The chateau at Goussainville-Vieux Pays (all photographs by Opelia Holt)
Just outside the north of Paris, under the flight path of the Charles de Gaulle airport, are the ghostly remnants of a little French town — Goussainville-Vieux Pays. Walking through the streets I was struck by the post-apocalyptic atmosphere of it, the surrealist feeling of being in a town so totally deserted, but still so full of traces of human life.
Goussainville-Vieux Pays was once a postcard perfect town, but less than a year before CDG opened in 1974 a plane crashed into it, destroying several houses and killing six crew and eight locals. The destruction caused many of the townspeople to evacuate immediately, with others following over the course of the subsequent year as the sound traffic from the airport and sorrow for the devastation of their town became too much. Now only a few residents remain.
What is still there is a series of houses in various states of disrepair, which at times are hard to tell apart from the ones still occupied by the few stubborn residents. Overgrown yards with rusted gates and falling off shutters, peeling doors just asking to be opened. Some had obviously experienced fires, with whole floors fallen away, leaving only the skeleton of the building behind. Others were still full of the possessions departing residents were unable to take with them. In some houses, it seemed like only yesterday that they had been vacated, with writing desks still open and books spilling over the floor, and cellars full of (now empty) wine bottles.
Over the years it seems squatters have moved in, as evident from the occasional mattress, the usual signs of graffiti tagging, as well as smashed glass bottles. Despite this, the town maintains a beautiful eeriness. This is most obvious in the chateau, now almost totally in ruin (see below). It is possible to stand on the edge of the ground floor and see the innards of the whole building, the basement and the upper floors.
While 40 years have passed since the plane crash, no attempt yet as been made to reclaim the land, though its proximity to Paris means that it is probably only a matter of time until it falls victim to renovation.