The Architecture of Water:

INTRODUCTION

The region of La Safor is characterized by a very fertile coastal plain extending towards the sea from the mountains. Some exceptional orographic and climatic conditions, as well as its main watercourses, the Serpis or Alcoi River and its affluent the Vernissa River, have favoured the implantation of an irrigation system that allowed the continued development throughout history of intensive irrigated lands in this area. A hydraulic system that articulates and orders the territory, and a landscape builder that undoubtedly represents a part of our historical inheritance, constituting one of the distinctive characters of our community and which identifies us as Valencians.
Water became an indispensable element that made possible the articulation of a set of constructions, devices and artefacts to transform the environment creating thus a genuine element of civilization and culture. This set of elements is what we call water architecture. Weirs, diversion dams, wells, irrigation canals and ditches, wash-houses, bifurcations, branches, watermills… all of them constructions that are an essential part of our cultural heritage. We propose a walk to know these historical infrastructures in Potries. You will find humble constructions with centuries of history, still functioning, linked to the rational and traditional use of water.
The water for traditional or historical irrigation in La Safor comes mainly from the Alcoi River. The Carròs diversion dam, near the town of Vilallonga, diverts part of the river waters into the Royal Canal of Alcoi, down to the Casa Fosca (Dark House) bifurcation, near Potries. Stemming from there, on its right side, the Rebollet Canal goes through Potries, La Font and part of Oliva, irrigating their surrounding lands. The Royal Canal continues on its left branch down to a second bifurcation named the Casa Clara (Light House), where the waters are diverted into two main branches: the Common Canal of Gandia on the left, which irrigates lands of Almoines, part of Bellreguard, Beniarjó, Miramar, Daimús and the southernmost allotments of Gandia; and the Comon Canal of Oliva on the right, irrigating parts of la Font, Palmera, Bellreguard, Piles, Rafelcofer, l’Alqueria and Oliva.

WATERMILLS

Molí de l’Espart

El Molí de l’Espart(also known as Molí de Parets or Molí d’Àngel, in earlier times). It is located in the Beniteixir ravine allotment, between Potries and la Font d’en Carròs. Originally it was constructed at the end of 1845, as a paper mill. Subsequently, in a second stage starting at least in 1935, the mill worked as an esparto factory, and in its last period it became a thread factory. Currently it is used only as a warehouse.
This watermill had a 3 metres fall without a millpond, receiving the waters directly from the canal, two water wheels and two millstones. It is a two storey building and occupies an area of about 700 m². It is composed of two connected naves with a gable roof. In the part next to the ravine some old pools are conserved, as well as a washhouse beside the canal.

This watermill had a 3 metres fall without a millpond, receiving the waters directly from the canal, two water wheels and two millstones. It is a two storey building and occupies an area of about 700 m². It is composed of two connected naves with a gable roof. In the part next to the ravine some old pools are conserved, as well as a washhouse beside the canal.

Molí de l’Alfàs

Segons les fonts documentals es denominava molí de l’Alfàs al segle XV i, posteriorment, és conegut com el molí dels Frares,

According to documentary sources, it was known in the 15th century as Molí de l’Alfàs and, later, as Molí dels Frares, since it belonged to the convent of Sant Jeroni de Cotalba after its purchase in 1614. After the 1835 Confiscation, it was sold to individuals by public auction in 1838. Historically, it was used as a flour mill. At the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries it was turned into a light factory, after installing hydroelectric turbines. The reels and the primitive alternator are still preserved. Later, water would be used in an electrolysis process to produce bleach, giving rise to the current chemical products company.
The old 200 kW turbine is still preserved in the basement, it impelled a direct current generator for the electrolytic manufacture, in the upper floors of the Las Dos Palmas bleach company building.

Molí Canyar o d’Aynat.

Molí Canyar or d’Aynat. Located on the right bank of the river, at the Campina allotment, it received the waters from the Casa Clara bifurcation via the Oliva Canal.
The Molí d’Aynat, currently Molí Canyar, has been documented as a flour mill since at least the 15th century, and so it was until its extension and transformation, between the late 19th and early 20th centuries, simultaneously with the construction of the Alcoi-Gandia Harbour railway.
For centuries, it has been connected to an influential family of lawyers and administrators from la Font d’en Carròs, the Aynats. The old construction had to be replaced by a new building adapted to the transformation demands of the time, with the architectural characteristics of the late 19th century, but preserving its original underground structure. It is one of the few hydraulic mills in the right bank irrigation network that had a millpond.
In this new building, mechanisms for flour production were maintained, rice hullers and whiteners were incorporated, and electric turbines as well as steam and diesel engines were installed for electric provision. This was a manufacturing complex characteristic of the time, with large residential spaces for the workers’ families, administrative and office units and even workshops for the final packaging of the products, mainly rice. We find the remains of a chimney where the chaff was burned to produce the vapour used to help move the millstones.
Afterwards, the industry was expanded with an ice factory, attached to the northern wall next to the railway, which covered the ice supply needs of the Alcoi Gandia railway. This mill was restored and turned into a restaurant in 1998, but they have respected the original structure, and the primitive machinery and widgets are exposed to the public.

