The irrigation channels or recs are one of the distinctive features of the town of Banyoles. This is a network of narrow canals built by the monks at the monastery of Sant Esteve from the 9th century onwards that take water from the Lake to the centre of the town.
The network consists of six main canals that exit from the Lake and run south until they reach the river Terri. The canals are made with stone and mortar and are excavated in the travertine subsoil.
Their present-day names are: Rec de Ca n’Hort, Rec d’en Teixidor, Rec de la Figuera d’en Xo, Rec Major, Rec dels Xucladors and Rec de Guèmol. Of these, only the first five actually enter the town of Banyoles, where they branch out into side canals, forming a network with a total length of 33 kilometres.
Following the water as it flows along the canals, this route takes us into the heart of the town’s Old Quarter, where we will discover the importance of water in the economy and lives of Banyoles’ inhabitants.
The channels were built with a two-fold goal: drain the marshes in the area to use the land for farming and, at the same time, use the canals for irrigation. And throughout the town’s history, they have been used for different purposes. The first canals to be built were the Rec de Teixidor and the Rec de Ca n’Hort. In the mid-13th century, the Rec de la Figuera d’en Xo and the Rec Major were added. The most recent canals are the Rec de Xucladors and the Rec de Guèmol. The canals’ names have changed over the centuries, for example, the Rec de Teixidor and the Rec de Ca n’Hort used to be called the “Rec de Palaus” and “Dos recs”.
In the centuries following their construction, they were used to provide water to homes, for farming, by craftspeople and industries; mills, dyeing shops, tanneries and factories were built that harnessed the power of the water. Strolling beside the Rec Major, it is still possible to see washing places, footbridges and the remains of the sluices used to channel water for irrigation. One construction that stands out for its unusual structure is the Limit, previously used to regulate water flow in the Rec Major. This pyramid-shaped construction is built on a rectangular-shaped base which has a hole through it. The hole’s bottom and top define the minimum and maximum water flows.
The irrigation canals, and in fact all the water from the Lake, belonged to the monastery of Sant Esteve from the time it was built until 1685, when the Concord of the Waters of the Lake was signed. In this document, the monastery assigned ownership of the water and the canals to the Town Council of Banyoles, and that is still valid today.