The secrets that the swamps hide
If anything has characterized the years 2022 and 2023 in Catalonia, it has been the persistent and serious drought that, so far, is behaving more intensely and more extreme than that of 2005-2008, although that year was more severe. long with some rainy periods between 2006 and 2007.
The question we all ask ourselves is this: is the drought due to climate change or is it caused by the Mediterranean climate?
Is the drought we suffer normal?
It is not an easy answer since both the Mediterranean climate and climate change affect drought and it is difficult to establish which has a greater impact. On the one hand, it is common for the Mediterranean climate to have periods of drought, some long and intense, but on the other, the trend, evolution and projection of the climate in Catalonia means that , with climate change, rain is concentrated in longer periods. punctual but more intense.
This is the case, for example, of the Temporal Glòria, which filled almost all the reservoirs (some had to disburse water and flooded places like Girona and the Baix Ter). Or the Temporal Filomena, which accumulated historical snow records in a good part of the Peninsula, but which in Catalonia mainly affected the south of the country, with a very significant snowfall in Priorat and Terra Alta. Since then, it has practically not rained anymore and the few times it has done so have not allowed the swamps to be filled again since, for the most part, it has rained on the coast and pre-coastal of Catalonia and little in the headwaters.
Drought refloats landscapes flooded by water
The summer of 2022 was marked by a historic drop in swamp levels. Everyone knows the crowds around the Sau reservoir to see the church of Sant Romà de Sau. But it is not the only space that has been able to be revisited after many years underwater. Places such as the Querós bridge, the old Mont-rebei road, the depopulated Blancafort de Noguera or for the first time the town of Tiurana, the last town denied by water by the Rialb reservoir, have also resurfaced. (you can recover the documentary that Sense Ficció made this 2023 by clicking here ).
All of these are landscapes in which their stories and personal experiences have been archived in the memory of their former settlers and inhabitants who look for secrets and curious anecdotes. Will you join us to discover them?
Leo Messi and his Catalan origins
Did you know that there is a town under the waters of the Canelles reservoir that has a connection with Leo Messi? This is the town of Blancafort de Noguera. In this town, at the beginning of the 20th century there lived a girl named Rosa Mateu Gesé (born in Blancafort in 1910). At the age of 18 he emigrated to America aboard the ship “El Català” (almost like the famous Havana song “My grandfather”, except that in the song they went to Cuba and in this case the destination was Argentina ).
On the boat he met another Lleida native, Josep Pérez, born in Bellcaire d'Urgell and the story went so well that they ended up settling down and starting a family in Argentina and we already know the rest of the story. We don't know if everything is a coincidence or fate has made Leo Messi triumph in Barcelona, in a love story that if it had happened in the United States would surely be a Hollywood script!
The drought of this last year has brought the Blancafort hermitage to the surface for the first time in 15 years, as this image from the Instagram “La Sequera del 22” shows. Although there is currently practically no trace of the town, it is still romantic for football and Barça lovers to discover that isolated and inhospitable village that practically knows no one.
You can complete the outing by visiting the Energy and Geology Interpretation Center of the Canelles intake to learn more about how a hydroelectric intake works inside.
The hidden secrets of the swamps
The swamps of Catalonia hide many old towns that had to be abandoned: Mequinensa, Faió, Tragó de Noguera, Tiurana, Sant Romà de Sau, Susqueda or Sant Salvador de la Vedella are some of the towns that had to be relocated or abandoned. Some have been able to relate it as Mequinensa thanks to the books by Jesús Moncada that are set in the ancient town of Mequinenza.
Others, like Sant Salvador de la Vedella or Sau, have left the church visible: in the case of the town of Berguedà it is always over the water on a rock, and in the case of Sant Romà de Sau it is the oldest church in the world that can stand upright in a swamp and also the one that does so at the deepest depth, 23 meters, according to the Official World Record entity. Now, a little trick must also be admitted: the tower base is filled with concrete! In 1996 the interior of the bell tower was covered with cement to prevent the structure from giving way and that is why now you can see that some windows are covered and the tower has a slight inclination that can only be seen in the photos or if it is very close to the church. All this is explained in more detail in this article from El Nacional.cat.
Be that as it may, the iconic image of Catalonia that acts as a "drought thermometer" is and will always be the Sau bell tower thanks to its proximity to Barcelona and the dissemination that has been made on the networks, TV3 and other media.
Mont-rebei and the clamor of the people
In recent years the Congost de Mont-rebei has become popular thanks to social networks, because of the walkways over the cliffs or excavated in the rock. In the past, the muleteers passed through the old bridle paths, such as the Récua pass or the old Mont-rebei pass, which was excavated in 1924 by the Mancomunitat de Catalunya. Now with the drought, the most intrepid hikers can carefully pass through again and feel what it would be like to be in a very hidden place just 100 years ago.
In the 60s, the construction of the Canelles dam covered this pass with water, and it was not until the 80s when a new path was excavated 30 meters higher thanks to popular and hiker pressure.
It is also thanks to this neighborhood opposition that Mont-rebei has been preserved as the last great virgin gorge of the Montsec, without roads, train lines or electric cables. Nor any lock, since not so long ago, in 2015, there was still speculation about the construction of a dam in the surroundings of Mont-rebei. Luckily, the calcareous nature of the Montsec massif (which causes leaks in the water intakes) and popular clamor have made the waters remain calm at the foot of Mont-rebei, and that it lasts!
Very close to Mont-rebei, in the same swamp but on the Aragonese side, we find the cliff popularized with the nickname “Xinese Wall of Finestres” although its original name, which should be preserved, is Les Roques de la Villa. Now with the drought they increase their height significantly and can be seen without water, with their real size. The comparison between the photo with the full and empty swamp, as the saying goes, is worth 1000 words.
Text and photographs: Sergi Boixadé