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Simple thoughts from a town without inhabitants

Updated: Jun 22, 2022

In the second week of June, in the beginning of a hot summer, the ECF4CLIM project team met in Umbralejo, an uninhabited town in the province of Guadalajara (Spain), on the eastern slope of the Sierra de Ayllón mountain. Since 1984 Umbralejo is a part of PRUEPA (Program for the Recovery and Educational Use of Abandoned Towns) supported by the Ministries of Agriculture and Fisheries, Food and Environment, Education, Culture and Sports. Today it is acting as an Educational Center, where groups of young people are learning about the past, the environment and sustainability. These activities are contributing to the physical and cultural recovery of the town, preventing their complete deterioration.

Why was the town abandoned?

As always, the history may be written from different perspectives. Here is mine, as I understood it, in one of the nights, listening to local stories under the starry sky.

Once upon a time some hunters discovered, in the middle of the oak forests, a good land. Pastures for animals. Forests for hunting. Wood and stones for constructions. A spring not too far away. A space protected against the winds of the winter and the heat of the summer. During decades, a settlement was formed. It grew, household by household, a school, many workshops and the church. After a time, a little town well-known for the black stone roofs.

In this place the inhabitants could have lived as mere pickers, hunters or farmers. The resources were sufficient for this small community. But they discovered a most profitable resource and way of life. The oak wood that is plentiful in the surrounding forests could be transformed into charcoal and easily sold in the fairs. The community prospered as the coal quantities increased, day by day. The woodcutters and charcoal makers did not have rest. And no way for the forest to recover in a due time…

By diminishing the oak trees, the source of income has progressively reduced and as a consequence the inhabitants began, one by one, to move to other villages or towns. The authorities reacted to the deforestation by a program to plant fast-growing species. They chose the pine tree and spread it over thousands of hectares in a beautiful monoculture. How many good intentions in a wrong decision! The pine changed completely the ecosystems. No way to come back…

Enlargement and decay of a town. Umbralejo, the comfortable place of the shadow, become a shadow of the past. Without PRUEPA program all the created black stone civilization could disappeared under the force of entropy and time…

Now, under the height of the starry sky there is a deep silence. On the slope of the mountain, the village sleeps without its inhabitants. It seems it is still waiting for them.

We are silent and thinking on the efforts to keep some elements of the history at least to learn from them. Daily, the educational center organizes valuable activities with students coming mainly from the cities. But beyond such experiences, can we hope for a repopulation of Umbralejo?

There are only few towns where you can look at the night sky in its deeply depth. There are not too many towns that do not disturb you from your work. In my view, Umbralejo is a valuable place to move anyone of us from the daily superficial works to the deep work which we really need. But is anyone willing to work, for example, five days per week, here in Umbralejo, and move for the weekends in a big town? Is a start-up company ready to use such advantages? Perhaps in some years, but not immediatel…

In Umbralejo a community has disappeared due to a narrow specialization, bitter insistence, and lack of adaptability to the changes. They moved, on by one, to other places... They infringed the sustainability ancestral rules, and the authorities responded with wrong measures, also acting against the sustainability.

Day by day, in different places of our finite world, small or large communities are continuing to produce negative impacts on the resources, environment and life. The question is will we, the human species, be able to move to another planet? Or will we be able to avoid unwise decisions and keep the life on the Earth?

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