Barcelona's most beautiful pool given a new life
CN Barcelona will remodel Escullera pool after years of neglect
BarcelonaLast week saw plenty of reunions. Over 300 former Club Natació Barcelona were summoned to the historic Escullera pool to bid it farewell just before the start of the works to remodel it. Five different generations, among them athletes as important as Manel Estiarte. "It's not a sad day. I remember everything I have lived here, in the Escullera, and it is nice to know that it will have continuity," said one of the best players in the history of water polo. Swimmers, jumpers, players and members gathered in a pool that has become a small monument to the city's history. "It's not just the competition; many people learned to swim here," said Estiarte. The pool, a hundred years old, had been abandoned for years. And now, as part of an ambitious plan to remodel the CNB facilities, it will be filled with water again.
Inaugurated in 1922, the Escullera was the second swimming pool in the State, only behind the one inaugurated in Sabadell in 1918. It was the first indoor heated pool in Spain, a revolutionary fact that allowed many locals to discover the world of swimming. Until then, it was only possible to swim in the sea, and the first facilities had emerged along the coast with the birth of a new sporting culture at the end of the 19th century. Until the 1920s, all water sports were played in the sea, such as the first water polo matches or the Nadal Cup, which will soon celebrate its 125th edition. The first modern Olympic Games were also held at sea, such as those of Athens in 1896, or in the waters of the Seine River in 1900. In the 20th century, however, technology made it possible to create the first swimming pools.
The Escullera pool was the great project of the CN Barcelona, an organisation founded in 1907 on the initiative of Bernat Picornell at a meeting at the Gimnasio Solé, the same place where eight years earlier Joan Gamper had founded Barça. On September 15 of that year, 18 brave men had jumped into the waters of the port, near the Colombus monument. This was the first edition of the Solé Cup, a race promoted by Manuel Solé, who had intended it to be the first swimming championship in Spain. The success of the event led to the founding of the CN Barcelona on November 10, 1907 at the headquarters of the Gimnasio Solé, just off the Rambla, with Manuel Solé as first vice-president and Bernat Picornell, who was also a fencing teacher and Barça footballer, as president.
The club managed to rent premises on the Llevant breakwater in 1915, and forged athletes such as those who would go to the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp, with names like the swimmer Joaquim Cuadrada or the first state Olympic water polo team, with Enrique Granados Cal, son of the composer, who discovered forward crawl by watching American swimmers. In those Games, a delegation that included Joan Gamper went to Antwerp to defend the first Catalan Olympic candidacy. This was the start of an era in which a lot of sports facilities of all kinds were built, such as stadiums, gyms and the first swimming pools. The CN Barcelona project was approved in 1920 with a budget of 250,000 pesetas, and was entrusted to the architect Jaume Mestres i Fossas, who was a member of the club and president of the Catalan Swimming Federation. Mestres, who had travelled to Antwerp with Gamper in 1920, built a then still uncovered pool, which was inaugurated on April 17, 1921 in the presence of the president of the Mancomunitat de Catalunya, Josep Puig i Cadafalch. On that day, the first races and a water polo match were held in a pool that used sea water.
The roof was finished in 1924, when the heating system that allowed swimming all year round was also put into operation. It was a revolution. Since then, the Escullera pool has hosted state championships, Mediterranean Games, water polo finals and all kinds of competitions, until it closed in 2003, when the CN Barcelona inaugurated its new pool on the breakwater. Now, the CN Barcelona will remodel it, as part of a plan to transform its facilities. One of the uses that the Escullera pool will have when it reopens will be diving. To achieve this, the CNB has reached an agreement with the investment group Green Track. The budget for this investment will be approximately €3m. "Escullera is the cathedral of Catalan swimming," explains the club's president, Bernat Antràs, who admits that the club needed to modernise. "Now we will do it, with this partner who will be able to exploit spaces and contribute the necessary money to once again have first-class facilities." Just as the Escullera was when it was inaugurated, more than a century ago. Now it will come back to life. History continues to be written.