Medieval Spanish ghost town becomes self-sufficient ecovillage

It’s a utopian fantasy discover a ghost town and rebuild it in line with your ideals-, but in Spain where there are nearly 3000 abandoned villages (most dating back to the Middle Ages), some big dreamers have spent the past 3 decades doing just that.

There are now a few dozen “ecoaldeas” – ecovillages – in Spain, most build from the ashes of former Medieval towns. One of the first towns to be rediscovered was a tiny hamlet in the mountains of northern Navarra.

Lakabe was rediscovered in 1980 by a group of people living nearby who had lost their goats and “when they found their goats, they found Lakabe”, explains Mauge Cañada, one of the early pioneers in the repopulation of the town.

The new inhabitants were all urbanites with no knowledge of country life so no one expected them to stay long. When they first began to rebuild, there was no road up to the town so horses were used to carry construction materials up the mountain. There was no electricity either so they lived with candles and oil lamps.

In the early years, they generated income by selling some of their harvest and working odd jobs like using their newfound construction experience to rebuild roofs outside town. Later they rebuilt the village bakery and sold bread to the outside world.

Their organic sourdough breads now sell so well that today they can get by without looking for work outside town, but it helps that they keep their costs at a minimum as a way of life. “There’s an austerity that’s part of the desire of people who come here,” explains Mauge. “There’s not a desire for consumption to consume. We try to live with what there is.”

Today, the town generates all its own energy with the windmill, solar panels and a water turbine. It also has a wait list of people who’d like to move in, but Mauge says the answer is not for people to join what they have created, but to try to emulate them somewhere else.

“If you set your mind to it and there’s a group of people who want to do it, physically they can do it, economically they can do it. What right now is more difficult is being willing to suffer hardship or difficulties or… these days people have a lot of trouble living in situations of shortage or what is seen as shortage but it isn’t.”

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38 Responses to "Medieval Spanish ghost town becomes self-sufficient ecovillage"

  1. Vince Tran  December 4, 2012 at 12:59 am

    So true :)

  2. Johnny Metall  February 19, 2013 at 1:56 am


  3. Anne ooi  February 19, 2013 at 4:23 am

    This is very possible here. ABU’s social inclusion agenda for Sabah n Sarawak needs nothing to build self-sufficient communities like this one.

  4. Susie  March 24, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    I’m curious about how many people live in this village?

  5. bea  March 24, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    she said they had been vegetarians but later children asked for meat.c’mon how come vegetarian’s children knew what chorizo is?my vege child doesn’t ask me for meat because he knows is the product of cruelty…anyway wonder how they slaughter their animals.if they were vegetarians probably because they didn’t want to do any harm and now it turned out they are capable of doing it.sad.
    ps.their village looks very poor.if i lived there for so long this village would look neat and superb.

    • Meredith  March 26, 2013 at 11:31 am

      Having lived in a similar situation, I think that you will find that the children remembered eating Chorizo before their parents became vegetarians in order both to save money and because of a lack of refrigeration in their new environment.
      And this is the correct use of the apostrophe thus: vegetarians’.
      Plus for someone who likes to think of themselves as being so compassionate towards animals, I think it’s sad that human beings aren’t included.
      You display a self-righteousness similar to my own when I was a vegetarian 40 years ago.

    • Maria Mars  May 24, 2013 at 2:48 pm

      Plants and animals die. And both die in order to feed us. To one being to survive, something else must be sacrificed. This is our current paradigm. To grow plants/crops that are not naturally occurring to an environment, requires that vast expanses of land be felled, tilled, and regularly tended. What this means is that plants and animals indigenous to the area are uprooted, displaced, and killed. Their natural habitats are destroyed, often with babies or fledglings inside and creatures caught unaware are tilled under, in addition, and particularly In other countries ghat grow our food… people’s homes, personal farming spaces, and natural food sources are being taken over for great profit… to feed us. Are these acts of the agricultural and food industries, less violent than grass raising one cow and feeding a family for a year? I think not. Enough vegetarian/vegan self-righteousness already. Look at the deeper need to think you are better than. Check out J. Salatin’s Polyface Farm for an example of harmonious farming.

