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Celles, The Village That Didn’t Drown

In the late 1950s, residents of Celles, a small village in the Salagou valley in southern France, received notices for evacuation. Their neighborhood had been chosen by the authorities to become the site for a reservoir, which was to be built supposedly for their own benefit.

This region has been traditionally known for its vineyards, but lately, the wine market was crashing and prices were dropping. The local government decided that the best way to ride out the crisis was for the farmers to diversify their crops. Plant fruits instead. But because fruit trees needed more water than vines, they needed to harness the river and build a lake. Which meant Celles had to be inundated.

Celles, Hérault,

Village Celles by lake Salagou. Photo: 7Horses/Shutterstock.com

The villagers put up a fight and resisted the forceful evacuation for ten years. But in the end, the government had its way and in 1968, the dam on river Salagou was finally completed. Shortly after, the water began to creep up towards the village. The plan was to raise the water level in two stages—first to 139 meters and then to 150 meters. The second stage would have engulfed the village which lies at a mean altitude of 144 meters. But the second stage was never implemented, leaving the waters of the lake lapping at the foot of the village. Celles was abandoned for nothing.

Some villagers attempted to return to their former homes, but by then, the buildings were already falling apart having fallen prey to neglect and theft. Meanwhile, water transformed the region from an arid farmland to a popular tourist destination with watersports on the lake as well as hiking and biking trails around the countryside.

A few determined villagers continued to fight the abandonment of the village. Some of them actually moved among the ruins to guard what remained of the village from vandals. Census records throughout the years show that Celles was never totally abandoned. From sixty residents in the middle of the 1950s, the population fell to only five in 1975. Then it started climbing again. Thanks to the effort of the Hérault council, many of the buildings in the village has now been restored and the population of the village now stands at over thirty.

“Our project is an ongoing struggle that is proceeding slowly. Everyone thought we were utopians. Celebrating the first lease, 50 years after the last evictions is a small victory,” tells Joëlle Goudal, the leader of the local council.

Goudal hopes the village will return to its former glory by the end of the decade.

Celles, Hérault,

Photo: Sourbron Marc/Wikimedia Commons

Celles, Hérault,

Lake Salagou. Photo: Donatas_photo/Shutterstock.com

Celles, Hérault,

Photo: Seb Pochet/Shutterstock.com

Celles, Hérault,

Photo: OfirYR/Shutterstock.com

Celles, Hérault,

Photo: OfirYR/Shutterstock.com

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