Dhe emptiness that really deserted landscapes radiate is difficult to describe. Take Aragon in north-eastern Spain, for example: you could look around, walk around such an area so that at some point your exhausted body tells you how pointless the idea is, or take in the stillness of those barren, indifferently rolling mountain waves . But what good would that do? In the end one would try again with numbers in this vastness without structure. For example, the village of Fuendetodos, which is a 45-minute drive south of Zaragoza and covers an area of more than sixty kilometers, has only 145 inhabitants. But if you ask there, they say: “Oh, you mean on weekdays? Only eighty people sleep in the village.” So it’s easy to imagine how much future there is. In fact, the 1,000-square-kilometer district of Campo de Belchite, where Fuendetodos is located, has a population density that in many places matches that of the Sahara. Not even five thousand souls live in all fifteen villages.
In Fuendetodos – the name means “source of all” – Francisco de Goya was born in 1746. Goya is the cultural saint of this area, which can be as somber as his paintings, and of the three festival days of the year the municipality’s website lists, two – the birthday and the anniversary of his death – are dedicated to Charles IV’s court painter and relentless performer of the unleashed Killing in the etching cycle “The Horrors of War”. Günter Grass was also in Fuendetodos for a few days to draw and etch in the noughties, to pay homage to the genius of this discipline.
Outside the village, literally in the steppe, there are several discoveries to be made. On the one hand a so-called “nevero” – a pointed, picturesque-looking cairn, under which there is an ice storage facility, which you can still descend into today. In the nineteenth century, before the invention of the refrigerator, donkeys transported the fat blocks of ice in a grueling trek to Zaragoza at night. City dwellers learn from this: Whatever technological progress brings us, the province has a long memory for its traditional works.
On the other hand, right at the exit of the village, you come across an interesting white shell with sloping roofs. The contrast to the old houses is striking. Fifteen years ago, an ambitious museum for contemporary prints was to be created here, under Goya’s protection, so to speak. But then came the real estate crisis of 2008 and the big crash: an entire prosperity model collapsed. For ten years now the unfinished burrow has been rotting away, and every year the steppe grass grows a little taller. The journalist and writer Sergio del Molino, who lives in the regional capital Zaragoza, has described areas like these as “empty Spain” in his bestseller of the same name (FAZ of October 14) and urged respect for the remote worlds from unsuspecting townsfolk; but there are too many ruins of this kind in Spain to rouse anyone.
But now a new, ambitious project has picked up speed. It calls itself “Territorio Goya”, is based on a non-profit association and wants to declare the entire district of Campo de Belchite with its fifteen villages a kind of Goya cultural zone, in which old and new art shake hands. One of the initiators, the painter Ricardo Calero, moved to Fuendetodos himself a long time ago and turned a dilapidated property in the town center into a studio with a residential building. “I fell in love with this place,” says Calero as he shows the visitor around, “even if life seems hard here. The landscape has a beauty all of its own – with its light, the clouds and the wide horizon.”