Riudecanyes is a town located in the centre of the county of El Baix Camp, at the foot of the Sierra de L'Argentera. It was the centre of the barony of Escornalbou. There are three elements that are unique to the town: the streets, the castle and the reservoir. The streets are named after the days of the week and only recently has this had to be added to. The castle-monastery of Sant Miquel d'Escornalbou, documented from the twelfth century and at one of the highest points in the area, has become a must-visit tourist stop. Moreover, the reservoir offers nice places for walking and resting, and gives a special character to the municipality.
In Riudecanyes remains from Middle Paleolithic were found, supporting the existence of an Iberian settlement in the heading of Gorg, near the swamp. In the Josephine cave, in 1922, a range of artefacts were found dating from the prehistoric Neolithic to the Iron Age, with several bell-shaped vessels, along with weapons and tools. In the cave of paseo de los Fares, bronze objects were found.
The earliest reference to Riudecanyes is in the town of Cambrils charter of 1152. The reference is “torrente qui est iuxta Rivum de Canes”. According to Eduard Toda, there was a castle but this is only remembered in the place name. Alfons Bertran de Castellet is mentioned as lord of the castle, followed by his son Guillaume and grandson Bertran.
The town was the seat of the barony of Escornalbou at least since 1387, a status that remained until the end of Manorialism, in 1811.
The most notable building in the town, it is dedicated to San Mateo and was built in Cambrils by Joan Santfeliu in 1582. It was completed in 1598. The altar piece is in Renaissance style from 1602. In 1762 Antonio Oxando of Constantine made the altarpiece of the Rose, gilded by Gabriel Isern de Tarragona. All this disappeared in 1936 during the Civil War.
Sant Miquel d'Escornalbou sits on a 649m hill called the Santa Barbara or Mola, south of the Sierra de L'Argentera and it is now part of Riudecanyes. The building, finished in red sandstone, is far from looking as it did at the beginning of the century, as the current appearance is the result of the restorations made by Eduard Toda from Reus. The origins of this strategic place mixed Roman roots, Visigoths and Saracens, as evidenced by various remains found there. Escornalbou is cited for the first time in 1153 as the edge of the end of Siurana. In 1170, King Alfonso I offered Escornalbou to God, to St. Michael and Joan of Santboià, to fortify it and to erect a convent or monastery of Augustinian monks dedicated to St. Michael. At this time, Escornalbou was a refuge for Saracens, who from there attacked the neighbouring lands. In 1194 the place was first mentioned as a castle, and two years later the church was built. In 1240, it was consecrated by the archbishop Pere d'Albalat.
In 1574, the archbishop of Tarragona Gaspar Cervantes de Gaeta, secularised the monastery. Six years later, the archbishop offered Escornalbou to a community of Franciscans. In 1686, the Franciscan friars established a seminary school that continued till the nineteenth century. The monument was looted during the French war. In 1822 the building was closed and the monks supported absolutism and were accused of protecting guerrilla ideology. The buildings of Escornalbou also suffered the ravages of the seizure, which forced the monks to leave in 1835. It went on sale and was bought by the British vice-consul in Tarragona, John Bridgman. Escornalbou would know a few owners over the course of the twentieth century. One of the most discussed was the Reus citizen Eduard Toda, who bought it early this century. He was responsible for much of the current appearance of the whole, he restored many of the structural parts. He did it, but, following personal preference, not following the guidelines Puig I cadafalch preferred. The diplomat and writer, in love and restorer of Poblet, incorporated elements such as towers that did not match the original style of the monument.
Toda, an enlightened man who had a long and peculiar CV, such as having been consul in Egypt in 1884 or having carried out excavations at Tebas, received in his monastery important political and cultural people of the time. In 1926 Toda gave the castle to the archdiocese to serve as a seminary, which this did not happen. In 1928 the monument was put up for sale. It was not until 1941 that the industrialist of Reus, Josep Maria Llopis bought the monastery with everything inside, which included furniture and the library (which consisted of 60,000 volumes). In the late seventies, it was bought by Urquijo Bank. The great location meant it was an ideal building to convert into a tourist stop, an idea that came to be realised. Finally, in 1983 was bought together by Tarragona Provincial Council and the Generalitat de Catalonia.
The church has a nave with a barrel vault and in order to build the presbytery they took advantage of a Roman tower. Toda eliminated different parts of the church, like the bell tower, a porch located at the gateway, of which you can still see the marks on the walls; the side chapels was added at a later date. The cloister became a viewing point; the chapter house was transformed into a chapel where the remains of the stone of the altarpiece about the teacher Aloi, executed in 1367, and an image of the Virgin and Child and a book. Also the new sacristy and the chapel of the Sacrament disappeared.
The location of Sant Miquel d'Escornalbou and the remoteness of the village has served over the years to create legends that transformed it into a place if not mysterious, at least very special. For example, the oldest legend tells of a battle between 1162 and 1170 in which Albert from Castellvell won against the Saracens at a place called "Mountain pass of the Battle" and it is said that the Archangel Sant Michael took part. In the mid-nineteenth century, the villagers of nearby villages said that inside the monastery strange things were happening as lights flashed on and off, noises were heard and smoke seen... - this was attributed to the existence of witches. A site visit by several neighbours figured out that it all came from a mint that was under the apse of the church.
It is a must do visit to travel from the summit of Escornalbou through the paseo dels Frares, opened in 1818; it offers the visitor a stunning view, enjoyable most of the days of the year, accompanied by the wind that always blows in Escornalbou. Also you have to climb to the chapel of Santa Barbara, dating from the nineteenth century, which it is said is situated on the site of a Roman tower used by the Arabs as a surveillance point.
The need to build a dam was born from the serious lack of water that continually troubled the city of Reus. By 1903, the present capital of the Baix Camp had 27,000 inhabitants who relied mostly on water from wells. Having a reservoir to deal with this problem was a sought for alternative from the end of the century. In 1897, the capital city of the Baix Camp instructed the engineers Josep Mora, Alfons Benavente and a future president Francesc Macià, to study how to bring water to parched citizens and their farmland.
Finally, after several proposals, in 1903 the dam of Riudecanyes was built by the engineer Gaietà Úbeda i Sarachaga. In 1907 he completed the project, increasing the current reservoir level to hold more cubic meters of water. The company management took on the engineer José Pérez de Petinto and Losada, until 1919.
Between 1924-1925 there was a drought that set thoughts to how to transport the excess waters of the river Siurana. This was done through the building of a channel that was authorized in 1930. Four years later he began a new phase of works for the dam, led by Joaquim Blasco, which allowed water to enter the area in 1949, the reforms did not end until 1951. The route of this canal reaches 9,886m. After the arrival of the canal, the dam was built between 1965 and 1974 Siurana.
If we stand on the side of the road that leads to Duesaigües to see the dam for the people of Riudecanyes, there's a pleasant surprise. The blue water of the reservoir is close above the seawater that shines from afar and immediately after the closing of the dam wall. There is a point at the crossroads, overlapping, three of the best blue shades that can be found in the Baix Camp: its fresh water, contrasting with the blue sea and clear sky that defines the town, that looks to the Mediterranean.
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