Heading out of Antwerp by the river Scheldt, you'll still see road signs for Doel. The small Belgian town was slated for complete demolition more than a decade ago, but it's still there, seemingly refusing to disappear.
Doel is the kind of place that makes you nervous. As you follow the directions for central Doel, the neglected houses start appearing, each one getting progressively worse and more dangerous looking as your drive through.
Even the gas station is gone - Doel is legitimately abandoned.
The weird thing about Doel is that you're not alone among the ruins of an ancient city. You're alone in modern buildings. Doel looks like it could have been any small, generic town.
Giant street art murals started cropping up as the town became a giant, unobstructed canvas.
It's so strange that these living galleries of street art were once someone's home. So what happened here?
Founded in the 13th century, Doel had a population of over 1,000 people. But as Antwerp developed in the 20th century, Doel found itself wedged between a nuclear power plant and one of Europe's largest shipping ports along the river.
Doel was a target for demolition by the Belgian government by the 1970s to make way for more space on the shipping docks. The small town battled against the threat of destruction for 20 years, but by the year 2000, the residents seemed to have lost the will for their town's survival. The authorities bought the remaining houses at a premium. Doel was officially deserted.
Today most of the houses are boarded up, but curiosity seekers and vagrants have opened up some of them.
As all were slated to be razed, many of the houses were left in terrible condition. Although a few street artists have put their touches on the interiors as well.
Being exposed to the elements is making these homes even more dangerous.
Some of the structures, like this historical Flemish townhouse, have scaffolding, as though they were set to undergo renovation before the town was closed.
Even though the front door is unlocked, much of the old detailing remains intact.
Many of the residents seem to have left in a hurry. But not all...
Amazingly, there are about 20 people still living in Doel, refusing to give up their homes.
This white baroque house, built in 1613, was said to have belonged to famous painter Peter Paul Rubens. The current owners obviously still take pride in its upkeep.
But the pristine home is right next to this overgrown abandoned lot.
And this neighboring house.
The remaining citizens of Doel continue to appeal the town's fate. Although the country's highest administrative court overturned an appeal in 2012, the residents refuse to back down.
There are only two cafes in Doel and no shops. A half an hour's drive outside of Doel, nearby businesses are profiting from Doel's tourism of visiting street artists and urban explorers.
Since there's no security in the town, looting and vandalism are part of everyday life.
The docks haven't gone forward with their plans for expansion that would seal Doel's final fate.
One day the whole town could see itself turned into a storage area for shipping containers.
But for now, it's a living street art museum.
With plenty of open space for new paintngs.
Credit: Messy Nessy Chic