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