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One of Spain’s historically autonomous regions, Catalonia was one of the first industrialised regions in Europe and dominated by the textile industry. This has even made its way into the language. Vapor actually means steam, but Catalans use this word to describe a cloth factory. The first steam-powered ... more
One of Spain’s historically autonomous regions, Catalonia was one of the first industrialised regions in Europe and dominated by the textile industry. This has even made its way into the language. Vapor actually means steam, but Catalans use this word to describe a cloth factory.
The first steam-powered factory in Catalonia, a textile factory, was built in Barcelona in 1832. Until that point, the country had already experienced a development which contrasted greatly with the process of industrialisation in most other Mediterranean regions. Although this indicated a predominantly agricultural economy, trade and crafts had blossomed in Catalonia since the Middle Ages. Manufactured products included nails and small arms from Ripoll and high-quality paper from the mills around Capellades, but the strongest impetus for Catalonia’s industrial development sprang from chintz. Towards the end of the 18th century, Barcelona was intermittently Europe’s largest producer of this printed cotton fabric. By the mid-19th century, the Catalan cotton industry had climbed to third place worldwide, behind England and France.
Steam power quickly dominated transport as well. Spain’s first rail connection, between Barcelona and Mataró, was inaugurated in 1848. Difficulties in obtaining cheap coal to fire the steam-powered machines meant that water power was used in the new textile factories along the main river courses from the 1860s onwards. Although there were mining operations to some degree in Ogassa, Cercs and Berga, the lack of coal and iron ore prevented any significant metal-processing industry from developing. As a result, Catalonia as an industrial economy was geared solely towards the textile industry.
In the pre-industrial era, production sites such as grain, fulling and paper mills, forges, tanneries and similar were designed in line with the traditional architecture of the region and barely differed from typical farm buildings, Pyrenean mountain shacks or village houses with thick, stone or clay walls and tiled roofs.
With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, large spaces became necessary. The British example was followed and detached, multi-storey factory buildings were constructed with large windows to let in the light. However, it is modernisme, a Catalan form of art nouveau, which makes Catalonia’s industrial heritage so unmistakable. The architect Lluís Muncunill (1868-1931) was one of the most important representatives of this style and created a large number of industrial buildings. His “Vapor Aymerich, Amat i Jover”, built between 1907 and 1909 in Terrassa, is considered one of the more superb examples of European industrial architecture.