Abandoned Belgian Town Now Covered in Street Art

An image of the street art in Doel, Belgium. Photo courtesy of R. Vermeir via flickr.


Doel is a mostly-abandoned “ghost town” and the former site of Belgium’s first commercial nuclear power station, and it’s getting a makeover. According to the Guardian, the town housed about 1,700 residents circa 1970, and is now down to just 25. But those 25 inhabitants are a committed bunch.

For two decades Doel’s remaining residents have been embroiled in a battle with a state-funded corporation that is seeking to raze it. The townspeople also have the EU’s strict environmental laws on their side thanks to the large population of swallows that has taken up residence in the dilapidated town. But they also have something else working in their favor: street art.

In 2007, the campaigning group Doel 2020 planned to ensure the survival of the town by turning it into a haven for street artists.

“The idea was that it would become an open-air museum,” said organizer Marina Apers. It attracted major names like Michelangelo Pistoletto and Luc Tuymans, as well as both local and international street artists who heard about the town and wanted to leave their mark. Brussels-based photojournalist Virginia Mayo told the Guardian, “In the early days the murals related to the message the residents had, which was ‘don’t take our village away’, but later, other artists came and just used all the buildings as wall canvases for their work, probably because there was little police presence.”

Art now covers almost every surface, aside from the 11 private homes that are still occupied and a handful of other buildings. Whether or not it has been good for the town seems up in the air. While it has encouraged tourism and awareness of the town, not all tourists are respectful. Vandalism (not the artful kind) and looting are commonplace, and the police are disinterested in doing anything about it, as the widespread dereliction just strengthens the case for demolition. But, despite the politics surrounding it, the images of an entirely art-covered town are eerily beautiful.

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