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A pioneer’s call to repopulate schist abandoned villages

“Now, the rural is the revolutionary” – José Luis Peixoto

Pedro Pedrosa and his wife Sofia left city life over a decade ago for a mostly-abandoned farming village in Central Portugal. After creating their home from several small outbuildings, they continued to experiment with local building materials- cork, pine, lime and slate- by transforming three stone storage sheds into “Nature House” vacation rentals.

Their town, Ferraria de São João, is part of the Schist Villages network (Aldeias do Xisto): 27 rural villages built mostly out of schist (slate). Nearly two decades ago, the government, with help from the European Union, invested in reanimating the towns as eco-tourism hubs celebrating nature and tradition.

Traditionally, residents of Ferraria de São João raised goats, but around 50 years ago, some residents began planting eucalyptus as a crop and the goats began to disappear as the eucalyptus became a near monocrop for the area.

In 2017, the wildfires that killed 66 people in central Portugal surrounded the town, fed by the highly-flammable eucalyptus, and it was only the old cork forest that stopped the flames. In the fires’ aftermath, recognizing the value of their traditional forest, residents organized to replace the eucalyptus with new cork and oak trees in a ring around the town as protection against future fires.

Pedro and Sofia are now raising their two children in town where they joke that the birth rate is over 10%: there are 5 children out of a population of 40.