Let’s head down into the sewers!

2 May, 2011 | Unknown City

The first surprise you get as you head down the stairs that lead into the sewers comes with the realisation that beneath our feet lies a veritable maze, a network, a web of pipes, passageways and galleries. We are at the junction between Passeig de Sant Joan and Carrer de València, where you will find the only part of the Barcelona sewage system that is open to the public. This stretch can be visited thanks to the fluorescent lights that have been set up and the addition of narrow pavements making it possible to walk down but, aside from that, it is absolutely identical to any other sewer in the area. And we use the phrase “in the area” because Barcelona’s sewers’ diversity in appearance and construction is matched only by that of their history. Indeed, there are even some stretches left of the sewage system of Roman Barcino and, what’s more, these are still in use!

Our cicerone, Josep Garriga, who is responsible for inspecting and cleaning the sewage system, is quick to brush off the slightest hint of romanticism from this piece of the city’s infrastructure. However, we do manage to tease out of him the revelation that attempts have been made to stage a robbery through the sewers, tunnelling underneath the city like in the movies. And we got a thorough, illustrative explanation of how rainwater and wastewater are collected and conveyed, as well as how underground obstacles like train and metro tracks are avoided.

As you can see in the video, each block of flats has its own entrance through which its water is conveyed down into the sewers. This specific gallery, meanwhile, which begins at the top of the Passeig de Sant Joan, where it intersects with Avinguda Diagonal, among other functions, collects the water from a retention basin situated at Plaça de la Reina Maria Cristina which, in turn, collects the water from the areas located above this square, all the way up to the top of the city and the slopes of Collserola. As for maintenance, a team of up to 200 people works in the city’s sewage system, although, contrary to legend, deratisation represents one of its least important tasks. Yes, another of the myths Josep Garriga is quick to shatter is the one about rats. There aren’t as many rats as people think in the Barcelona sewers, since this isn’t where they find food. And, judging by our visit, he’s right – we barely glimpsed one, and even then, it was quite some distance away…