The Enlightenment arrived late to Spain; we loved the Baroque so much we stuck with it longer than we should have. After many efforts by many folks like Benito Jerónimo Feijóo, my man Francisco de Isla, and many others, king Carlos III finally changed all that.
One of the worries that had nagged Spanish monarchs since 1492 was that only a fraction of the gold and silver that arrived from the Americas actually made it to Madrid. Sevilla was the main drop off point, so a lot of the wealth stayed there (either legally or less legally). The solution? Build a canal from Sevilla to Madrid so more of the riches could make it to the capital.
In 1781 the plan was made: build a massive dam to feed a canal that would connect the 500 km (300 miles) from Madrid to Sevilla.
The dam was started, but as usual in Spain all sorts of problems arose; there was not enough labor, so soldiers were brought in who were replaced with prisoners… then there were financing issues… the 90 mt (300ft) dam was about halfway done, when a massive storm in 1799 wreaked tremendous damage. So, they just gave up on the whole thing and forgot about it.
Well, this unfinished abandoned dam, la presa del Gasco is actually 8 km (5 miles) from my mom’s country home as the crow flies, and I finally had a chance to go with my friend Jaime and his brother Jose Mari. The walk, following the never used canal is easy, and once you turn a corner, and you see this behemoth, you are filled with awe at what was the most impressive hydraulic project in 18th C. Europe.
After walking around and checking it out in complete awe, we went to a restored part of the canal nearby where we had another little walk along the canal.
The sheer size of this construction, the perfect fit of the rocks, the ambitious plan, it is all baffling.
As usual in Spain, the local authorities do not want to declare this a heritage site, a protected historical site, a park, nothing, because of building and construction licensing possibilities, i.e.: money and corruption. Disgusting.
This is one excursion worth doing before the whole valley is filled with gaudy houses.