MADRID – Spain is home to some unique historical sites hidden beneath the water’s surface. These drowned villages, submerged by the construction of dams and reservoirs, provide a fascinating glimpse of the past.
Spain has approximately 500 reservoirs, some of which have sunk villages , but very occasionally (partly) reappear. These reservoirs were generally built during the Franco regime to guarantee and improve water supplies and to create work as a boost to the country’s battered economy.
Now that large parts of Spain are ravaged by persistent drought, the water surface of many reservoirs is decreasing. Throughout Spain, reservoirs are only filled to 43.6% of their capacity. The worst situation is the province of Almeria with 11.2%. The best filled are the reservoirs in the province of Valladolid at 100%.
Many former residents in the regions that receive less rainfall are sad to see the remains of their former villages appear above the water surface again. It often starts with the church, but sometimes entire streets become exposed again. Here is an overview of some of these lost villages that sometimes show up again.
The original village of Riaño, now known as Nuevo Riaño, lies beneath the waters of the Riaño Reservoir in León. This tragic fate befell Riaño in 1987 when the valley was deliberately flooded to create a water reservoir. In addition to Riaño, other villages such as Burón and Pedrosa del Rey were also flooded. Now Nuevo Riaño is one of the most beautiful villages in the region. The village is also the base for tourism in the southern part of the Picos de Europa. Various companies in the village offer excursions to spot wolves and bears.
Lanuza, once abandoned and flooded due to the construction of a dam in 1976, was repopulated in the 1990s. The houses that have emerged above the water surface give the village a unique view against the backdrop of the Tena Valley and the lake that reflects the white houses with black roofs.
This village in Lugo disappeared under the Belesar reservoir in 1962. The inhabitants moved to a newly built location, Monte do Cristo, where the community still exists. At low water levels, the ruins of the old village are still visible.
Mediano, with its own town hall and a stable population in 1970, was flooded four years later due to the construction of a reservoir. Today Mediano is annexed by La Fueva. The lake, when filled, was popular with divers. They even organised excursions to dive into the depths of the swamp and see the temple of the ancient city. Even today you can see how the tower of the 16th-century church Iglesia de la Asunción rises from the water. Only three families decided to stay and built houses on the edge of the lake.
The construction of the Mequinenza Reservoir, also known as the Sea of Aragon due to its 1 million m2 surface area, led to the submergence of Mequinensa and the nearby village of Fayón in 1964. Both villages were rebuilt on nearby sites, but many inhabitants moved to cities such as Zaragoza and Barcelona.
The construction of the reservoir in the 1960s led to the evacuation of the villages of Ruesta, Tiermas, Sigües, Urriés, Undués de Lerda, Los Pintanos en Escó when 2,400 hectares of land were flooded. However, not everyone here is sad to see the declining water level in this reservoir as a result of the drought in Spain. The locals around the Yesa reservoir, also called the Sea of the Pyrenees, are happy when the water surface drops considerably. This makes it possible to use the therapeutic powers of the sulfurous water that bubbles up in the former thermal baths of Tiermas. They then smear themselves with clay and bathe for hours in the warm and medicinal water.
Sant Roma de Sau (Barcelona)
Located in the Osona region, this village was moved due to the construction of the Sau Reservoir in 1962. During dry periods, the Romanesque church from the 11th century is visible, and visitors can stroll the streets of the former village. The church serves as an indicator of the water level in the reservoir for local residents. The history of this city had such an impact on society that even the film ‘Camino Cortado’, directed by Ignacio F. Iquino, was inspired by it.
Also read: Drought brings new tourism trend in Spain