THE TOWPATH

CAMÍ DE SIRGA: Navigation, especially fluvial, in which the boat is dragged from the ground, through a sirloin path, a “sirga”.

“Volga Boatmen” (1873) Ilia Efimovich Repin, Russian State Museum (Saint Petersburg).

From the remotest times, the waters of our rivers were pierced by the diverse cultures that inhabited these lands. There are indications that point out that the Romans already used this path to overcome the course of the Ebro river when the boats could not use the water flow or the help of the wind. Then, the men were the ones in charge of tracing the boat from the parallel paths of the river with the help of a string called “saula”.

Llauts on the docks of the old Mequinenza.

Historically, Mequinensa became an important river port thanks also to its strategic position that dominated the confluence of Segre and Cinca (from the Pyrenees) with the Ebro. There is evidence of the commerce of products such as linen, leather, hemp or honey. The commercial movements were more intense in the direction of the river, although during the trips of return to the fluvial ports of origin, the navigators also transported other merchandize different from those exported such as ceramics, esparto or cork.

The exploitation of the lignites of Mequinensa boosted river traffic through the rivers. The Sirga Path was especially important in Mequinensa because of the great importance of the river trade that transported coal to almost the mouth of the Ebro or sometimes to the industrial factories of Barcelona.

Llaut using a sail.

The llauts measured about 30 meters long and that could transport up to 30 tonnes of cargo. They became a very characteristic feature of the population of Mequinenza. The “Wall” that closed the population and protected it from rising water levels was also the docks where these boats rested. In a time of precarious land communications, the river became the main mean of transportation of materials. Since the end of the 19th century and the twentieth century, these boats became a true way of river transport. The role of the llaüters (the navigators of the boat) in Mequinenza left a great history and cultural trace, and a great vocabulary that you can know in the section Linguistic Heritage.

LLaüts en paralel amb la tripulació i els “matxos”.

 

 

In the year 1914 the great demand for coal caused by the outbreak of the Great War in Europe meant that some companies such as the Flix Electrochemical Society opted to change liners for mules, commonly known as “matxos”. Some mining companies, like the Carbonifera del Ebro, also came to have their own horse stables and ironworks for their animals.

The central role of the llaut in the economic movement of those days turned him into not only the protagonist of the development of the area, but also a cultural referent that still survives. The local writer Jesus Moncada immortalized it with the title of his novel “The towpath”, translated into more than twenty languages.

"Grans núvols tapaven aleshores els estels, la fosca embolcallava la nau. Només sentien el lliscar de l’aigua pels flancs del llaüt, el soroll dels unglots del matxo pel camí de sirga, la fregadissa de la saula a les branques d’alguna mata i, ara i adés, les ordres breus del peó que guiava la cavalleria." Jesús Moncada
Camí de Sirga

The Sirga Path continues parallel to the Ebro river course and you can still resort to Mequinensa. In addition, during the tour, you can see the remains of ancient mining operations such as the Forecast Mine, the Flix Mine, the “El Pas” Mine or the “Les Boqueretes” Mine, and halfway there is a resting place called the “Refuge del Pescador”. You can find more information on the Mequinensa hiking trails in this link.

Old Town of Mequinensa and confluence of the rivers Ebro, Segre and Cinca.

The rivers and the towpath still play a leading role in the tourist development of Mequinenza. Now they have abandoned their trade and transport functions and have become an ideal place for nautical sports. Different teams and international rowing and canoeing teams perform preparatory “stages” in Mequinenza and during the year different national competitions and championships are held, like the Descenso Internacional del Cinca.

 

A network of roads and roads are still bordering the Ebro and follow the millennia paths where day-to-day servers with effort and tenacity sailed over the boats to the Ebro. In the Museums of Mequinenza you can travel from Prehistory to the disappearance of the town for the construction of the Riba-Roja reservoir, learn more about the pictorial and literary side of Jesus Moncada and become true miners visiting a Coal Mine Museum.