Built: 1607

Abandoned: 2000

Visited: 2004 + 2008

Doel, Oost Vlaanderen, Belgium

During my first visit in 2004 Doel was not the ghosttown it became a few years later. Not even half the village was abandoned. Actually the government had other plans with this small village, in 2020 Doel has to be gone for a new industrial harbour. Until that day the people of Doel will stay and fight against the demolition of the town. The construction of a large dock and container terminal capable of receiving deep-sea ships is already underway on a site immediately next to the village. They want to build a second one, on the village grounds. These plans were made during a period the economy was rising.


The history of Doel goes back to the early 13th century. After many floods the village started growing. The Belgian village of Doel was reclaimed from the river Schelde at the beginning of the 17th century. During the year 1876 Doel has its most inhabitants, it housed 2511 people. 418 people are left in 2004, but in 2005 approximately 200 squatters moved in. Some punksquatters looking for fun, others, secretaries and shop assistants in search of free accommodation having been priced out of the housing market.

When I went back four years later, the village has really turned into a ghosttown. The atmosphere in the village is strange: some asylum seekers wander aimlessly around the seemingly deserted streets. Thieves regularly strip vacated houses of anything of any value. Weekend disaster tourists descend on the village, I felt almost guilty walking there with my camera. We talked to last people living there, the old police officer from Doel takes us to the most beautiful building of the village, het Hooghuis, the old second home of the painter Rubens.


The school, restaurants and hotels are all closed. The tiny post office and police station are rarely open. Only one shop is left – an electrical appliance store – and only two cafés remain. But a mixed band of residents, both locals and newcomers, are beginning a fight-back. In 2014, not much time after the last few people left the village, the government changed the development plan back to living area. The village is left half demolished, half trashed.

Photos of Doel

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