Bled by emigration, abandoned Portuguese villages lose hope of surviving

Fri Apr 29, 2016 8:58am EDT
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By Andrei Khalip

LISBON (Reuters) - The villages of Agracoes and Povoa de Agracoes in northern Portugal look little alike - one is a run-down cluster of dilapidated old stone houses, the other has a cosier feel, with a flower-bedecked wayside shrine and chapel.

But the one thing they have in common is the "slow agony" of abandonment, as some villagers say.

The steady drip-drip of emigration has brought down their numbers from more than 50 residents to fewer than a dozen each. These remaining villagers share the same glum acceptance that, after they have gone, their villages will die out too.

It is the same desolate picture in scores of other backwater settlements in Portugal's interior, north to south.

There are no shops. A grocery truck comes once a week and elderly residents taxi pool to see a doctor miles away.

"This place will get overgrown with woods for wildfires to burn, that's what will happen ... "My daughters won't come to live here, so my land will disappear," said Antonio Goncalves Fontes, at 62 one of the youngest residents of Agracoes, where mountain waters gurgle next to crumbling stone houses.

He and his wife Maria grow chestnuts, vegetables and have a small flock of sheep and five donkeys.

Mass emigration to wealthier countries like France and Switzerland, high unemployment and poorly-paid local jobs, combined with falling birth rates, have caused some parishes like Loivos, which encompasses Agracoes, to lose about three-quarters of the population in the past few decades.   Continued...

The interior of an abandoned house is seen in Agracoes, near Chaves, Portugal April 18, 2016. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante