The Watermills of the Sierra de Cádiz (Spain)
The Watermills of the Sierra de Cádiz (Spain)

A Traditional Open Water Re-circulation System





watermill, pre-industrial architecture, rural infrastructure, rural landscape, hydraulic circuit, traditional water system, circular water stories, landscape architecture


Traditional hydraulic milling was the main productive activity in the Sierra de Cádiz (Andalusia, Spain), as evidenced by the existence of 85 mills spread throughout the region. Although the date of their construction is unknown, the first documentary evidence of their existence appeared in the 16th century. In the 18th century, a more comprehensive account of the set of mills in the Sierra was drawn up thanks to the Ensenada Cadastre. The majority were operational until the mid-20th century, albeit with some difficulties. The disappearance of this handmade trade has led to the obsolescence and abandonment of its architecture and infrastructure. However, the infrastructure remains there, as traces of a recent past in which it is still possible to see the Circular Water Story that made them work. This article explains the hydraulic system that was used by the mills in the Sierra de Cádiz. Located next to rivers and streams, they formed part of an open water re-circulation system, which captured the water at a specific point in the riverbed of origin, artificially diverted it to the mill and then ended up returning it to the same riverbed of origin, at a different point from the initial one. The methodology used is based on the preparation of graphic documents and photographic recognition to select the riverbanks that show the adaptations and variations of the water re-circulation system according to the hydrographic, topographic, and productive characteristics of each territory. As some of these old artificial riverbeds are still operational, today they are used as a natural resource to supply water to other productive activities, thus proving the usefulness of the system, the suitability of the construction techniques applied, and their consequent integration into the landscape. The research carried out justifies the need to protect and catalogue these architectural hydraulic systems before they disappear completely, in order to benefit from the learning that can be derived from the reading, interpretation, and transformation of the territory and its landscape.

How to Cite

Rivero-Lamela, G., & Amadeo Ramos-Carranza, A. R.-C. (2020). The Watermills of the Sierra de Cádiz (Spain): A Traditional Open Water Re-circulation System. SPOOL, 7(2), 39–58.





Avitsur, S. (1960). On the History of the Exploitation of Water Power in Eretz-Israel. Israel Exploration Journal, 10(1), 37-45,

Derry, T.K., & Williams, T.I. (1977). Historia de la tecnología [History of technology]. Madrid, Spain: Siglo XXI.

Escalera Reyes, J. (1983). Molinos tradicionales [Traditional mills]. In J. Escalera Reyes & A. Villegas Santaella. Molinos y panaderías tradicionales [Traditional mills and bakeries] (pp. 13-173). Madrid, Spain: Editora Nacional.

García de Cortázar, J.A. (1974). La época medieval [The medieval era]. Madrid, Spain: Alianza.

Holt, R. (1990). Milling Technology in the Middle Ages: The Direction of Recent Research. Industrial Archaeology Review, 13(1), 50-58, doi: 10.1179/iar.1990.13.1.50.

Hough, M. (1990). Out of place: restoring identity to the regional landscape. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Izaga Reiner, J.M. & Herreras Moratinos, B. (2016). Protección del patrimonio de las cuencas fluviales del País Vasco [Protection of the heritage of the river basins of the Basque Country]. In ACEM, X International Molinology Conference, Segovia, Spain, 333-345.

Jespersen, A. (1953). A Preliminary Analysis of the Development of the Gearing in Watermills in Western Europe. Virum, Denmark: Danske Boghandleres Kommissionsanst.

Keller, A.G. (1984). “Northern” and “Southern” Horizontal Watermills. In Energy in History: 11th Symposium of the International Cooperation in History of Technology Committee (ICOHTEC), Lerbach (near Köln), September 2 - 7, 1984.

Lucas, A. (2006). Wind, Water, Work. Ancient and Medieval Milling Technology. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill.

