This urban route is dedicated to the architecture related to the use of water. Water is the core element of this route, as one of the most significant natural resources of the parish of Escaldes-Engordany, and this route is structured around buildings, bridges, fountains, hotels and other elements related to water, the landscape and history of Escaldes and Andorra, as well as curious anecdotes.
Water has always been an economic and touristic driving force in Escaldes-Engordany. Its use has structured the construction of many buildings with a refined architectural language, built in an exciting moment for Andorran society, especially between the 1950s and 1960s. They are a testimony of the opening, transformation and modernization process undergone by the country.
Elements of the itinerary
Located at the Pont de la Tosca avenue, the Roc del Metge spring is the starting point of an itinerary that focuses on the peculiarities of Escaldes. The seventh parish of Andorra, which consists of this town and Engordany, is located at the intersection of the Valira d’Orient, Valira del Nord and Gran Valira rivers.
The name Escaldes includes the word caldes, which is a reference to the existence of thermal waters, already discovered in roman times. These waters have played an important role in the recent history of the parish, as they have determined the location of the town: Escaldes is the only town in Andorra located on the shadowy side. Hot water has always had a domestic use. Public washing places were the only ones in Andorra to have hot water. Hot water was also used to wash and dye wool, which sparked the appearance of a rudimentary industry of handmade wool rags in Escaldes, especially around the area of el Barri. This area experienced an economic growth throughout the 17th and 18th centuries thanks to textile manufacture, which declined around the 19th century due to competition with the Catalan textile industry.
Hot water is also linked to the early tourism wave of elite nature and thermal water lovers that took place in the early 20th century. The first hotels with thermal water were built in Escaldes to tend to the needs of these luxury-loving travellers and followers of romanticism.
Hot water has also determined the location of the Thermal Centre Caldea, a reference in Andorran tourism.
The Roc del Metge is a thermal water spring flowing at between 68 and 71 degrees. The water of this spring, like others in Escaldes, is sulphurous, rich in sodium, and is one of the warmest in Europe. These warm waters come from deep layers of the earth’s crust and flow from the fault located on this side of the Pyrenees.
The name of this thermal water spring comes from a French doctor who bought this property from the Quart (traditional local administration) of Escaldes to build a chalet. The project, though, was abandoned due to the difficulty of tearing down the rock. In 1953, the Quart decided to buy back the “Doctor’s rock”, and it has been known by that name ever since.
The Tosca Bridge allows one to cross the Madriu river just before its waters mingle with those of the Valira d’Orient. The bridge is part of the old camí ral; it was built in 1820 and is known by that name due to its arch being made of pumice (known as “pedra tosca” in Catalan). The bridge is part of the coat of arms of the parish.
The Engordany bridge is a civil construction built in 1785 atop the Valira d’Orient. This Romanesque-style bridge is made of granite and pumice. The remains of an older bridge, which was destroyed by a flood, can be seen next to this one
On the other side of the river we see Cal Molines, an old mill that used the strength of water to grind wheat. Water was also used to power the machinery of a sawmill.
On the right side of the bridge, we see the old Casa Jaume de Roca, which has been the seat of the Historical Archive of the parish since 2001.
Santa Anna Square used to be at the centre of social life in Escaldes. It was the scene of everyday life, celebrations, town festivities, the first hotels, bars and shops, and even of the first cinematographic screenings. Santa Anna Square contains one of the many fountains scattered throughout the parish that share a similar style: the Santa Anna square fountain, made with granite and built in 1951; it has two metallic faucets for hot and cold water. It was originally attached to the façade of the Hotel Pla.
The square also contains a reproduction of the Santa Anna cross, which was placed there in 1995. The original 17th-century cross is currently kept at the Escaldes-Engordany Art Centre (CAEE) for conservation purposes.
This cross-shaped stone monument was used to mark the limits of the town, even though this type of monument was also used to mark roads and properties.
In this case, the Santa Anna cross indicates the road connecting Escaldes and Engordany. The most interesting part of this piece is its capital, which contains a relief of Christ on the cross and of the Virgin Mary. The decoration is completed by the vegetal motifs in the arms of the cross.
