Paris lies is the center of Ile-de-France, the most populated region in the country with more residents than Austria, Belgium, Greece, Portugal or Sweden alone. It boasts the world’s fourth-largest and Europe’s wealthiest and largest regional economy. But one small corner of the region paints a very different picture. Just a thirty minute drive north from the Notre Dame Cathedral in central Paris, lies a rare example of a ghost town in Ile-de-France, where nothing has changed since the mid-twentieth century.
Goussainville-Vieux Pays was a quiet little farming village, 20 kilometres away of the hustle and bustle of Paris. At the heart of the village, residents took pride in their renaissance church with its rich history. But in the 1970s, the fate of this calm suburban town changed drastically.
A quiet farming village no longer, in 1972 the residents of Goussainville were suddenly under the direct flightpath of the newly-built Charles de Gaulle Airport. The town was now so close to the country’s largest airport in neighboring Roissy that the noise from low-flying planes became unbearable to live with. Residents of the old village watched as neighbors deserted their homes in droves, unable to stand the constant noise of the aircrafts.
But noise wasn’t their only concern. In the summer of 1973, during the Salon de Bourget airshow taking place in the proximity of the new CDG airport, a Soviet prototype plane to become a Concorde competitor crashed in Goussainville, destroying several houses and a children’s school that was luckily closed on that day. All six passengers on the plane and eight people on the ground perished. By 1973, the last 200 inhabitants of Goussainville had abandoned their homes.
Responsible for the abandonment of almost 150 properties in the village, the airport authorities were forced by decree to buy the abandoned houses and look after them. It had probably not been taken into account that Goussainville’s Renaissance church, Saint-Pierre-Saint-Paul was ranked as a historic monument along with all of the buildings within its perimeter. Of the 144 houses, the airport acquired 80.
With no option to demolish them, they were walled up and despite the agreement, left to decay.
Even the 14th century Renaissance church began to deteriorate into a sorry state until 2010 when after years of abandonment, local authorities finally stepped in and began efforts to restore it.
A new and functioning Goussainville does exist today where most of the old residents moved. However it’s probably one of few towns in the world that can say it shifted itself several kilometers to the left. Meanwhile, in the old town, or the ‘vieux pays’ only a handful of faithful residents remain, including a farmer and a carpenter. In 2009, Aéroports de Paris sold half of the historic village back to the community for a symbolic price of 1 euro.
But if you were to take a little detour outside of Paris, you would still find this village frozen in time. The only evidence of a world moved on would be the distinct and frequent noise of airplanes passing overhead. In fact the only time this village hears peace since the 1970s is during airport strikes or during incidents like the volcanic eruption in Iceland that grounded air travel across Europe.
Protected by its history by damned by the future, the fate of old Goussainville is an eerie paradox. Perhaps just a shadow of things to come…
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