Catalonia's smallest town, more typical than you think
With just 27 inhabitants, Gisclareny is only one of many rural municipalities around the country at risk of depopulation
With a population of over 1.6 million, Barcelona is Catalonia's largest city. At the other end of the scale is Gisclareny, the smallest town in the country, with a population of just 27 inhabitants, and only 17 of them live there year round.
It would be easy to think of Gisclareny as an anomaly or something for a general knowledge quiz. Yet, the tiny town in Berguedà county is not alone, as three in four of Catalonia's 947 municipalities are rural towns, and many of them are small.
In fact, Gisclareny has competition and has only been Catalonia's smallest town for little more than a year, after Sant Jaume de Frontanyà, which is also in Berguedà county, lost the title in 2018 when it grew by three families.
Of the top 10 list of smallest towns in Catalonia, three of them are in Berguedà, an inland rural area with little industry and whose local economy largely depends on farming, particularly animal husbandry, but above all tourism.
Small rural towns under threat
One of the biggest threats to the survival of many small rural towns and villages in regions like Berguedà is depopulation, as local residents move away to larger urban areas in search of better services and work.
Gisclareny is a good example, and the town's mayor of 33 years, Joan Tor, says the depopulation of his town began in the 1970s and 1980s, when "neighboring towns offered more and better jobs, and we hit rock bottom."
Fortunately for Gisclareny, some new people moved there in search of a different way of life, such as Oriol Baños and his family, who renovated an old building in the town and turned it into a guesthouse.
"I lived in Cornellà de Llobregat, near Barcelona, and when I came here I was 19 years old. Here there were a few ruins of an ancient house and we built a new house for guests. Not living in a big city I think is better for people," he says.
Half of Catalonia's towns at risk of depopulation
Yet Oriol is an exception and the threat of depopulation remains. A report by the Spanish federation of municipalities warns that rural towns under a thousand inhabitants are at particular risk, which is 5 out of 10 municipalities in Catalonia.
Catalonia's western province of Lleida is a good example of this. A largely rural region that also depends on tourism, some 165 of its 231 towns have less than a thousand inhabitants, making up over 71% of its municipalities.
Meanwhile, in the Terres de l’Ebre region in the south of Catalonia, some 80% of the municipalities are losing inhabitants, while in the Ribera d’Ebre and Terra Alta areas more than a quarter of all residents are over 65.
Technology to the rescue?
As with so many other things in today's society, one solution for the challenges facing small rural towns could lie in technology, as telecommuting becomes increasingly widespread - as long as there is a good internet connection, that is.
"Someone in Barcelona working on a computer for Europe and the entire world should be able to do it from here," points out the mayor of Gisclareny, who argues that "we should have the same internet. New technologies must save rural villages."
Oriol uses Skype to keep in touch with his loved ones, although soon he will be able to see his sister every day, as she will soon move to the town with her husband and baby, and Gisclareny's population will get another boost.