On the shores of the Salagou Lake, the ruins of the village of Celles are slowly coming back to life. In 1968, the village was emptied of its inhabitants to make way for the creation of the lake, which was going to rise to an altitude of 150 meters (492 feet), drowning the buildings. But plans changed, and the water never rose past 139 meter (456 feet) . Its inhabitants were kicked out for nothing.
The village was looted and squatted for several years, and the buildings fell into ruin. But after over 50 years, three new families signed leases to move back into Celles in September 2019 and begin the process of rebuilding.
The ruins are currently fenced off, but visitors can still walk through the village streets along the shores of the Salagou. The plan for rebuilding is ambitious. New residents were selected based on a business project or company that they will bring to the town, and being issued long-term leases designed to prevent real estate speculation. According to the terms of these leases, all tourist-facing business will take place in a single, communally run building. The town is also building social housing.
Celles is located in southeastern France, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the city of Montpellier. In the summer, the lake is a popular local destination for hiking and swimming. But Joëlle Goudal, the current mayor of Celles, wants to make sure that the village is first and foremost a place where people live, rather than a tourist attraction. “People were expropriated for this land,” she says. “It’s out of the question to let people today make money off of the people who were forced to leave.”