Drought in Spain revealed sunken villages in reservoirs

by Lorraine Williamson
sunken villages

MADRID – The low level of many reservoirs in Spain due to the drought triggers the need for many to visit them. The sunken water surface reveals hidden treasures and sometimes complete villages. 

One of the most famous examples is the Sau reservoir in Barcelona. Traffic jams have even been recorded here due to the large number of visitors who wanted to go there. The Catalan traffic service (SCT) even warned about this because all parking spaces in the area were full and people parked everywhere on roadsides, resulting in risky situations. 

See also: Concerns about persistent drought and heat in Spain 

The main attraction in this reservoir is the church of Sant Romà de Sau (see photo). It was built in the 11th century and disappeared underwater in 1963 when the nearby dam was built. The popularity of this old building and the large number of people who want to visit it has led the Provincial Council of Barcelona to introduce a parking system. People now have to reserve a parking space in advance. This obligation applies to anyone who wants to travel to the enclave between 24 June and 11 September. 

500 sunken villages in Spain 

Spain has about 500 of these villages that have disappeared under the water of reservoirs, but only occasionally (partly) reappear. Those reservoirs were generally built during the Franco regime to ensure and improve water supplies and to create work to boost the country’s battered economy. 

However, when water levels drop, it is still possible to see the remains of the streets, churches and houses. For the former residents, they are a sad and, above all, painful reflection of what they once were. Here are a few examples of those villages. If you are in the area, it may be interesting to visit them. 

Related post: Historic Spanish fortified town still a ghost town by mistake 

Cumbre Villas

Aceredo, Ourense 

Located in the heart of the Xurxés Natural Park, in Lobios (Orense), is Aceredo. This village was flooded due to the construction of the Lindoso reservoir. On January 8, 1992, the Portuguese hydroelectric power station EDP closed its gates and the river, which was carrying a lot of water because of the rain, overflowed the village. Until then it had about 70 houses and about 120 inhabitants. This water reservoir also made four other villages in the area disappear permanently: A Reloeira, Buscalque, O Bao and Lantemil. In dry periods you can sometimes see some houses, the old city fountain or the remains of some streets. Such a period always attracts some old residents and curious tourists. 

Mediano, Huesca 

In 1969 the fate of this village changed drastically. After three days of heavy rainfall and with the dam tunnels closed, Mediano’s reservoir overflowed, forcing residents to flee the city as water poured into their homes. Even today, you can see the tower of the 16th-century church Iglesia de la Asunción rising out of the water. When the water level drops you can walk up to it and see the church almost completely. Virtually everyone moved elsewhere except for three families who decided to build a new house on the edge of the lake. 

Related post: Water reservoirs in Spain at the lowest level since 1995 

In addition, this place became a diving destination. Until not long ago you could dive into the church. Now the entrance has been boarded up for fear of possible collapse. Former residents have repeatedly attempted to protect the tower. 

Sant Roma de Sau, Barcelona 

We already mentioned this village in the introduction to this story. The reservoir of Sau, located at the foot of Tavertet and surrounded by forests and slopes of the Sierra de las Guilleries, hides under its water. In 1962 it was swallowed by the water. There were several farms, a Roman bridge and a Romanesque church from the 11th century. The impressive bell tower can still be seen, even with plenty of water. In times of drought, however, many houses rise above the water’s surface, allowing visitors to walk through the streets. The history of this city had such an impact on society that even the movie ‘Camino Cortado’, directed by Ignacio F. Iquino, was inspired by it. 

Las Rozas de Valdearroyo, Cantabria 

Two of the three parts of Las Rozas de Valdearroyo, located in Cantabria, were inundated by the waters of the Ebro Reservoir in the 1950s – along with the towns of Medianedo, La Magdalena, Quintanilla and Quintanilla de Bustamante. Only one building has survived, the village church, known today as ‘The Cathedral of the Fishes’. This enclave is of great ecological value because it was opened in 1983 call for National Waterfowl Sanctuary. The tower of this religious building is in a good condition, so it is still possible to climb it thanks to the wooden walkway that was created there. Unless the water level is too high of course. 

La Muedra, Soria 

In 1941 the dam of La Cuerda del Pozo was inaugurated. It is located in the north of Soria, a short distance from the Sierra de Cebollera Rioja and forced the inhabitants of La Muedra to leave the city. In 1931 the town had about 90 houses and about 341 inhabitants, although years later, with the arrival of the Civil War, there were barely 30 inhabitants who refused to leave. Eventually, they had to leave. Most chose to stay in Vinuesa 5 kilometres away, but other families moved to surrounding towns such as El Royo and Abejar. In this reservoir you can still see the tower of the church of La Muedra, the only architectural element still standing along with the cemetery 

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