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Since Halloween is this week, I thought we could talk about those abandoned cities and towns that give us so much good storytelling material for this time of year. Ghost towns are present all over the world and in just about in every country. In the United States, there are famous places like Centralia, Pennsylvania (the inspiration for the Silent Hill videogame and movie), well preserved Bodie in California and numerous other spots in the west and Great Plains. Abandoned places in the UK are everywhere primarily due to the Black Plague while more recently others were abandoned during WWII like Tyneham and Langford.
In Spain there are also some very noteworthy towns where only some buildings, landmarks or vestiges of dwellings once were. In northern Spain, the County of Treviño forms a part of Castille and León. Due to agreements made in the Middle Ages between rival kings, this county is enveloped by the Basque province of Álava and is not physically connected to Castille and León. Due to the difficult geography of the area—rugged and irregular hills along with difficult farming conditions—Treviño has always been isolated from its neighbors like Álava, Burgos and La Rioja.
However, in an area full of hamlets and half abandoned villages, there is one place that stands out—the village of Ochate. This abandoned village is known to have been inhabited since the Bronze Age thanks to discovery of flint and quartz tools in the fields nearby. There is also proof of Roman occupation since a funeral stele was discovered near a neighboring hermitage. Ochate's location, today remote and more off the beaten path than ever, was once positioned along a very transited road that connected Castille and León to what is known as the Route of Fish and Wine. This route got its name by being an important trade route between the fishing villages along the Bay of Biscay and the fertile fields and wine producing region of La Rioja.
Today, that route is nothing more than a hiking trail and with its decline, the enclave of Treviño also experienced depopulation which has dwindled the county's population down to 1461 inhabitants in 2011; a very small population for an area of 100 sq. miles or an area roughly the size of Sacramento, California. Vacío means empty in Spanish and this lack of populatoin coupled with an eerily remote region and unfriendly landscape combine to make this place very empty indeed and also an ideal location for a ghost town.
Through the middle ages to the 19th century, Ochate was always a village on the edge; in fact it was previously abandoned at the end of the 13th century only to be revived again in the mid-1500s. Descriptions of the village from the second half of the 19th century tell of a small and humble village populated with cattle farmers and laborers. The people here lived off of what they raised and they ate principally beef, beans, potatoes and cereals. Curiously, the ingenuity of the villagers for making the best of their situation were able benefit from their harsh conditions by charging mushroom collectors a fee for foraging around their village. We know this thanks to the preservation of written contracts dating back to the 18th century.
Why this village started to empty at the end of the 19th century is still not entirely clear but illness, unfortunate weather and a murder all had a role to play. During this time there was sickness, especially the Spanish flu, which devastated the area and rain and hail that destroyed crops in successive years during the 1920s caused people to go search for a better place to live. In 1930 there remained only two families—one being a family of three and the other a single elderly man. Because a crazy pastor that frequented the village threatened pretty much everyone, the Aránguiz family decided to move to a safer village nearby. The elderly man, Eusebio, wasn't far behind. Their fears were later realized when the crazed shepherd brutally killed a fellow shepherd in one of the abandoned houses of Ochate in 1936.
The stories related to this towns cursed past began to surface in the 1970s and took off with the publication of an article in the magazine Mundo Desconocido, a monthly publication that dealt with the paranormal and extraterrestrial. Within this article the telling of UFO sightings and persistent paranormal activity was uncovered as well as a telling of biblical plagues that affected this tiny hamlet through the years creating the basis for future misery and strange occurrences.
The story of a missing person from a neighboring village in Ochate in 1973 while on his way to plow his field along with farm animals mysteriously disappearing made the news around this time. Also there have been reports of lights that have been seen originating from the village at night and not just from the village. These lights have been found to originate from stone sarcophagi that are buried in the ground around the village that today lay empty and visible to the intrepid visitor.
Numerous other stories of happenings related to the supernatural have circulated among the curious. Iker Jimenez, the famous Spanish reporter of all things strange wrote:
I have to recognize that, with night having fallen over us, I was shaken to my bones when I heard those recorded voices (from Ochate) from January and June of 1987. The first was the scream of a little girl saying "Pandora!" Or maybe it was the voice that yelled "kampora" which in Basque means get out. This was voice was recorded inside of the bell tower and with total clarity that it was truly chilling. There was another voice recorded in the same place but higher up and has left in the air various questions. This last voice was that of a woman who in a lamentable and hoarse tone said: "Why is the door still open?"
Enigmas Sin Resolver I, Vol.I
It has been speculated that door refers to a door to other dimensions that the researcher, Alberto Fernandez, was trying to uncover. Unfortunately, and for reasons not explained, this researcher took his life on one of his visits to Ochate. The idea that this village is some kind of portal is also reinforced by the towns own name. In Basque, Otxate means Puerta de Lobos (The Wolves' Door) and Ochate means Puerta de Gog (The Door of Gog), Gog being a biblical figure associated with the powers of evil in the Book of Revelations.
There have been numerous groups of researches coming to Ochate over the last 40 years trying to unravel the mystery surrounding the once humble-turned-cursed village. One thing for sure is that this is a place with many stories to tell all within a region that is only 10 miles from Vitoria, the capital of Spanish Basque country, yet a world away. If you want to visit Ochate, you will need some good walking shoes since this village doesn't have access by road. You can park in the nearby village of Imíruri and walk a little more than a mile to the remains of Ochate. There you will find the remains of the church and the foundations and some remaining walls of what were once the houses and barns of the people that lived here. There is also the remains of a hermitage on a bluff overlooking Ochate that is also worth a visit. But don't forget a flashlight and camera, just in case…
Why don't you tell us about your favorite ghost town?
Alberto Aragunde: Ochate. Un pueblo de leyenda desde el aire.
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