Thursday, March 3, 2011


The history of the village of Jánovas is as sad as surprising. It is not the story of a village losing population until no one was left. It is the story of a village expropriated in order to build a reservoir, like many others, but with several differences: the reservoir was never built, the village was expropriated by brute force and all the affair dates back from 1917. Since then, all political regimes in Spain have played a role in the dissapearance of Jánovas.

Jánovas is located in the banks of the Ara river, a ravishing river of the north of Huesca, in the narrowest part of the valley. The site was suitable for hydropower generation, and the first authorization to use the Fiscal water jump was given in 1917 under Alphonse XIII´s reign. In spite of the authorization, no work was done, something that happened again in 1923 when the Government permitted the use of the Boltaña-Aínsa water jump.

In 1929, during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, Aplicaciones Industriales S.A presented a huge project to build a dam over 55 m. high in Jánovas, which would flood the villages of Jánovas, Lavelilla and Lacort, along with more facilities built following the river until Fiscal. The project was rejected, but Jánovas was again threatened by the construction of a reservoir.

Later on, in 1945 Iberduero (now Iberdrola) was authorized to execute a project in the area. The project was approved, but again nothing was done. The 28th march 1951 the government of Franco approved yet another project to use the natural resources of the Ara river between Aínsa and Fiscal. This time the project changed all that had been planned before, now allowing to build resoervoirs in Fiscal, Jánovas, Boltaña and Aínsa. This was an extremely destructive project, because it allowed to destroy all the aforementioned villages (most of them are now important touristic destinations) because the reservoirs were declared of public utility. All the villages in the area could now be expropriated. In the next year (1952), the definitive project was published, and finally works looked like starting at the site, 35 years after the first draft of the project.

The 28th december 1961 the expropriated areas were designated, nine years after the publishing of the definitive project, but although expropriations were made, there was no intention to start the works. In fact, in 1966 Iberduero was aked why the project was interrupted, and in 1971 was Iberduero itself who asked for a one year prorrogation to hand out a reasonable project. 19 years after the initial approval of the project nothing was clear but the atrocities commited by Iberduero in Jánovas since the list of expropriated areas was published. Since many neighbours refused to abandon their village, Iberduero started to dynamite the empty houses withouth any kind of protection for the rest of the neighbours, in an attept to force them out of the village. The case was taken to the Civil Governor of Huesca, who forbid the use of any kind of explosives. Anyway, Iberdrola kept demolishing houses, but now without explosives.

Iberduero found another "obstacle". The local authorities did not allow the closing of the school of Jánowas while there were children there, but Iberduero dared to demolished the upper floor of the building, where the teacher lived. This happened while the children were at school. The 4th august 1966 an Iberduero worker knocked down the door of the school and took out by force the teacher and the children who were there.

Children at school in 1965

There was also a neighbour who lived in a rented house. He had to cope with a lot of situations like being sued for leaving a cow in an empty stable after having asked for permission from the owner, because the stable was expropriated and it was Iberduero who decided what could be done, no matter there were no signs of the works starting... This neighbour also saw with his son how Iberduero devastated their fields as they were reaping them. This man was the last person who died in Jánovas. Iberduero also blocked three times the bridge over the river to make impossible for the neighbours to reach the road.

Finally, the 20th january 1984 the last family leaves Jánovas, thus dissapearing the last obstacle for Iberduero to build the reservoir. But this did not happen, because at that time neither Iberduero nor the Government had too much interest in the project.

What caused Iberduero´s disinterest was a reduction of the reservoir´s capacity ordered by the Government. Iberduero´s project in 1972 asked for a capacity of 548,5 Hm3, but another project of irrigation at the Monegros (a desert also in Aragón) in 1983 forced Iberduero to reduce the capacity of the reservoir to 350 Hm3. The budget was 19.400 million pesetas, but Iberduero considered the reduction in capacity rendered the project non profitable.

With such situation, Iberduero began to excavate a drain tunnel in 1985, but works were stopped soon after.

Years went by, and in 1993 the City Council of Fiscal allowed to change the course of the river Ara through a makeshift dam, this beingh the previous step to the construction of the main dam. The makeshift dam did not stad the force of the river when a 700 m3/s flood hit it, breaking it and causing a disaster triggering a bigger flood of over 1500 m3/s which forced to evacuate the village of Margudgued and flooded some of the villages near the river.

Since then, complaints and accusations against the reservoir become more frequent from different sources. In fact, the ombudswoman stated in 1993 the authorization for the project were out of date, but neither Iberdrola (they changed their name at that time) nor the Government were willing to make the decission of cancelling the project.

And finally the 10th december 2001 it was published the decission to stop the project because it caused too much impact to the environment, thus saving Jánovas from being swallowed by the water 84 years after the first plans to build a dam. By then the damage was done. The neighbours had to endure all kind of actions against them until all of them left the village.

Natural arch near the village

The fountain 

The church was used as a stable, hence the straw on the floor

The process of devolution of the expropriated areas started the 10th december 2008, but that created another problem. The former owners would have to pay the current price for the areas, but what they get in return were only ruins. They were forced to sell a village full of life for a ridiculous amount and now they were forced to buy it at a much higher price and ruined. Since then they ask for the devolution at a symbolic price, because the present conditions are unfair.

A project to bring Jánovas, Lacort and Lavelilla back to life has been recently approved. This includes building new houses and small hotels. A former neighbour of Jánovas wonders how would his village be today if nothing had happened, how would it be if we take as an example how Aínsa or Boltaña have changed in the last 30 years...

Anyway, even if Jánovas is alive again this story will be there, and the old neighbours will still be waiting to recover what was theirs.


  1. I am so glad you put this article together. My wife and I drove down the valley in late June and were mystified by the disaster that had happened speculating on disease, Franco oppression etc. This is almost worse. I hope the real owners will get their property back and if their were justice also grants to restore it in an appropriate way. It is a beautiful valley and the view of Janovas is beautiful as well as heartbreaking

  2. Many thanks for your comment!

    After you know the real history behind Jánovas you get a bad feeling, bt when you realize the same has happened to many villages (and many of them also in Huesca) it is even worse...

    On the good side, we don´t mention it in the article , but one of the most beautiful things in the valley is the Ara river itself. Crystal clear waters, gentle banks and silence... A nice place to visit and enjoy.