    • Michael  August 12, 2013 at 2:41 pm

      Woah! Have you ever lived in Spain?!? A better question would be “How did their children not eat chorizo for so long?” Chorizo is a huge part of the food culture in Spain. They’ve been eating it as an established part of food custom since the Reconquista. Also, it’s a small village, but not poor. They live in a mountainous desert. You try living in a desert without things getting a little dusty. ¡Ignorancía total!

  6. Mauricio  March 24, 2013 at 8:21 pm

    I’m not willing to suffer so I must die before money is not longer used.

  7. helga m patry  March 31, 2013 at 7:14 pm

    i will make a point of visiting one of these villages……

  8. johnberk  May 24, 2013 at 7:27 am

    Great story. I´m not surprised many people nowadays are heading out of “civilization” to start their own life, be it in a completely new environment or in old settlements as in this example in Navarra. There is one interesting off the grid infographic about Canadians living this way. As you can see, the initial price is quite high, but it is worth the effort.

    From my point of view, it is better to start from a scratch and build everything with contemporary knowledge and design rather than occupy old buildings. But it is also harder and the budget is always limited in case of these people, therefore any solution is welcome.

  9. Callie  May 24, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    It is helpful to have government health insurance when living this kind of life.

  10. Serge Garcia Lang  June 15, 2013 at 11:25 am

    Wonderful place! But ‘the kids wanted chorizo’ is not an argument. As to the comments that go with this article, it looks like flesh-eaters have discovered a new word: ‘self-righteousness’. They better explain, then, the connection between that statement and our legit concern about the suffering of sentient beings. The world has not been built around mankind. Ask yourself what our purpose on this planet is. Kill, eat, destroy? Talk about a superior species…

    Read more:

    • CommonSense  November 7, 2013 at 5:07 pm

      So Garcia, the proudly “self-righteous” vegetarian, you admit you are only concerned with the suffering of what you call “sentient beings.” Plants are alive – they breathe through photosynthesis (and in turn provide oxygen to the rest of the biosphere, you know, ALL the animals you consider too sacred to eat). Just because plants don’t have a cute face doesn’t make them any less alive. And since they can’t talk, or even utter cries of pain, how do you know that pulling a tomato off the plant isn’t tantamount to ripping the limb off an animal?
      While living, you should be able to eat anything possible. It is in death where humans need to change – selfishly clinging to our corpses, locking them away in boxes, when instead a straight body-to-earth burial could provide nutrients for thousands of underground critters, while the decomposition of the body could serve as fertilizer for more plants. That is my plan in life – I will graciously eat what Mother Earth has provided me, and upon death I will find somewhere I can legally be buried straight into the ground, to be feasted upon by worms and bugs, enriching the soil – and literally “giving myself back” to Mother Earth,who provided me so much in life.

  11. Zoey  June 15, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    Yea, well our incisors are pointed for a reason, because we are preditory, from an evolutionary standpoint. And in fact, without careful planning of a vegetarian diet, we become sick. We are made to eat both meat and plants. And I like how this was turned from an article about something cool into a political debate between the factions. I swear, let one go once in a while people. Some people just wanna hear a good story without an agenda behind it. And kudos to you pioneers, what a novel idea! And raspberries to the rest of you.

  12. Serge Garcia Lang  June 15, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    Compare your ‘incisors’ to those of a real carnivore. You might get a fright…

    • joeynutz  November 6, 2013 at 3:15 pm

      Why would you compare an omnivores incisors to a carnivores? You’re all getting completely ridiculous. We eat meat. Get over yourself. You don’t? Good on you. Don’t judge those of us that do because you feel your way is the right way.

  13. Caadfael  August 4, 2013 at 9:30 am

    Next step in the mix people, is to utilise the methods of #Jean Pain, using forest Brash and trash to produce not only a very good compost, but also free hot water and methane gas to use for cooking and/or powering a generator.

  14. Mercedes Mauri  August 4, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    Aupa Lakabe!!

  15. Mikeldi Latorre Monton  November 6, 2013 at 7:58 pm

    I’ve being in that town. My family is friends with the people there.
    By the way, in the translation, the name of the building is not “Arena” but “Ederrena”. It means “the most beautifull” in Basque
    Aupa Lakabe!!!


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