Located at the Pont de la Tosca avenue, the side façade of Casa Fusilé is decorated with sgraffiti. Sgraffito is a technique used to decorate façades by superposing various coloured layers of stucco; it was widely used in Noucentisme and can be easily found in the buildings of Catalan cities. In Andorra, however, sgraffiti are rare and Casa Fusilé is one of the few examples, although its sgraffiti have been restored. The decoration features a garland and a medallion containing the year when the house was built, 1935.
The Hotel Pla, which was demolished in 2010 because of its poor conservation state, was also located in Santa Anna square. This was the first hotel in Escaldes to offer its thermal water services in zinc bathtubs and became prestigious among Catalan and English bathers. Mr. Xavier Pla, son of the family and the first certified architect in Andorra, carried out important enlargements in 1930 and 1935. One of its curious “bathers” was the self-proclaimed king of Andorra Boris I.
The church of Sant Pere Màrtir was built in 1956 to replace the old parochial church. It was designed by Catalan architect Joan Danés and inaugurated in 1981. This neo-Romanesque church has a floor plan akin to that of a basilica, as well as a crypt and a bell tower.
Its façade features sgraffiti by Andorran artisan Sergi Mas, as well as a sculpture by Josep Viladomat, La Immaculada. Another sculpture by this author, La Puntaire (“The Lacemaker”), presides over the square.
Hostal Valira is an interesting building because of its history and architecture. This hotel was inaugurated on October 24th 1933 and its construction was directed by Antoni Gaudí’s disciple: Celestí Gusí. The building is the result of the collaboration between the Quart (traditional local administration) of Escaldes-Engordany and the monks of Montserrat.
This construction features five floors, with three dormers on the final floor. Made with granite ashlar shaped like uneven bee combs and decorated with wrought iron and red-coloured wood, Hostal Valira also had a pergola that was demolished in 1980.
The Carlemany avenue features some distinguished buildings: Casa Agustí Vidal, built in 1921 and decorated with sgraffiti in its upper half, and Casa Felícia, built in 1932 and decorated with Art Deco-inspired ceramic glaze ornaments.
The building that houses the Escaldes-Engordany Art Centre (CAEE) also has a relationship with water. The monks of Montserrat offered an education to the children of the parish in exchange for the license to exploit thermal water at Hostal Valira.
The seat of the CAEE is one of the first examples of granite architecture, as well as a building full of history. Built in the 1930s as a garage and a school, it later housed one of the first cinemas in the country, as well as a bank and currently, the CAEE and Communal Library.
Built between 1936 and 1943, Casa Lacruz is located at the Coprínceps square. Designed by Catalan architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch and originally commissioned by Mr. Mariano Lacruz as a hotel, it eventually became one of the first multifamily houses in Andorra. A relief depicting Saint George fighting the dragon, a motif associated with Puig i Cadafalch, is hidden in a corner of the side façade. This versatile Catalan architect also carried out a series of interventions in Andorran buildings, such as the restoration of the side entrance and bell tower of the church of Sant Esteve d’Andorra la Vella.
The Mola park is one of the lungs of the parish of Escaldes-Engordany, as well as one of the oldest parks in the country. This green area is perfect for a stroll amidst the spectacular trees and flowing water that create a space to rest and relax. The park has been enriched with various sculptures: Una pedra de molí (a millstone used to grind wheat to produce flour and, eventually, bread); La Sirena (“A Mermaid”), made by sculptor Judith Gaset Flinch, and an homage to mossèn Jacint Verdaguer by Sergi Mas.
Looking at the urban silhouette of the city, we see one of the most iconic buildings in Andorra: the Caldea Thermal Centre, which opened its gates in March of 1994. It was designed by French architect Jean-Michel Ruols, who spearheaded a team of technicians with experience in water-related architecture.
This technically complex project was developed by using a combination of various types of triangles. The result is a 31.000 m2 thermal centre divided into three sections covered by a total of 10.000 m2 of glass windows and an 80 m tower.
Caldea was born from the will of the Comú (city hall) of Escaldes-Engordany to use a natural resource such as thermal water with a new and different philosophy: to eschew the therapeutic use of thermal water and harness its benefits for relaxation, leisure and fitness instead.