The small village of Doel is located near the Sheldt River in Belgium, 25 kilometers north-west of Antwerp (Europe’s largest port). It is currently under threat of demolition.
Doel is considered a ghost town of old Europe and a place for artists to display their talents. The village is teeming with lush nature, beautiful heritage, and culture.
Of particular interest is the windmill, built in the 17th century which was the first stone windmill in Belgium. In addition, in 1613, a white baroque-style villa was built for the family of the famous Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens.
However, Doel very nearly didn’t exist after 1583. Belgium is quite rich in peat (soft soil), which greatly increases fertility. People began to dig peat fields so intensively that this led to a decrease in the oil level. As a consequence, the area became vulnerable to flooding, and the village was razed to the ground in 1583 thanks to one of several floods.
Luckily, the village of Doel slowly recovered over time. In the middle of the 19th century, 2,500 people lived in Doel.
However, the village’s luck ran out in 1970. At that time, the city of Antwerp was developing fast, and the port needed more space. The decision was made to demolish Doel and build a nuclear power plant.
When local people learned about the demolition plan, they opposed it. From the 1970s to the 1990s, many protests were held which helped to suspend the plan. Authorities offered large amounts of compensation to residents if they left the village. By 2007, there were only 350 inhabitants.
The authorities were not above forcibly expelling reluctant residents. In 2008, a hundred-strong team of riot police was sent in to get residents to leave the village.
All this protest and resistance meant that ruins and heaps of rubble began to appear on the streets of Doel. As a result, at the moment there are about 20 people left in the village, and every day they are fighting to preserve their home.
The remaining residents banded together to form Doel 2020. They decided that a good way to save the village would be to turn it into an open-air museum, a paradise for artists. Street artists from all over Belgium and from abroad were attracted to the village and its tragic atmosphere. Such famous artists as Luke Tuymans and Michelangelo Pistoletto took part in this venture so that colorful graffiti enlivens this derelict village.
Thanks to Doel 2020, the village has become a tourist attraction. Thousands of street art lovers, photographers, and tourists now come every year. It is sad to know that behind the sight are the tears of the locals.
Most of the village’s walls are decorated with huge graffiti of various kinds, the most famous of which are the giant black and white rat, the crow, the headless wild boar, and the inverted rabbit. There are also massive inscriptions, strange people, cartoons, and comics.
Several buildings are left without graffiti. These include homes that are still privately owned. However, in addition to inviting art into its streets, the village also attracted vandalism and robbery. Illegal raves also occurred in the village’s dilapidated barns. This has resulted in an increase in neighborhood monitoring schemes.
Currently, the village is littered with hundreds of abandoned buildings. Schools, cafes, gas stations, and a quiet town hall are boarded up with metal plates. Getting inside can be tricky, and it’s almost impossible to find an open roof. Houses still contained abandoned items and toys.
There were several cafes and a church working for tourists. Most of the buildings in the village are typical terraced houses, some of which are excellent examples of historical architecture.
Most likely, in the near future, Doel will be a village remembered only in photos. The construction of a large container terminal is underway nearby, and the port administration plans to build a second terminal on the site of the village.
Although the authorities decided to demolish the village of Doel, EU environmental laws may still prevent this from happening — something which is hoped for by Doel 2020 and all lovers of street art.
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