Culture 17/09/2021

Meridiana roadworks uncover a section of Rec Comtal canal

An irrigation ditch and the abutments of a bridge of the Northern Railway have also been found

2 min
The uncovered section to the Meridiana

The Rec Comtal canal is a thousand years old (two thousand if we add its previous use as a Roman aqueduct) and it has always been under the pavement. It starts in Montcada i Reixac and then zigzags across nine of Barcelona's eleven. Roadworks sometimes make this imposing hydraulic structure emerge and cease to be invisible. It has happened this week in the Meridiana, where a section three meters deep has surfaced between Trinxant and Nació. The abutments of a bridge of the Northern Railway and an irrigation ditch have also been found.

This section of the canal runs perpendicular to the Meridiana, a route already known to archaeologists. It would have been built in two different phases. The walls, which are at the bottom and are made of medium-sized stones bound with white mortar, are believed to have been built in the 18th century or the first half of the 19th century. The second work was done when the Northern Railway was built between 1850 and 1860 to connect Barcelona with Granollers. At that time a bridge made of beams was built for the trains to pass over the canal. There is no trace left of this track either because the train, on its way through the Meridiana, was taken underground in the 40s and 50s of the 20th century. The ditch, which crosses the canal, is estimated to have been built in the second half of the 19th century and is thought to have been used to irrigate the crops in the area.

The Rec Comtal is still alive. In some parts of Ciutat Vella it is used as sewerage and, for example, it still irrigates the estate of La Ponderosa, Vallbona, which is about eight hectares. The water runs above ground to Vallbona, but then the water becomes invisible and only reappears in archaeological remains: at Borne CCM and in Carrer de la Marquesa. Currently there are two protected sections of the Rec Comtal: one at Born CCM, which is of National Cultural Interest, and the area around Sant Andreu's mill, which is locally listed. The rest has no legal protection whatsoever.

Once this section has been documented, the works will resume and the hydraulic work will be buried again. It is not the first time that sections of the Rec Comtal appear: in 2009, for example, an excavation was made at Avinguda Vilanova, when the access to the Arc de Triomf station was built, which changed the chronology of the Rec Comtal and dated its construction to the ninth century.

Visiting the Rec Comtal

Another section came to light during the works on Doctor Aiguader street in 2011. It is where it flowed into the sea between 1715 and 1721. The water, in this case, acquired a defensive value. It is a provisional section that was built during the construction of the Bourbon citadel and functioned as a moat. At Born CCM you can see part of the old route along with one of the bridges that crossed it: Butchers' bridge, right next to Carrer dels Ventres [Gut Street], named after the craftsmen who made strings for musical instruments using certain animals' guts.