Doel is a 700 year old village situated near the river Scheldt in Belgium, that is currently facing the threat of demolition. Its only crime is that it’s located too close to the port of Antwerp. Somewhere in the 1970's it was decided that the Antwerp harbour needed to expand, and Doel quickly became a target for demolition. The construction of a large dock and container terminal capable of receiving deep-sea ships is already underway on a site immediately next to the village, and the Port Authority proposes building a second one where the village now stands.
When the plan to scrap the village was announced, the residents protested and successfully held off the demolition for several decades, but the government was insistent. Sometimes it dealt with a heavy hand – in 2008, a 100 strong squad of riot police was sent to the village in order to force evacuation. The once thriving village now looks like a war torn zone with streets strewn with rubble, and big ugly gaps appearing in between the houses.
Some residents are still holding out but by the 90’s many had already moved out. As residents started departing, a different set of newcomers began moving in – artists, from all over Europe – and they are slowly turning Doel into one huge artistic canvas.
Entire building facades and wall of this abandoned settlement are now dominated by massive graffiti - a giant black and white sniffing rat, weird looking humans, cartoons and aliens. The village might be devoid of humans, but the colorful and awe-inspiring graffiti has kept it alive.
For the most part of the village’s long history, Doel enjoyed a peaceful and culturally rich existence. The village has many historic buildings, including the oldest stone windmill of the country (1611), and the only windmill on a sea wall, the Baroque Hooghuis (1613) – the holdings of the famous 17th century Antwerp painter, Peter Paul Rubens, and many historically unique farmhouses such as the Reynard Farm with its monumental barn. The village is also famous for the nearby nuclear power station which still dominates the skyline with its twin towers.
The tug-of-war between the residents and the government has been dragging on for forty years but the demolition appears imminent as fewer than 200 inhabitants are left today, most of them are squatters. The residents were served a final notice more than two years ago, and we suspect it won't be long before Doel and it’s wonderful street art will cease to exist.
Photos by Romany WG
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