The Guadarrama Canal, the story that was never written

Before aviation became fashionable or high-speed lines crossed Spain, there were interesting projects in which water was the main protagonist. Just as the Rhine and the Danube did in Europe or the Castile Canal in the northern sub-plateau, The Guadarrama canal was intended to connect a large part of the interior of Spain by river.

However, the arrival of other faster and much less expensive means of communication left this titanic idea in disarray. A project we want to talk to you about.

The desire for communications

When we talk about river communications, it seems to us to be a thing of the countries of northern Europe, or even something that is only seen in certain countries of equatorial Africa. But really, river communications have always existed and practically all over the world.

Today trips can be made discovering the Amazon or the Mississippi in America, beautiful river cruises through Vienna or Budapest through the Danube or boat trips on the Nile enjoying the pyramids. It is even possible to enjoy tours through frigid Moscow in Russia or the vast Yangtze in China.

It is true that today a good part of these rivers owe their traffic basically to tourism and recreation, but long ago they had a very different function. Rivers from all over the world were considered commercial arteriesused by and for the exchange of raw materials and merchandise between territories.

Lifetime obstacles for the Guadarrama canal

Many rivers have enjoyed having a topography suitable for navigation, such as the Danube or the Rhine. This has favored not only communications, but has also contributed to diversifying the economy of countries since ancient times.

A different case is that of Spain, where the topography does not accompany it. The rivers, in addition to being short and not very large, have always encountered strong obstacles to their navigation: one of them is the plateau and the other is the outer mountain ranges. These have complicated communication between the interior and the coast for centuries.

Both structural elements have prevented the realization, and consequently the success, of large canalization projects like the unfinished Guadarrama canal. The same happens with the Castilla channel, which only partially runs through the provinces of Valladolid, Palencia and Burgos.

The brief history of the Guadarrama canal

The Guadarrama canal was conceived as an important hydraulic work that would connect Madrid with the Atlantic Ocean. It would do so through the southern sub-plateau and the Guadalquivir depression.

This unfinished work lays its foundations at the end of the 18th century, in the time of Carlos III. This monarch is known as ‘the best mayor of Madrid,’ given the great works carried out under his reign.

Through this titanic work, the engineer Carlos Lemaur it intended to connect a river route of about 770 kilometers from Madrid to SanlĂșcar de Barrameda. A 25-kilometre section could be built, and from the El Gasco dam in Torrelodones to the municipality of Las Rozas in Madrid, remains are preserved in good condition.

One of them is that unfinished dam, which would have acted as a headwater regulating reservoir in this section to the northwest of the capital. It is a semi-ruined dam, whose collapse was mainly due to its poor construction quality and the accumulation of water during a storm that partially damaged it.

Apart from this dam, the most important vestiges that are preserved are the canal box, the service road and some aqueducts. There are relatively few remains, if we take into account that after the collapse of the dam in 1799, the works on the canal were paralyzed and everything was forgotten.

A Chronicle of a Death Foretold

The controversy was present from the beginning. The failure of the El Gasco dam was the perfect motive, but the financial crisis of 1799 was the direct cause for the stoppage of the works of the Guadarrama channel.

Some subsequent events, such as the catastrophic failure of the Puentes dam (Lorca) in 1802, were additional reasons that prevented the resumption of hydraulic works in subsequent years.

Even so, time has been responsible for providing uniqueness and attractiveness to these constructions that for a good part of history tried to confront nature.

Today, much of the Guadarrama channel It is under the protection of the Regional Park of the middle course of the Guadarrama River and its surroundings. This is an area with an enormous landscape richness that can be visited and that is, without a doubt, recommended.

Man rushes into error faster than rivers flow into the sea.


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