As the Priorat crumbles

Capping off a series of very busy months where I’ve little time to do much but try and keep up with writing, Editor in Chief sent me this article (in Catalan) which basically says that population of Priorat County, where I live, has decreased 6% over the last five years.

As I explain on the wine tours, it’s never been a heavily populated place and this “peak” in 2012 was at just 9,971 people. There used to be a great many more back in the 19th century, before phylloxera hit. But once that plague came through, people left by the donkey load. My village, Porrera, for instance, had nearly 2,000 people in it. Now, it’s one of the more “lively” villages with just 445 people. I think a small part of a city block in downtown San Francisco could have more people.

And yes, in Spain, we actually know at any given minute how many people are where due to having to register with the local town hall as opposed to the US where it’s a census that’s done every decade… Despite this, these numbers are actually allude to a higher population than what it actually is on the ground. Many people in Barcelona will register living in Priorat via an old family house in order to save money on their car registration when in actuality, they live in Barcelona or Tarragona.

You really feel this effect when passing through a village like Torroja. It’s a lovely village, maybe the loveliest in the county but this state of beauty is purely preservation via neglect as no new homes have been built there for some time. That official figure of 153 residents feels a great deal more like 50 actual residents living amongst a swell of 500 cats.

Anyone reading to this point would think, “Shit! There are so many empty houses, they must be dirt cheap!” Unfortunately, it’s quite the opposite. Were you looking at buying or renting in this county 20 years ago, then yes, you could possibly find something cheap. But now, the prices are ridiculous as villagers have clung onto houses from family that’s passed away or that they bought on the cheap years ago. They neither want to sell nor rent, just keep.

It makes it incredibly frustrating if you do want to live in the area as it takes a very long time to find a place to live at a reasonable price. Many apartments in the capital, Falset, aren’t that much cheaper than what you’d find in Barcelona. And to actually buy a place, people want upwards of 50,000 or even 100,000€ at times for what is little more than four crumbling walls that you need to completely rebuild.

The irony in this is then shown in these population figures. By holding on to everything, they keep everyone new out and many are inexplicably happy with this arrangement. Of course as time goes on and with people having far fewer children, it’s getting much harder to find people to work here. You see, the population isn’t decreasing because people are fed up with the area, it’s because the old residents are slower dying off and their places of residence aren’t being made available. The exception to this is Poboleda which had a 3% gain of residents, most probably because I’ve seen the most amount of homes for sale up there.

Make no mistake, I love the area and am quite content to be here. I just see the reality as it took me over eight months to find a place to rent at anything resembling a decent price. If it continues like this, the region could potentially suffer another collapse although it will much more probably be the case that a ton of houses will fall on the market at the same time as people are unable to hold on to five or even 10 empty residences. Then, we might actually see a boom of new residents but I’m not holding my breath.