Granadilla: the place that became a ghost town due to fatal mistake

In the mid-1950s, all was right with the world in the medieval fortified city of Granadilla.

But then the government decided that all 1000 inhabitants should leave the town because of a gigantic dam project. But Granadilla was never flooded – and the former residents are still suffering from the consequences of their forced resettlement to this day.

Those who visit Granadilla in western Spain today can walk the well-preserved city walls, stroll through the cobbled streets or enjoy the view from the tower of the fortress. Some houses have also been renovated. In the evening, however, the gates close again. Because in the ghost town of Granadilla nobody lives anymore. Not since all residents were evicted from the city in the 1960s.

According to a BBC report, Granadilla was founded by the Arabs in the 9th century. The city was in a strategic location that allowed residents to keep track of the Ruta de la Plata, an ancient trade and travel route through the region. Over the centuries, the city has changed hands several times and today Granadilla is one of the few Spanish fortified villages whose ancient walls are still intact.

How Granadilla became a ghost town

In the 1950s, the then dictator Franco decided to revitalize the rural areas of Spain economically by creating numerous reservoirs. The largest of these projects was the Gabriel y Galán dam, which dams the Alagón river into a gigantic reservoir. In 1955 the authorities decreed that Granadilla was in a flood zone and therefore had to be evacuated.

Within 10 years, between 1959 and 1969, all 1,000 residents were forcibly relocated, many of them to settlement areas near the town. From 1963 the water began to rise – but Granadilla was never flooded. The responsible engineers had simply miscalculated. Despite this fact, the former residents were not allowed to return to their homes and Granadilla became a ghost town.

A traumatic experience

For many, this experience was traumatic and continues to shape them to this day. “It was a farce,” BBC quoted a former resident as saying. “They kicked us out and said the dam would flood the town, which was impossible because the town is higher than the dam.” Another former Granadilla resident recalled: “Every time a family left the village, they came everyone to the village entrance to say goodbye and cry.”

Because the Spanish government is still sticking to the flood decree signed by Franco, a return to Granadilla is still out of the question. The ghost town of Granadilla is only open to visitors during the day. In 1980 it was designated as an art historical site. Since then, volunteers have operated it as a kind of free open-air museum. As part of this project, about 20 houses in the central part of the city have now been lovingly restored.

The former residents and their descendants meet in town twice a year. On Assumption Day (August 15) they attend a mass in their old church. And on All Saints’ Day (November 1st) they visit their deceased loved ones in Granadilla Cemetery.

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