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Preserving Madrid's ancient watering holes

Por: | 03 de junio de 2011

Long before the waterworks company Canal Isabel II was established in 1858, madrileños got their water from a network of subterranean galleries burrowed through the city’s rolling hills. They became to be known as the “viajes de agua” or water passages, and were first built in the 9th century. The entire network was about 125-kilometres long and Madrid residents were able to draw water at certain points along the route. Preserved remnants  of these qanats -– as they are known by the Arabic –- can still be seen, the most famous being the Fuente del Berro Park, one of Madrid’s oldest springs located in Las Ventas and tapped by Philip V, and Ocaña, which is still being used today by farmers and ranchers.

Unfortunately one is in a state of despair. The Amaniel qanat –- beautifully restored a few years back as the centerpiece of a hilly but dusty park on the Paseo Juan XXIII in Tetuán -- has fallen victim to graffiti and vandalism.


It was discovered in 2005 during work on a nearby development. Archaeologists from the Madrid regional community began to study the deep ancient brick-lined passages, uniquely preserved and hidden underneath the modern-day asphalt squeeze. But six years later it appears abandoned. Lack of both maintenance and security has encouraged the homeless to find shelter there at night. Qanatgrowth  Weeds and overgrowing shrubbery cover its façade, and the small creek, where water from the Cañogordo springs still trickles as it has for centuries, is contaminated with trash, plastic soda bottles and other debris.

El Amaniel is said to have been constructed sometime between 1614-1616 during, the reign of Philip III to bring water to his royal palace. Researchers from the University of Alcalá and Madrid Water Supply Organization of Canal Isabel II have written an excellent paper about the city’s qanats in English.

On a recent visit to the park, which is located right behind the back fence of Jefatura de Policia (National Police headquarters), I was disappointed to see how the condition of this fine historical site has worsened in such a short period.

Qanatwater The metal markers that tell the story of the viajes de agua and how the Amaniel qanat was used are ineligible, defaced by vandals using spray paint.The entrance to the main-arched gallery is also stained with graffiti. An old dirty bed mattress, apparently used by a homeless person, was nearby.

There is a children’s playground right in front of the site, but that hasn’t stopped the vandals from destroying this important piece of Madrid history. Historical preservation in the Spanish capital is one of the most impressive ongoing projects undertaken by Madrid officials. But it is perplexing that a recently discovered treasure, such as the Amaniel qanat, has been left to decay -– not by nature -– but by people, whose ancestors, perhaps, once relied on that well.


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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

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