Doel, the village that almost disappeared

Doel Belgique

Doel is a village located in Belgium, next to the port of Antwerp, on the banks of the Escaut. Before the 90s, it was a popular place for locals who came there for their Sunday stroll to enjoy nature, see the pretty houses, the small port, or the old mill dating from the 17th century. Just behind, one kilometer north of the village, is one of Belgium’s two nuclear power stations. This image of the mill in front of the chimneys of the nuclear power plant is quite emblematic of Doel, the coexistence of the old with industrialization.

In the 1990s, the public authorities decided to enlarge the port, so the question arose of the viability of the village enclosed in this industrial zone. The port of Antwerp is the second largest European port, it has many container terminals, it is the first chemical port in Europe, in short a machine that is difficult to stop. Other villages have disappeared to make way for the expansion of the port. In 1997 an action committee was created, the defenders of Doel will fight against the disappearance of their village.

In 1999 the evacuation of the village is decided, the expropriation begins for the voluntary inhabitants. The village had 1300 inhabitants in 1972, 200 inhabitants in 2006, and about twenty today. In 2005, a new container basin was inaugurated, a second basin is planned on the site where the village is built.

In 2006, many houses are therefore empty, in addition to the 200 official inhabitants, Doel has between 150 and 200 estimated squatters. The situation is tolerated by the owners, it is indeed a way of bringing the village to life, in particular through street art which will gradually make the place famous outside Belgium. But when the particular situation of Doel begins to be publicized, the village will undergo waves of burglaries and degradations, an unpleasant moment for the people left to live there. The police then intervene to evict the troublemakers.

Fast forward to 2019, after several battles and back and forth before the courts, the diehard defenders of this almost ghost village receive good news: the Flemish government confirms that the village can be kept. It is a victory for all those who have fought for the survival of the village for 20 years.

When I went there in 2014 I didn’t see any police, but a gentleman was driving around the village, welcoming walkers by explaining the situation with a little history of the legal battles in progress. He also recalled some basic rules: photos are accepted but it is forbidden to enter the houses because some are still inhabited and empty houses can be dangerous.

The village is still an attraction for curious visitors today. The will now is to revive Doel, some former inhabitants would already have the project to return there. Nothing specific has been announced on the side of the political authorities, but we can see the effects of this announced renaissance with, for example, an Electronic Music Festival scheduled for September 17 and 18, 2022.


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