have a town?

Yes, it's called The Daughter of God and it's my mother's town. The worm was born first there. I liked the rural world since I was a child. Since I was the oldest of the brothers, they even left me there for some summers with the grandparents. Since I was a child all this was going through my head. I already saw that people were migrating and that more and more houses were closing. In summer, I go to town for a few days with my wife.

What impresses you most when you arrive in one of these towns?

The ruin impresses me. See a town, imagine that there was life there and now see it in ruins. Then I am also very impressed by silence and solitude. Listening to the silence, that is, not listening to anything other than the natural sounds if it is windy, the beating of the branches, the wind itself or a passing stream. Not seeing anyone impresses.

The ruins are sad, but they are beautiful at the same time. You are seeing houses that once had life and that are falling apart, they are missing a roof or a wall. The ruins, depending on how you look at them, are beautiful.

Why do you want to recover and preserve the memory of the peoples?

They cannot be forgotten. Our parents and grandparents lived in those places. They are towns that when the last person dies, and it will be very shortly, there will be no one first-hand who can tell us anything. We are going to see a group of fallen, dead houses that are not going to tell us anything. That future generations know why people left, understand that life was very hard in those places not so many years ago and empathize with it. The towns die, unfortunately, but at least the memory remains.

What story has impacted you the most?

When I get to the towns logically there is no one. Maybe a person still lives in one. So what I do is investigate the surrounding towns to see if I can find someone who has lived there. Normally, there is always someone who stayed in the nearby towns, in the bigger towns. Someone tells you "there lives such a person who lived in this town." Other times they give me a phone number of people who live in Madrid or Barcelona and the contact is not personal, it's by phone, but good. Whenever I can I try to be personal.

They tell you all kinds of stories. Very simple stories that would now attract our attention. Children who were six or seven years old walked in a group of three or four an hour a day to go to school. Now the children are taken by car even if they live 300 meters away. There were small villages that did not have a school and they had to go to the one in the next town cold and poorly dressed, in espadrilles.

Or things like when the first radio arrived in town. That was an event. There was no means of communication or anything and someone bought a radio in the city, or a family member brought it. People came and sat in the cool to listen to the radio to find out what was happening in the world. Even more so when a television arrived.

They also tell what the patron saint festivities were like. How life changed for two or three days, in which they forgot a little about the tasks in the fields and being with the cattle. They were long-awaited days because they were reunited with people from other towns and with relatives.

Has anyone after reading your blog asked you to put them in contact with any of the people you have found?

Yes. There have been several reunions through my blog. There was a case of a person in a town in Huesca, Bagüeste, who was the daughter of a teacher who was stationed there for several years. She participated in my report and it was read by another woman who was a classmate of hers at school and I had them meet in person. It was very exciting for them because they hadn't seen each other for 40 or 50 years.

Then there are also many people who get emotional when they read a report about what was the town of their parents or grandparents and they tell you "I was moved reading it and I've even read it to my mother and tears have fallen from remembering" . Even people from Argentina have written to me telling me that their grandfather or their father emigrated from here to Argentina in the post-war years and they, searching for their roots on the Internet, found their grandfather's town. They were excited in the distance to see where their grandparents lived.

What is the uninhabited town that has surprised you the most?

They all impress me, but I would choose Aramunt Vell, which is in Lleida, which is a town that has unfortunately been left empty. But if he had managed to stay alive, we would be talking about one of the most beautiful towns in Spain. It would have nothing to envy Albarracín, Pedraza or Sos del Rey Católico, medieval towns that are very touristy today. It is a town of the same style. Medieval, with narrow streets, with passageways and old entrance doors.

Have you ever felt afraid or regretted coming to any of these towns?

It's a bit dangerous because the houses are in poor condition. Also, whenever I can, I like to browse the houses that can still be entered, imagine what life was like when I saw the kitchen, the bedrooms. It has its danger because you run the risk of a fall, but curiosity is stronger than the fear of having a mishap. What it does give me is a lot of respect, for the silence and because you don't see anyone. In some cases the appearance is ghostly.

How do you see the resurgence of the voice of the people through citizen movements and also politicians hand in hand with the Emptied Spain?

I think it's a boom passenger who is going to leave just as he has arrived. To begin with, I don't like the concept of the Empty Spain, it doesn't seem right to me because it's not empty. People live. I would rather say the forgotten Spain, which is what the administrations have always been.

It seems that they have now discovered the issue of uninhabited towns and it is a process that has been going on since the 1960s, when hundreds of towns were left empty. This phenomenon has been going on for 50 years and now it seems that they have become a bit more sensitive. But the issue of politicians is not very reliable either because they go with the currents. Many of these towns were left empty because of the administrations, because they did not provide them with infrastructure, they did not bring electricity, water, a road in good condition or a doctor nearby. The administrations forgot them and the politicians were somehow to blame for people leaving. And we get to 2022 and things remain the same, there is little help and little interest. The towns will continue to be empty and the people concentrated in the big cities.

In your opinion, what do peoples need to stop disappearing?

They need help from the administrations. Emphasis should be placed on propping up the towns in which there are four or five inhabitants left, which are still standing and have a series of infrastructures. That those who remain do not leave and if you can attract someone else. Provide good access to the Internet, that subsidies arrive for those who want to set up some type of livestock business, ecological products or rural tourism. Provide facilities for them to move forward.


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