Along this tour we will discover factories, channels, chimnies and other industrial buildings which have witnessed La Garrotxa industrial economy. We will travel back in time and see the flour mills prior to the Industrial Revolution, as well as the economic growth which took place at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. A tour focused on the two main rivers of the region: the river Fluvià and the river Brugent.
The 19th century was full of changes. The old social organization focused on the land was left behind and what we now know as the Late Modern Period began. Aside from political aspects, such as the expansion of democracy, these changes directly affected the life and economy. At that time the industry flourished in Europe starting in the Great Britain thanks to the electrical power and the invention of the steam engine.
In this context, Catalonia was one of the first places in the Iberian Peninsula where the industrialization process started. Factories were firstly established in Barcelona around the rivers Ter and Llobregat. This gave rise to new social classes. On the one hand, the burgesia, composed by well-off factory owners and, on the other, the working class.
At the start of the Industrial Revolution there were very poor working conditions. Labourers had to work up to 14 hours a day in extremely harsh conditions. They therefore created unions to achieve labour laws.
The industrialization process had a great impact in La Garrotxa. Although agriculture and farming concentrated the most labourers, little by little some industries were built around the rivers to make use of the water force. The industrialization in the region started to grow in the 18th century up to 1860 or 1870. In the context of the Carlist Wars and the Civil War it stopped growing. La Garrotxa was not the most industrialized comarca of Catalonia, although this phase had a great impact both in its society and economy.
One of the handicaps of La Garrotxa was its poor communication means. The only suitable road went from Olot to Besalú and diverted to Figueres or Girona. Hence, competing with the industries in Barcelona was difficult. The poor communication roads got better at the beginning of the 20th century when the train arrived in Olot.
As we have already said at the start of this tour, the route guide will lead us to the two most important rivers in La Garrotxa: the rivers Fluvià and Brugent. We will start with the river Fluvià in Olot, the most important industrial centre in the region. Most industries settled around this river, near Santa Magdalena bridge, the place where the first city of Olot was established before the 15th century earthquakes. The river gets narrower and has several cascades which the industries used to turn the water force into energy.
However, many centuries before people had already used the water force. Can Castellanes is a great example of it. It is a completely reformed building which had previously been an art workshop and later a tannery.
A singular element of the industries which had settled around Santa Magdalena bridge was La Cooperativa, a textile industry which has its origins back in 1900, as a result of a strike in the textile industry. This event gave rise to the first textile cooperative born in Olot, although it did not become legal until 1916. In 1925 the cooperative moved to the old Dusol factory, next to Santa Magdalena bridge, to produce textile items. In 1931 it moved to Josep Clarà square and in Passeig de Barcelona. These days, the factory does not exist, but the chimney located in Catalonia square has been preserved.
If we follow the river Fluvià upwards we will reach one of the places where more industries concentrated, together with Olot and the village of Sant Joan les Fonts: La Canya. It is nowadays divided among the municipalities of Vall de Bianya, Sant Joan les Fonts and Olot. In this industrial area there were two industries: Can Sabata and Can Porxes. Can Sabata was an old flour mill which in 1833 was turned into a spinning factory. Can Porxes was a paper mill built in 1754 by Joaquim Porxes, who was involved in the production of baking parchment. However, during the Spanish Civil War, the mill was turned into a factory which produced material to make explosives.
In Sant Joan les Fonts we will later discover one of the biggest industrial spaces in the comarca of La Garrotxa, located in Begudà’s industrial estate with big industries such as Noel Alimentària. However, its industrial tradition can be traced to the pre-industrialization times, when many flour mills were turned into paper mills. A great example of Sant Joan les Fonts’ paper industry is the Molí Fondo area, where there was a mill which made use of the water force. It was built in 1723 and was active during more than 200 years while it belonged to the Torras Juvinyà family. They expanded their factory Torraspapel which is nowadays a big international company. In the 60s production stopped and in 2004 Torraspapel donated the mill and the territory surrounding it (7000 m2) to the city hall.
If we keep going we will reach Sant Jaume de Llierca. It is an old village which was developed around the river Fluvià in a textile factory called La Brutau, which became extremely prominent in the history of the Catalan textile industry, since it was the first one in the state to produce a kind of cotton thread called jumel (characteristic for strong and long fibres). The factory was composed by the owner’s home, later destroyed in the end of the Civil War, the director’s home, the chimney, built with red earth bricks, and a 2 kilometre water canal. The factory followed the typical building structures characteristic of the 20th century, with a single floor, although it has been known to be the first one with saw-tooth type roof. After almost 150 years, production was closed in 1978, due to the crisis of the textile industry.
Before leaving La Garrotxa, the river leads us to Besalú, characteristic for its Medieval heritage. Here we will see Subirós mill, rebuilt in 1755. However, there are many documented references that prove the existence of mills many centuries ago in this area.
It is therefore clear that the river Fluvià played an important role in the industrialization process.
We will now go to the river Brugent, which goes down through the valley of Hostoles until meeting the river Ter, within the comarca of La Selva. After Coll d’en Bas and before reaching Sant Feliu de Pallerols we can visit an ice well, whose purpose was to collect the ice or the snow created in the interior of Catalonia during the winter to later sell it. This rural industry was particularly important from the 17th until the 20th century. However, this industry disappeared when the advances in technology made it possible to freeze water and produce ice artificially.
Within the limits of Sant Feliu de Pallerols there is the Embarcador and fourteen flour mills, such as the Conqueta mill.
If we follow the Green Road we will reach Les Planes d’Hostoles. Before visiting its channels and industrial factories we can take a trip to the Murris mill, behind Hostoles castle.
Industry has also had a great impact in the village of Les Planes d’Hostoles. The opening of the Dusol factory in 1886 promoted the industrialization of the village which gave rise to the population growth and the construction of Modernist buildings. However, let’s focus on the most important industries and their channels. Textile industries used the water cascades and gorges to divert the water into channels used to produce energy. Nowadays, these gorges are no longer used for the industry, although they have a sporting use. They are stunningly beautigul places among which we can find La Plana and Santa Margarida gorges.
As for the industries, two of them are still preserved: La Dusol and La Magem. The first one was very successful although, due to the textile crisis, it closed in 2012.
Following the path and after the bridge we will come across the old factory of La Magem. It had several textile machines and mainly produced textile used to make men’s clothing, coats and blankets. La Magem’s golden age coincided with the golden age of the Catalan textile, in the 60s of the 20th century, when it was employing more than 550 people. However, in 1980 it had to close due to the crisis which the industrial sector was experiencing until the late 70s.
The industrialization process gave rise to an important social change in La Garrotxa. The urban population increased and it decreased in the rural areas. This process did not stop until the 80s of the last century. From then onwards economy has diversified and, apart from agriculture, farming and industrial production, the utilities sector has become an economic and social support for the comarca of La Garrotxa.