“Charlotte! we found this creepy abandoned village when we were doing our plastic research! We looked it up, and it seems to be an old leper colony” – Jake, one of the AWDF volunteers said excitedly. So of course, I had to visit.
When I was told it was an abandoned village, I thought it would be hidden away in some remote place, forgotten and unattended. But in fact, the abandoned church was obvious from the top of the hill at the coast of Abades. This was an intentional architectural design so visitors would know to keep away. It was a short walk up the steep hill to the church. What I saw was not what I expected.
As I entered the church, I could see lots of graffiti, some random artwork, and some religious and political statements. Even though this place hadn’t been occupied officially, I had a strong feeling that prayers were taking place by locals or visitors on behalf of the victims of the disease. Whether it was the surprising condition of the church or the layers of graffiti from different years, the place had more life than any vacant church I had seen before.
Leprosy was rife in Tenerife and this colony was built to control the disease. The colony was built here because no one lived in proximity, so it was a safe spot to house around 200 infected people on the island. Thankfully the colony was never populated. Just before its completion, scientists introduced a successful treatment for leprosy, so no patients were admitted to the houses, and the construction was abandoned. The houses that were built, were depressing. All uniform and military, houses were lined up each containing many small cell-like rooms. Since bare shells of buildings are all that remains, it was left up to the imagination to visualise how these people would have lived. All that is certain now is that the village is empty, beige, cold, and crumbling. The only sign of life is the bursts of graffiti that have grown across the walls.
The way the artwork keeps growing as more visitors come and go is very symbolic. To me, it is like a virus or disease how it is continuously spreading but, instead of spreading sickness, it’s injecting colour and life back into the village.
After taking photos of the most impressive works of art, I made my way to the hospital. Again, the hospital was dark and depressing. It was heart-breaking to think how the leper patients suffered, and this (they thought) was their only option. Although construction was abandoned, the site was used, for a short time, as a training ground for the military, then abandoned again. The site now stands as a reminder of the terrible pandemic. But it also shows how lucky Tenerife was to never need this colony. Maybe the artwork symbolises this hope. A hope that even after the darkest of times, there’s always an end, a light, and colour.
Due to the breezy coast and thanks to scary movies about abandoned villages, this place does give me the chills, but the untamed graffiti covering the buildings transforms the place into an artists’ playground. If you are a person who loves dark tourism you will love this place, just remember to bring a camera.
Written by Charlotte Taylor