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Parc Fluvial Consortium
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Parc Fluvial Consortium
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Parc Fluvial Consortium
Ruta de les Colonies
Before the Llobregat River nears Barcelona and joins the Mediterranean, it flows through northern Catalunya, past some beautiful landscapes and is studded by numerous textile factories that it used to power, through dams, channels and turbines during the height of Catalunya’s textile manufacturing. With one factory every 1.5 kilometres along the Llobregat, it was at one point, the hardest working river in the world and the industrial motor of the country.
The factories along the Llobregat were the centre of whole communities (colonies) that included workers’ homes, churches, schools, factory owner’s mansions, theatres and shops. The majority of these factories, built in the Art Nouveau or Modernista period, have long since been abandoned, though fortunately a handful have been preserved and are managed by the Parc Fluvial Consortium. Through the historical displays and guided tours of the buildings and grounds, we catch a glimpse of life in a colonia last century and of the famously hard-working Catalan character.
Beginning in Cal Rosal colonia near Berga and following the curves of the Llobregat south to Balsareny near Manresa, the Ruta de les Colonies (also organised by the Parc Fluvial Consortium) is a 32-kilometre walking and cycling route through pine forests and fields, over hills and past waterfalls and, of course, colonies, some of which are still inhabited: in some cases (l'Ametlla de Merola and Viladomiu Nou), the workers were offered the chance to buy flats when the factories stopped operating, while in others, they have been renovated and purchased either as main residences or a summer home. The degree of difficulty is classified as ‘moderate’ for cyclists and ‘low’ for walkers, though a more comfortable walking distance of 20 kilometres is also a possibility, running from Gironella to the colonia at l'Ametlla de Merola near Navas.
From the old stone riverside village of Gironella, the Ruta continues through the bucolic surroundings, crossing the Llobregat and coming to Cal Bassacs. The long factory building of this colonia comes close to the banks of the river and the Ruta turns a corner to reveal the imposing Modernista owner’s mansion, abandoned but intact enough to still dominate the landscape. Following the Ruta uphill, it’s possible to look back and see the entire colonia complex and, on a clear day, the Pyrenees in the background. Images of exploited, poor factory workers and the terrible conditions of the industrial revolution seem completely out of place in this profoundly rural setting.
Passing by fields of poppies and small stone cottages, the Ruta passes Viladomiu Vell and arrives at Viladomiu Nou where residents of the former workers’ pisos (some of whom are themselves former factory workers) play petanca in the grounds next to the Torre de l’Amo, the former owner’s house, that is now home to the museum of this colonia, where mostly local tourists flow in and out.
The owner’s mansion at Viladomiu Nou has been refurbished to represent the period when the owner ruled over the complex; there are also areas of photographic and audiovisual displays explaining how the colonies used to operate. The colonia was a microcosm of a society with a clear capitalist hierarchy. The small wages paid to the workers would be returned to the owner through the rent they paid for their apartments, or as profit from the colonia’s one general store, which he also owned.
Leaving the well-tended vegetable patches of Viladomiu Nou, the Ruta continues along the Llobregat, sometimes shaded in pine forests or in open sunny fields, past Cal Prat, Cal Cases and the town of Puig Reig to the colonia of Cal Pons. The grandiose church of this colonia was once a basilica with three priests in its service. The church was a vital tool for the factory owners in the control of their working population. The unmarried women had to live in residencies with nuns, the schoolteachers were often priests and if anyone missed mass on Sundays, they could be expelled from the colonia and blacklisted from working in any other factory along the Llobregat.
The Ruta skirts the river past Cal Marçal and then crossing the Llobregat, diverges slightly from its course, going uphill until the sound of a waterfall proceeds the view of the dam in front of Cal Vidal. It’s not possible to access the Cal Vidal colonia from the Ruta but it is easily accessible by car or bus (make sure as you're boarding that you tell the driver you want to get off there) and joining the two-hour guided tour is recommended.
The last colonia to be built in 1901 and the first to close in the early Eighties due to the rise of international competition, especially from China, Cal Vidal was considered a more progressive complex in terms of the treatment of its workers. The layout of the complex reflects the owner’s desire to separate ‘work’ and ‘leisure’. The worker’s apartments, the church, school and ‘Vidal Foundation’ building housing a library, theatre and restaurant are on one side of a canal and the factory on the other.
The factory museum provides a reminder of the poor and often dangerous conditions the workers endured. With just one of the textile machines in operation, the noise is deafening and the speed of the metal contraptions truly frightening, while the cotton dust and dampness in the air have to be imagined. The statistics from death caused by industrial accidents were high and those from injury or illness not even counted.
On the other side of the river, the Ruta continues along the hillside, past Cal Riera then goes down to the riverbank for the last few kilometres with dappled sunlight under the cool shade of covering tree branches until L’Ametlla de Merola. Time and condition of feet permitting, this colonia has a self-guided cultural tour through the complex with signs providing directions and information.
More information: Centre d'Interpretació de les Colònies tèxtils del Llobregat, Torre de l'amo de Viladomiu Nou (Gironella). Telephone & fax: 93 825 0689. www.parcfluvial.cat
How to get there:
By public transport: the FGC train goes from Plaça Espanya to Manresa Alta. Once in Manresa, the Alsa Manresa-Berga bus runs a few times a day and stops at several of the towns and colonies along the route.
There is also a direct Barcelona-Berga bus operated by Alsina Graells/Alsa; most leave from Ronda Universitat and there are a few non-stop services to Berga
By car: C-16 toward Berga