Seseña – a ghostly vestige of Spain’s building binge
The town is Spain’s most striking testament to its housing crash
Seseña was supposed to be the Manhattan of La Mancha but now apartment blocks lie empty and the foundations for others have been abruptly abandoned. Photographs: Mary Boland
Antonio Lopez, shopkeeper: “They say it is a ghost town, but here people are living inside the complex.”
Resident and mother of two Lydia Carrasco: “We were very lucky.”
About 40km south of Madrid, just off the motorway to Toledo, its towerblocks rise from the parched, yellow plain like a futuristic vision from a wild west film. Seseña was supposed to be the Manhattan of La Mancha, with 13,000 apartments housing 40,000 people in a new suburban paradise.
Today, with fewer than half the apartments built, several blocks lying empty and foundations for others abruptly abandoned, it’s a scar on the Castilian landscape – and Spain’s most striking testament to its housing market crash.
A herd of goats scurries across the dusty road leading to the 5,100-unit complex – construction on promised infrastructure, including a slip-road from the motorway, has long been abandoned – in a reminder that this was until recently a small country town with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants.
Controversial billionaire developer Francisco Hernando – nicknamed El Pocero, or Mr Drains, because he used to clean sewers – named the residential complex in the new satellite town after himself, in gold lettering at the entrance.
Today each of his buildings bears the name of a bank. When the housing bubble burst, and following a protracted dispute with the local mayor, Hernando handed 2,000 apartments over to the financial institutions.
Many were sold at knock-down prices compared to the original sums paid for the first 3,000 units. Others were rented out by the banks with an option for tenants to buy. The move boosted the zone’s population, giving the lie to the highly publicised claim that this is a ghost town, say residents.
The media have got it all wrong, says Antonio Lopez (40), a father of two young children who moved to Seseña four years ago. A computer engineer, he worked for IBM in Madrid until last year, when he said “goodbye to all that” and set up a convenience grocery store on the ground floor of one of the apartment buildings.
“They say it is a ghost town, but here people are living inside the complex. They have swimming pools, basketball courts, everything they need – it’s not like in Madrid where you have to go out into the street to live. Here, we live at home.”
Last Saturday afternoon, however, with only a handful of people walking through the vast conurbation, with most ground-floor units bricked over instead of their intended use as shops, and with no sign of any restaurants or cafes, it was difficult to accept his argument. The shutters remained tightly closed on even those buildings with a supposed 70 per cent occupancy rate.