Matos, B. R. (2011). Património à prova de agua. Apontamento para a salvaguarda das azenhas & açudes nas margens do rio Ave, Vila Nova de Famalicão/Trofa [Waterproof heritage. Notes to safeguard water mills and dams on the banks of the Ave River, Vila Nova de Famalicão/Trofa]. Vila Nova de Famalicão, Portugal: Câmara Municipal de Vila Nova de Famalicão.

Matos, B.R. & Barata, F. (2016). Ave’s watermills: Territory, Architecture and Construction Systems. International Molinology, (92), 22-29.

Nadal Oller, J. (1992). Moler, tejer y fundir: estudios de historia industrial [Grinding, weaving and casting: industrial history studies]. Barcelona, Spain: Ariel.

Oliver, P. (2006). Built to Meet Needs. Cultural Issues in Vernacular Architecture. Oxford, England: Elsevier.

Ordóñez Vergara, P. (1993). Los molineros de La Alpujarra [The millers of La Alpujarra]. Gazeta de antropología, (10), 13,

Palerm Salazar, J.M. (2019). Monotonous repetition in architecture. Terraced landscapes. Proyecto, progreso, arquitectura. Paisaje de Bancales, (21), 12-19, doi: 10.12795/ppa.2019.i21.12.

Pérez Ordoñez, A. (2009). Sierra de Cádiz andalusí: Arquitectura y urbanismo islámicos en la frontera occidental del Reino de Granada [Sierra de Cádiz Andalusi: Islamic architecture and urbanism on the western border of the Kingdom of Granada]. Spain: Lulu.

Reyes Mesa, J.M. (2000). Technology and popular architecture: Waterwheels in the province of Granada. Gazeta de Antropolgía, (16), 1-13,

Rivero-Lamela, G. & Ramos-Carranza, A. (2019). Drawing and interpreting Planimetric surveys: rural landscape and old productive architectures in Sierra de Cádiz. Disegnarecon, 12(22), 18.1-18.23,

Romero de Torres, E. (1934). Catálogo de los Monumentos Históricos y Artísticos de la provincia de Cádiz. Tomo 6 [Catalog of the Historic and Artistic Monuments of the province of Cádiz. Volume 6]. Madrid, Spain: Ministerio de Instrucción Pública y Bellas Artes.

Rynne, C. (2013). Technological Continuity, Technological ‘Survival’: the Use of Horizontal Mills in Western Ireland, c. 1632–1940. Industrial Archaeology Review, 33(2), 96-105, doi: 10.1179/174581911X13188747258748.

Sánchez-Jiménez, F.J. & González, J.A. (2018). Watermills: The Origin of the Use of Renewable Hydraulic Energy in Spain. Industrial Archaeology Review, 40(1), 2-10, doi: 10.1080/03090728.2018.1449383.

Sanz Elorza, M. (2012). Ingenios con memoria. Recorrido por los molinos harineros de la provincia de Segovia y por la gestión tradicional de los recursos hidráulicos [Devices with memory. Tour of the flour mills of the province of Segovia and the traditional management of hydraulic resources]. Segovia, Spain: Caja Segovia.

Silva Costa, F., Lopes Cordeiro, J.M., Batista Vieira, A.A. & Vaz, S. (2016). O estudo dos moinhos e aproveitamentos hidráulicos no Concelho de Lousada (Noroeste de Portugal)-Proposta de um guião metdológico [Study of windmills and hydroelectric power plants in the municipality of Lousada (Northwest of Portugal) - Proposal for a methodological guide]. In ACEM, X International Molinology Conference, Segovia, Spain, 407-418.

Suárez Japón, J.M. (1982). El hábitat rural en la Sierra de Cádiz: un ensayo de geografía del poblamiento [The rural habitat in the Sierra de Cádiz: an essay on the geography of settlement]. Cádiz, Spain: Diputación de Cádiz.

Veiga de Oliveira, E. (1967). Moinhos de água em Portugal [Water mills in Portugal]. Geographica, 3(9), 49-70.

Vellinga, M. (2013). The noble vernacular. The Journal of Architecture, 18(4), 570-590, doi: 10.1080/13602365.2013.819813