Textile colonies in lower Berguedà that represent a paradigmatic example of the industrialisation process in inland Catalonia which took place during the second half of the 19th century and was especially intense in the area around the River Llobregat. This case study centres on 15 industrial complexes spread along a 20 km stretch of the River Llobregat between Berga and Navàs. Although there are industrial colonies along other stretches of the River Llobregat and other Catalan rivers (Cardener, Ter, Freser…), this stretch was selected because of its particularly intense industrial concentration, which is an unprecedented phenomenon within Europe and is of enormous heritage value.
“Colonies cannot be considered solely as historical heritage; they are an, until today, silent reality; a key element in this country’s past and future, if we are to curb the so-called territorial imbalance between rural and urban Catalonia, between the Pyrenees and the coast. We are not talking about an anecdote, but about more than a hundred towns that have every right to have a role in 21st century Catalonia.”
Fragment from Manifiesto de las Colonias, 2005; quoted in SERRA ROTÉS, R.; Les colònies industrials a Catalunya. Catalan Historical Review, Vol. 4, 2011, p. 241-255.
Throughout history, communities living along the River Llobregat struggled to increase the river’s area of influence. Through an exercise of cooperation and competition, which involved a large number of different agents, channels were opened to carry water towards cities and to fertilize Barcelona’s agricultural region, while waterfalls were used to catalyse industrial development in Catalonia.
From the mid-19th century onwards, industry grew closely connected to the mills and channels along the River Llobregat. Artisans become entrepreneurs and peasants turned into proletarians, even though they kept their ties with agriculture and their family country houses. Mining and textile colonies were located well-upstream, but they were connected to the world via the port of Barcelona. Industrialists tried to isolate their factories from the typical dynamics of the urban proletariat, but at the same time they struggled to extend railways to the foothills of the Pyrenees in order to be able to transport their products, raw materials and fuel. As shown by some luxurious buildings in Barcelona’s downtown funded by river industry, the ties between the capital city and the River Llobregat valley has been intense. In other words, via this river, the city has spread its tentacles to the Pyrenees and has become what some scholars have referred to as “Catalonia’s nerve centre”. A constellation of productive landscapes has emerged as a result of this process of adaptation to their environment by the communities along the River Llobregat. In this case, we study the textile colonies of lower Berguedà.
The textile colonies of lower Berguedà originated in the second half of the 19th century (between Berga and Navàs) and were closely associated with the River Llobregat, both as a source of power and a major communication route. Their success was also linked to a process by which public power paved the way for local textile artisans to colonize the territory with their industries. The Berguedà peasants, who had a long tradition of domestic textile production and provided the ideal manpower to operate river-powered textile mills. However, after more than a century in operation, changes in the means of production during the last third of the 20th century led to the decline of the factories. That said, even today, they possess a great potential for organising the local territory due to both their material and immaterial value.
The 15 colonies (from Can Rosal to Ametlla de Merola) and the most important architectural elements that form part of them (the master’s houses, workers’ housing facilities, churches, factories, theatres, orchards…) are identified on the map in this case study. The main sources of information used are: the Architectural Heritage Inventory of Catalonia (Invarquit) and maps produced by Barcelona Provincial Council’s Department of Cultural Heritage. We have also included a bibliographic selection from the most relevant sources on the subject.
L´Ametlla de Merola. Vall Casas, P.; Sabaté Bel, J.; Vecslir Peri, L.; Benagues, M.; Llop, A.; Tort, E.; Urban Development Master Plan for the Llobregat Colonies, 2007