Molí dels Anouers

The Molí dels Anouers (Walnut Trees Mill) is in the Huitena allotment. It is documented as a flour mill since at least the 15th century, as it appears in a document of 1511 where it was called a mill of “Çar Borzen, moor of Beniflà”; in the year 1745 it appears under the name of “mill of the walnut trees”, in memory of a lawsuit on waters conducted by the distinguished Gregori Maians; at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th it appears as “Almúnia mill”.
This mill had two falls of 2 metres height and 122 cm in diameter. It had three sets of Catalan millstones, which were eventually replaced by French ones. Later, as the rightmost fall had not enough water, they added a gear to the third millstone. Afterwards, they mounted an elevated platform over this inactive millstone, and installed a smaller rice millstone, which required less power. The basement had two vaults of 160 cm in width and 3 m in length and a drainage along the mill room towards the road outside.

Molí de la Llum, Serreria o Batistet

The Molí de la Llum (Mill of Light), Molí de Serreria or Molí de Batistet is located northeast of Potries, bordering with Beniflà and la Font d’en Carrós municipalities. Today it is a completely restored private house. It was a state of the art industrial building, probably built in the late 19th or early 20th centuries. It receives the waters from the Potries bifurcation or ‘cano’, located about 300 m before. It is at a distance of about 2000 m from the Molí Canyar and 400 m from the Molí dels Anouers. The energy is supplied by the waters of the Miramar Canal, which then run to the Molí de Sotaia. It did not have a millpond but a 4 m fall moving two wheels and two Catalan millstones 138 cm in diameter and 28 cm in height, which ground wheat and corn to make flour and bran. The basement is beautiful, with two compartments, one for the flume and other one for the chamber itself, about 3 m high, 2 m wide and 4 m long.
Working as a flour mill from its origins, the Adrover company later added to it a 17 hp turbine to supply for the first time electricity to Beniarjó and Beniflà, in 1907. This turbine also powered the millstone, both of them are all still conserved today. For some time it worked as a sawmill. From the 1922 it became a starch factory. However, it continued being a grinding mill in parallel to all other activities.

WATER BIFURCATIONS

La Casa Fosca

The Casa Fosca (Dark House) is a simple construction, covered with an imposing vault of masonry and lime mortar, built over the Royal Canal in the middle of the fields. Its function is to divide the waters of the Royal Canal, coming from the dam, into two irrigation canals, the Canal of Rebollet and the Common Canal of Gandia and Oliva. Although it presents a very simple architecture, its structure is very solid and hermetic, almost dissuasive, so that no one alters the proper division of water. The only one allowed to access it is the “sequier”, the person in charge and responsible for the proper functioning of the system.

According to a document dating from 1511 about certain works that had to be made in the irrigation infrastructure, this bifurcation already existed at that time with its stone bench and its seven and a half gates. This document stated that the access to the bifurcation house would be locked by two different keys, being their holders the two most important landlords of the time, the Duke of Gandia and the Count of Oliva. Bearing in mind that the water proportional distribution system originated in the Muslim world and remained after the Catalan-Aragonese occupation, we estimate that this bifurcation existed already before the conquest, in the middle of the 13th century.

La Casa Clara

The Casa Clara (Light House) is the second great bifurcation of the historic irrigation network. These bifurcations are a key element for the functionality of the system, because at these points the proper division of water can be verified and regulated. That is why they have a closed structure, in order to guarantee their operation, being the person in charge of the system the only one with access to them. The Casa Clara presents a rectangular floor with high masonry walls, enclosing a diaphanous interior space without a cover. At one end of the building we find the entrance of water from the Common Canal of Gandia and Oliva, with stone voussoirs formerly closed by hardy iron fences.

El Cano o de Sotaia

The Sotaia or Cano bifurcation is in the northeast part of Potries, in the Mitjana allotment. It is also mentioned in the document from 1511, under the name of “Ferruz bifurcation”. This smaller bifurcation was reconstructed in the middle of the 19th century, specifically in the year 1849, as it appears in an inscription on its wall. It divides by means of a stone bench with ten gates the waters of the Common Canal of Oliva into the canals of Sotaia (or Miramar) and Oliva. The Oliva Canal gets seven of these ten gates and distributes the waters through the municipalities of Rafelcofer, l’Alqueria de la Comtessa, Piles and Oliva. Two of these gates are assigned to the Miramar Canal, irrigating the lands of Palmera, Miramar, Rafelcofer, Beniarjó and part of Bellreguard. The remaining gate is used to irrigate the lands of Sotaia.

This bifurcation is a rectangular construction covered with a lowered vault, built with stonework and lime mortar. It has stone lintels over the entrance and exits of water, as well as fences and a small door on its northwestern side. The bifurcation has an inscription with the date of 1849, when it probably underwent some kind of repair.

