The water mills of Pallars Sobirà


The ancient mills


Water is an indispensable element for life, it is certainly the more characteristic essential element of our planet. Human settlements have tended to be located near water for consumption reasons. But the water circulation through the hydrological cycle, the kinetic energy contained in his motion and the potential energy associated with waterfalls make this a renewable energy source that humans will learn to exploit.

Roman Mills

People thought until the early twentieth century that the water mills were invention of the Middle Ages. In fact today there is sufficient evidence that the Romans had built water mills. There were quite a few roman authors who speak of water mills from the first century to the VII. According to them mills were already known in the first century AD (Vitrubio Strabo), and according to Pliny there were many of them.

Confirmation came by archaeology. Near Arles, Berbegal, was found before the Second World War, a large "industrial" complex formed by two rows of eight hydraulic mills, located in a ravine to exploit the slope; its milling capacity was three tons of grain per hour, enough to supply a population eight times higher than the city of Arlès in times of Trajan. It has been shown that the date of its construction is the second decade of the second century AD.

Mill "En Chaplix" (Swiss), near 70 before Crist. Watercolor. Brigitte Gubler, Zürich.

Based on these discoveries archaeologists believed that the Roman engineers also have built small mills, and the search came to fruition soon. In 1978, the remains of a rectangular ( twelve x eight meters) carved stone building were exhumed from Martres-of-Veyre (Puy-de-Dome) near an ancient small village of potters. Dating from the first century and the second century of our era, this building was a reduced version of the Barbegal mills and contemporary of them. (1)

Shortly afterwards a second mill was discovered in early 1990 in the Swiss Plateau. When working on a highway near the access to the ancient city of Aventicum was discovered a whole set of traces of hydraulic works. This mill with an almost Gallic name "Chaplix", was build entirely of wood, allowing to determine very accurately (by dendrocronology) its period of use: Built in 57-58 after J.-C., was abandoned twenty years later before beingn gradually buried by sand. Thanks to the subsoil moisture, their infrastructure has been largely preserved, allowing archaeologists to conduct a study fairly accurate.

The building was installed on the shore of an ancient arm of the river, now dried, very close to the Roman road. Driven by a canal, water moved a round table wheel next to wall, which induce the rotatation of a jagged gear that transmitted his movement to a mechanism that turn the shaft of the grinding stones arranged in the milling room above. The whole hydraulic system operated in a rectangular structure slightly larger than a cottage garden. (2) The milling stones were significantly smaller than those used in medieval mills.

Since then more than thirty mill remains have been discovered and continue the findings.

Pallars Sobirá former mills

Pallars Sobirà, abundant in rivers and streams water has been a privileged area to install this type of explotations. In Pallars hydraulic millsexisted since the high Middle Ages, butis from the seventeenth century onwards when they spread for the entire territory. In1628 acording to the description “Descripció del Marquesat de Pallars i del Vescomtat de Vilamur per Onofre Timbau (1628)(3) The number of mills in the Marquisate were 73 inthe counties (quarters)belongingthe Marquisate (four accounted forthe quarter of Salás in Pallars Jussà), . There were four more in the Vescomtat of Vilamur: the Freixa flour mill, the Rubió flour mill and the Montenartró flour mill (and a wool mill near Soriguera)

"Memorial de todos los molinos que hay en el Marquesado:
En la villa y quartel de Sort dos que todos hacen censo a su excelencia .............2
En la villa y quartel de Perameia otros dos que también reconocen por directo senyor dellos a su excelencia, pagándole censo .........2
Ítem en la villa de Ribera y valle de Cardós veinte y dos, los dos estan por cuenta de su excelencia y los otros por la de algunos particulares y universidades, que los posseedores dellos algunos reconocen a su excelencia por directo senyor dellos y otros no, digo .... 22
En el medio quartel de la villa d'Escaló y lugares annexos a ella, el uno possehe Pe­dro Campi de la dicha villa, sin reconocer en nada a su excelencia y por privilegio, el otro los cónsules del lugar de Llaborsí que por él hasen cierto censo a su excelencia,
digo .................. 2
En la villa d'Esterri y valle de Aneu ya he dicho en la digreción deste quartel que son en número quareinta y uno los que allí ay, el uno de los quales ase a censo a su exce- . lencia y los otros no, disen que no tienen obligación pagar nada por ellos por que tienen privilegio, pero yo no le visto ........... 41
En la villa de Salás y quartel dos de arina y dos de azeite, los quales possehen el de la villa de Salás Juan Balust, y el otro los cón­sules del lugar de Ayramunt por los quales pagan censo a vuestra excelencia el de la arina y de Salás possehe Francisco Pesonada ....... 4
Los quales son en número ..... 73
Molinos de azeite en todo el marquesado no ay sino los dos sobredichos."


