Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The ghost town of Goussainville Vieux Pays

Just 12 miles outside of Paris and right next to the Charles de Gaulle airport lies the little ghost town of Goussainville Vieux Pays, at one time a charming and quaint farming community.  For centuries it had stayed that way, until plans to build a new airport, one of Europe's busiest, screwed everything up.  The acres and acres of green space surrounding the city were just too good for city planners to pass up, and in 1966 construction was started on what would become the second busiest airport in all of Europe.  Seemingly overnight this thriving little village was all but abandoned.  

The old town lies so close to the runway that it is basically considered an extension of the main runway.  Hundreds of planes a day land and take off right above this town.  The noise is deafening.  Even when the airport opened in 1973 a span of 5 minutes without the rumble of jet roar was a rarity.  People started fleeing the village, abandoning their homes and businesses and renaming the village le vieux pays - "the old settlement."  Of course, buyers were hard to come by with this new problem, so most of the town was simply boarded up.  

A few (presumably old and deaf) people stayed behind to save what was possible, but a spectacular plane crash in the town during the 1973 Paris Air Show sent the last few hold outs running for greener pastures.  A Soviet Tupolev TU-144, eerily similar to the Concorde (which would later bring up accusations of corporate espionage) crashed into the town, killing all six people on board and eight more on the ground.  That was the final straw for all who remained.  The French government would buy most of the properties in town, and  almost overnight the town was completely abandoned, and has largely stayed that way ever since.  Due to the historical status of the town, the buildings couldn't be demolished...so naturally they were just boarded up and left to the elements.  

Fast forward to around 1:35 to see the TU-144 crash.

When I read about this place online, I knew I had to see it for myself.  So, we rented a car in Paris and off we were.  I can honestly say it was one of the strangest places I've ever seen.  The old village is completely surrounded by the urban sprawl of Paris.  It's not like this place is secluded- there's a thriving suburb all around it.  It turns out that even a few thousand yards can make all the difference in the world when it comes to the roar of a jet engine.  Le Vieux Pays is literally next to the end of the runway and every two minutes you could hear the roar of a jetliner.  Poor planning?  Oh well, what's done is done.  

What's even weirder though is that a handful of people have moved back here.  And why not?  They're practically giving away real estate.  A good pair of noise cancelling headphones and you're set.  In all seriousness though, it was strange to see signs of life in one house, attached to another house whose roof was crumbling in.  We were even asked by one resident if we were reporters.  Apparently they get that a lot, but he was very friendly and didn't seem to mind at all.  The good news is that the state finally stepped up and saved the town church from falling in on itself, but the rest of the town's future is up in the air, literally.

I can't see much hope for this place.  A couple more decades and most of it will be just a pile of bricks, save for the church.  Sad, but interesting nonetheless.  

And 18th century chateau, or what's left of it.

Now this was truly weird.  Of course I had to explore the interior of the houses that were left open, and in every case it was obvious that what the elements hadn't completely destroyed, vandals did.  Sure, there was some furniture left behind, some peeling wallpaper hanging off the walls, a trinket or two laying around, but nothing that was worth saving.  A thick layer of mildew and dirt covered just about everything...with the exception of these two brand new books by Balzac and Maupassant, two really famous French writers.  Now, it wasn't like these books had just been randomly placed there...they were deep inside the house, up two flights of crooked and caved in stairs, on a bookshelf covered in mold.  And yet they were in perfect condition.  No mold.  Not even a dog ear.  It was downright freaky.  We almost took them for some light reading, but chickened out due to fear of attached spirits.  Clearly someone had gone to great lengths to leave these two books behind...but why?  


  1. Thank you for posting these beautiful and sentimental photos. It reminds us all that progress is not made without great loss. In the future we may find that it was not progress at all.

    1. well said...progress always has it's costs.