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In 2015, photographer Kevin Faingnaert traveled to the mountains of northwest Spain to explore and record a small, isolated “ecovillage” called Matavenero.

The old mining town was initially abandoned in the late 1960s after a forest fire, but sprang back to life in 1989 when a group of five German friends came in without “even the grand idea to start an ecovillage.” They were joined later by a few Danish people from the self-declared sovereign Copenhagen town of Christiania, and the town has since swelled to about 60 people, all of whom share one desktop computer. Cell service is available—a 30-minute hike up a hill. The town runs its own Twitter and Facebook accounts to reach out to others who might be interested in joining the cause.

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Despite how isolated it is, the town is a functioning one. Matavenero has a school, “a shop that sells staples such as rice, tobacco, juice, and fresh vegetables from the village gardens,” a bakery, and even “a communal sauna and […] library.” Residents are bound by the goal of transforming the way they live their lives, “[sharing] a green philosophy to live as ecological[ly], autonomous[ly], and self-sufficient[ly] as possible—though this varies strongly from person to person.”

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When asked why people wanted to move to such a small, isolated place, Faignaert explained to HERB that they were, “tired of the bustle of modern life. They all had […] decent job[s], but quit to live somewhere else. […] They heard about Spain’s many abandoned villages and headed out to look for one where they could settle in. I guess Matavanero was the most scenic and remote.”

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“They wanted to live more slowly and closer to nature. According to the people in Matavenero, many of us grow increasingly disillusioned with our money-and-machines approach to the world. We are not free.”

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“In Matavenero, they don’t live for work or money.”

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“This sense of freedom really binds them together. They’re together living their dream. They’re all people who are transforming their ideals into deeds and hard work.”

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 The village has largely been cobbled together by its inhabitants, honoring the true pioneering and self-starting ethos of the entire operation. “The houses are built on a mountain flank. Most of them are built with natural and recycled materials. Some are built from scratch, and some are rebuilt from the ruins of the original village.”

 

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“Some are crappy make-shift buildings that won’t last long; some are very well-built. There’s definitely a lot of creativity in each design.”

 

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Out of the whole town, one building, in particular, held Faingnaert’s attention the most. “At the bottom of the village, there’s a big yellow geometric dome. It’s the place where celebrations are held.” Something about the dome seemed spiritual and mesmerizing to the photographer. “You see the dome from everywhere. I could watch that dome for hours. It looks so beautiful and surreal in the landscape.”

 

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Matavenero is proof that sometimes happiness emerges from simplicity. Faingnaert says “I haven’t returned, but one day I will.”

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