Last month I wrote about the Benidorm history morning organised by Benidorm town hall Today the history of Benidorm moved into the mountains and, not far from where I live in Finestrat, we began the long climb up the side of Puig Campana mountain in search of the ancient water sources of Benidorm. These history tours are very well attended, exceptionally well organised, and demonstrate the residents’ appreciation for their own patrimony. As a geography teacher with an existing interest in the local water system, this was heaven!
Start of the morning at the rendezvous point. A bus brought Benidorm residents up to the beginning of the track up the mountain. I pass this point every day on my way to work.
Finca Lliriet with Benidorm in the background
Between the 13th century, when the area was under Islamic rule, and the 1940s in the Franco period, this valley with its aquifers – fed by precipitation on Puig Campana -provided most of Benidorm’s water needs. The Finca Lliriet is an ancient and feudal site going back to Islamic times and until the 19th century was still an important seat of political power. (The details of this were explained in the history morning but I have to research the main points as I did not really understand them on first hearing!) The main feature of the present run-down abandoned Finca Lliriet is the spring alongside the old ruined house: the Font de Lliriet.
From this source, the water was channeled down to Benidorm in aqueducts and via a reserve storage tank in the barranco Lliriet, the gully that leads down from the mountains onto the plain where Benidorm is situated. But the Lliriet was only one source, and we had a long climb to find the second.
As we climbed up higher we passed various water installations including a laundry point which clearly indicated a communal washing routine serving a small agricultural community – now lost in history – and early 20th century concrete installations for transferring the water from the aquifers to Benidorm.
However, the real high point of the trip – and literally a high point as we climbed up this morning in the hot sun – was the Font de Carrers. This was the main source for Benidorm, which channels down into the same barranco Lliriet.
The font de Carrers draws upon the limestone aquifers of Puig Campana and even after these past two years of drought (see Alicante drought on my geography blog) the spring is still giving a steady supply of pure water filtered through a vertical kilometre of Jurassic limestone from the prehistoric Tethys ocean.
The history of this water source goes back to the twelfth century under Islamic rule but the 20th century concrete tells a curious 20th century tale. In 1936 the UGT (Union General de Trabajadores) in Benidorm, which was a solidly socialist town throughout the Spanish Civil War, decided to guarantee the purity of the town’s water for the health of its citizens. They seized the rights to the source (which was on private land) and worked on the channel all the way to Benidorm. They built a laundry point in Benidorm (later demolished after the civil war, to punish the local people for opposing the Franco forces). Scratched into the concrete you can still see the impromptu inscription made by the UGT in 1936:
It was the modern inheritors of the socialist tradition in Benidorm who organised this history trip today, and a good job they made of it. The PSOE run Benidorm council. I somehow forgot that (because we have the Partido Popular running Finestrat.) On the way down the mountain I was arranging with a councillor for the possibility of my students visiting Benidorm council to learn more about the development of tourism.
“We will have to see who is in power next year,” he said.
“Oh, yes,” I responded stupidly, “it might be the PSOE instead of you…”
This was a real slap head moment, but nothing like the really stupid slap head moment that followed. I was introduced to an ancient citizen of Benidorm and told that he was a retired “pastor”. After talking with him for several minutes about the problems of the Catholic Church in modern Spain, I noticed he was looking increasingly alarmed. I thought for a moment he might be one of those ghastly Spanish liberal priests. But my mistake had been even worse than that.
“Why do you keep on about the Church?” he asked, rather desperately.
“I was told you were a retired pastor,” I said.
“Yes,” he replied. “I looked after my flock of sheep on the Sierra Helada until I retired.”
“Ah, look at that view of Benidorm from here!” I exclaimed, and made my retreat.
I took Morris and his mother Rubí for a walk this afternoon and that went quite well. No misunderstandings or linguistic confusions. Life is so much simpler with donkeys.
Just look at Morris’s ears, towering over the Jurassic limestone aquifers of Puig Campana. Not that Morris cares much about the sources: as long as his plastic water bucket is filled, he is happy.