This content was published on July 5, 2022 – 11:43
By Susana Vera and Emma Pinedo
PITARQUE, Spain (Reuters) – The small village of Pitarque at the foot of a mountain in Aragon, eastern Spain, has survived for more than 1,300 years, but if depopulation continues at the current rate it will will be deserted by 2046, warn its inhabitants.
The closure of the local school at the end of term last month, as two of its only four pupils moved in with their parents, could mark the point of no return in the village of 69 people, founded by Muslim conquerors in the 8th century and at its peak a century ago had over 1,000 inhabitants.
Many are retired and about half spend the cold winter months in Pitarque, which is located above a small valley in a steep mountain range and where the local road ends, 340 km ( 211 miles) east of Madrid.
Depopulation is a major challenge in Spain, whose population of 47 million is 80% urban and occupies only 13% of its territory, compared to 68% for France and 60% for Germany.
Villages threatened with depopulation represent 42%, compared to an average of 10% in the European Union. The province of Teruel, which includes Pitarque, is one of the least populated in the EU.
Alberto Toro, a 42-year-old local teacher, fell in love with the picturesque village, its nearby river, dramatic canyons and rock climbing routes when he arrived 14 years ago.
With less than 10 students at a time, he adapts his teaching to each child and uses fun and innovative methods such as a rap song explaining how the blood circulatory system works.
“Schools are the engine of change and development. When you close them, you stagnate,” said Toro, who still doesn’t know where to go but plans to continue visiting Pitarque, which he calls his “micro-paradise”. .
He prefers not to think about what he leaves behind, but a colleague compared him to Robinson Crusoe about to leave his island.
Eloy, 12, who will now go to school in another village a few miles away, said he would miss Toro the most, describing him as a second father who taught him about the human body using Lego blocks.
On the last day of school, several former students joined Toro and the school children in an art workshop followed by a group hug.
The Spanish government has pledged 4.3 billion euros in EU funds to increase public service coverage to tackle depopulation, but residents fear it may be too late for Pitarque.
“Closing the school means the end of the village itself. We may become – I hope I’m wrong – a weekend village that is dead from Monday to Friday,” said the mother of ‘Eloy, Pakita Iranzo, 52 years old.
(Reporting by Emma Pinedo, editing by Andrei Khalip and Raissa Kasolowsky)