Font: M.LL. Cases - C.M. Marugan - M.I. Rabasa: Descripció del Marquesat de Pallars i del Vescomtat de Vilamur per Onofre Timbau (1628) . Lleida 2001

To this large number we would add the Rialp mills (possibly three mills) and a dozen or so in Valley Àsua, and perhaps more than thirty mills provide the valley of La Vall Ferrera and the Valley of the Vall de Burg, in addition to the Gerri mill , the mole of Saberneda mill , the mill of Bresca (mola Riu Major), the moleta de Roní mill, the mola of Romadriu mill, ...
We estimate that there should be between 130 and 140 mills in the Pallars Sobirà early in the seventeenth century, in a time when the region was very populated (there where 889 inhabitants only in the quarter of Sort, and 199 in the Peramea'n quarter)

Autor: Maria Griñó



The constructive structure is almost identical everywhere: a small room inside an isolated house, near a river course, however small it may be. When the flow of a river was excessive, it was very expensive to make a channel to divert water and the risk of floods destroying dams and / or the mills was higher. Because of this, sometimes a stream of less flow was preferred than a strong one. Virtually all small watercourses were used for moving mills in Pallars Sobirà.



Sorribes, R. "Les indústries tradicionals de muntanya"

In Catalonia the horizontal blades rotor with a vertical axis to move the stone wheels is the most common and widespread. In Catalonia the vertical rotor type hardly has been used since it needed a major water flow and regular volum of water. The stone wheels were manufactured in France from where exported all over Europe thanks to the excellent quality of the limestone in the area, harsh gray rocks that were distinct and unique.

To the lour mills where added later in some cases, saw mill mechanism. Valued today for its conservation status, the Àreu flour and saw mill were restored and developed as a museum.

In the beginnings of electricity, such facilities often were reconverted into power generation facilities and this fact was crucial to preserve many of them since almost our days.



The only inventory ofPallars flour millswe found is copied below and is based on data of travelers and scholars of the nineteenth century.


Molins Fariners al Pallars



Estat de conservació

Ainet de Besan



Alins de Vallferrera





Resta edifici i Maquinària



Resta edifici i Maquinària
















Esterri d’Àneu






Gerri de la Sal


Resta edifici i Maquinària









Resta edifici i Maquinària







Ribera de Cardós





Resta edifici i Maquinària



Bon estat









Resta edifici













SORRIBES, Ramon. "Les indústries tradicionals de muntanya” (5)

1) Anne-Marie Romeuf, « Un moulin à eau gallo-romain aux Martres-de-Veyre (Puy-de-Dôme) », Revue d’Auvergne, 92, 2, 1978, pp. 23-41

2)Daniel Castella, « Le moulin hydraulique gallo-romain d’Avenches “En Chaplix” », Cahiers d’Archéologie Romande, 62, 1994.

3) M.LL. Cases - C.M. Marugan - M.I. Rabasa: Descripció del Marquesat de Pallars i del Vescomtat de Vilamur per Onofre Timbau (1628) . Lleida 2001

4) Gil Perarnau i Prat: Estudi de l'energia hidráulica del riu Llobregat al seu pas pel Bergadà. (Treball de recerca 2n de Batxillerat 2005)

5) The autor information is from Madoz and Candi. The few data about its conservation state is of the autor. SORRIBES, Ramon. (1993) "Les indústries tradicionals a les comarques demuntanya”. . Generalitat de CatalunyaBarcelona






Why in the dark



The builders

Map Pallars

Registration waters

Inventory mills


List of mills