Monday, October 24, 2011

Esco, Spain

Church of San Miguel, Esco
We stumbled across this amazing little Spanish ghost town in the foothills of the Pyrenees.  One of the benefits of renting a van for the trip was that we had a lot of control over our schedule, so when opportunities like Esco presented themselves we could pull off the road and explore them.

Esco, an abandoned Spanish hill town (click to enlarge)

Graffiti on crumbling walls
We knew nothing about this town when we wandered through it.  We didn't know when it was built or why or how it was abandoned.  There was graffiti on some of the walls and broken wine bottles in some of the buildings, but that debris seemed to be relatively recent.  The roofs and interior floors of the houses had all collapsed, although many of the stone walls remained.  The only sign of life was a small farm nestled in the far end of the town.

Only 4 people remain, tending sheep

Plaster wall design
There were power lines running through the town, but they were mounted on the outside of the walls and looked as though they were installed after the town was abandoned.  We couldn't see any signs of electrical switches or outlets inside the buildings.  We didn't see any plastics or wallpaper or anything at all that looked modern.  Everything seemed very old.

The power lines don't feed into the buildings - they were mounted on the outside.  This building seemed to have a story; Why  are there bars on the window of this big building? Was it to keep people out or in?
Looking up at the church tower
Now at home in St. John's, I've been scouring the internet to find out a little more about this peculiar place.  Most of the information that I've found so far is in Spanish, but there's actually quite a lot written about the town.  There is an association with a website dedicated to preserving the community: ASOCIACIÓN PRO RECONSTRUCCIÓN DE ESCO and a blog dedicated to the town: Esco, un pueblo de Aragón. (Note: in the Google translated pages "Esco" is often translated as "Scotland".)  The blog even has a map of the town with each residence and building identified.

Centuries of history, decades of disuse

Narrow paths
It seems that Esco was one of three communities abandoned in the 1960s as the result of a large dam built on on the Aragon River, which created the Yesa Reservoir.  This is a dry province of Spain and control of the river seems to have played an important role in shaping the region for centuries.  The dam which led to the abandonment of Esco was in the works since the 1920s. The town itself wasn't flooded, but the fertile fields that the residents farmed now lie at the bottom of the reservoir.

The entrance to the town
Ancient Stone walls and timbers
The dam cut off the community's means of making a living.  If I'm reading the google-translated history correctly, the town has been on the books for 1000 years and the large church at its core may date to the 12th century.  In AD 1047, Esco gave tithes to the Monastery at Leire. Today, the only inhabitants are a father and his 3 sons, who raise sheep.   

Here's a short video clip that I took standing in front of the church and looking down on to the town:

Tumbled down town

Sunbleached roof timbers, collapsing under the weight of the tiles.

The floors and roofs were all supported by timbers and when those collapse the buildings become a hollow shell.

The main door and bell tower of the Church of San Miguel

Inside the Church

The ceiling of the church has fallen in below the bell tower.  It looks like at least one floor above  has yet to collapse.
The view down from the church.  Lori is walking in the foreground.

Esco, Spain

Photo Credits: 
1, 2, 4-9, 12-19: Tim Rast
3, 10, 11: Lori White


  1. What a fascinating place! I'm not sure I would have entered the crumbling remains of the church to photograph, but i'm glad you did! :)

  2. It was pretty dark in the church, I was just snapping with the flash and looking at the pictures after. According to one of the websites, there is a sturdy stone staircase going up the bell tower. I wish I would have seen it, but I doubt that I'd have the nerve to trust the stairs.

  3. It was scary enough to see you up on the wall. Im glad to have not seen you peering out the bell tower!

  4. Oooh, pretty church. And yes, almost definitely twelfth century. That's when Romanesque and early Gothic architecture had their showdown in Spain, and you've got features of both there.

    The arches in Romanesque buildings are rounded, like the one over the door to the bell tower, while Gothic arches are pointy, like the ones inside the church proper. (The later you go in the Middle Ages, the higher and pointier they get. These are very gentle points, though, so twelfth century is my guess.) Also, you've got buttresses reinforcing the walls, but no flying ones yet[1], which also points to early Gothic.

    It's entirely possible that the bell tower was constructed before the rest of the church, and could date to the eleventh or even tenth centuries. Especially considering it's got the tallest walls, but seems to have no buttressing whatsoever.

    [1] Yes, "flying buttress" is an actual technical term.

  5. Wow - thanks for the info. That's really fascinating stuff. I guess I need to do a little more reading before heading back to some of these spots. Or we could just take you along!

  6. I promise to take up very little room in your luggage.


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