IRRIGATION CANALS

La sèquia Reial

The Royal Canal runs for two kilometres, winding and bordering charming spots on the right bank of the Serpis River, from its origin in the Carròs dam near Vilallonga, down to the Casa Fosca bifurcation, in the municipality of Potries. Along most of its way towards Potries, this canal is below ground level, so its walls appear excavated in the ground, flanked with vegetation, usually reedbed, and with some brickwork low walls at certain points. The canal has a U-form section, and the lateral walls are made of a mixture of lime mortar and abundant gravel and small pebbles. It was built in the 50s and 60s of the 20th century by means of a timber formwork filled with the above-mentioned material, plastered afterwards with a hydraulic-cement mortar. The floor presents the same characteristics. This canal is covered with fibrocement slabs from the dam down to the plot 230/P1 in Potries, where there is a water inlet for the modern drip irrigation system. From this point down to Casa Fosca, the canal has no covering.

La sèquia del Rebollet

The Rebollet Canal goes over four kilometres, east to west, from the Casa Fosca to Oliva, passing through Potries and la Font d’en Carròs. Within our municipality we can differentiate some sections: a first one from the bifurcation until the urban area, running uncovered, a second one on its way underneath the town and a third one down to the Beniteixir ravine.

La sèquia Comuna d’Oliva i Gandia

The Common Canal of Oliva and Gandia leaves the Casa Fosca bifurcation carrying a significant stream of water, which, surely from its beginnings, would lead to the use of its energy by installing a millhouse. Even today, one can still see the old masonry wall of the mill’s fall in the Electroquímica del Serpis industrial park, which curiously was a ramp-like fall, with two wheels for two millstones.

La sèquia comuna d’Oliva

The Common Canal of Oliva continues towards the east from the Casa Clara to the lands of la Font d’en Carròs and Rafelcofer. Within our municipality we can distinguish several sections, all of them uncovered; the first one extending from the bifurcation to the VP1012 road; a second one from this road to the Molí Canyar, and the third one from the mill’s water outlet down to the Molí dels Anouers, passing by the Cano bifurcation in the midway. It is made basically of formwork cement, although in some sections old rubblework walls are conserved beneath it.

HYDRAULIC ELEMENTS: WASHHOUSES, NORIAS, METERS AND FOOTBRIDGES

L’anivellador

The meter is an element that allows calculating the flow of water at a determined point in the ditch. They can be found all along the network, always downstream of major bifurcations. A widening in the inner walls of the ditch that narrows considerably its section, along with a little slope after it, increase the water level so the actual volume of flowing water can be read from a meter placed in the wall. This is a relatively modern element of the system, since the traditional unit of measurment was the Valencian vara. It wasn’t until 19th century that the decimal metric system was adopted worldwide.

La sénia


The noria is located near the Casa Fosca bifurcation, before the Rebollet Canal. The situation of this noria evidences the impossibility of watering those fields located before or near the first diverted canals, making it necessary to create other systems for obtaining water. In fact, the proliferation in the 20th century of water well pumps altered significantly a good part of the dry lands in our region. So where formerly olive, almond and carob trees abounded, now we can see intensive irrigated lands with orange trees. This element uses animal traction to move a mechanism that lifts water to the surface from the subsoil, through an excavated well.

Els llavadors públics

Washhouses appeared in the second half of the 19th century. In Potries we also find a considerable number of private washhouses bordering the Rebollet Canal, as it traverses the village. An architectural and ethnological ensemble of our urban landscape, very typical and defining the use of water in the last centuries. Until the decade of the 60s in the 20th century, there were in Potries four public washhouses, two of which are still conserved, one in the Corts Valencianas Street and another in the back of the Church. All of them took advantage of the water driven by the Rebollet Canal, with big stone slabs leaning towards the interior of one of the walls, where people could wash their clothes or dishes. Nowadays, Potries conserves two washhouses, one in the Corts Valencianes Street and another behind the Church, both recovered.

El galliponts

The Ferrocarril d’Alcoi (Alcoi Railway) footbridge. This element is located south of Potries, in the Campina allotment, near the facilities of Molí Canyar. This footbridge was built at the end of the 19th century, so that the Alcoi-Gandia Railway company workers and the other people could pass over the Common Canal of Oliva without problems.
Following the disappearance of the railroad, the footbridge over the canal lost its great functionality. It is made of facing bricks, with a small arch and two counterforts. The conservation status is optimal today, without presenting any serious deterioration.

The Camí Reial (Royal Way) footbridge. In front of the main facade of the Molí Canyar, there was a road paved in setts built in the 20s of the last century, during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, and in that point there was a footbridge over the canal diverted from the mill. At this point, the canal is below the street level. Until not many years ago, there was a dense reedbed that might be the reason, along with the transfer of the mill to the Aynat family, for its new name as Molí Canyar (Reed Mill).