Human response to severe drought in Early Modern Catalonia: Human response to severe drought in Early Modern Catalonia. The case of Barcelona, Western Mediterranean (1620–1650)

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Abstract

Combining historical climatology and environmental history, this article examines the diverse range of strategies deployed by the city government of Barcelona to confront the recurrent drought episodes experienced between 1626 and 1650. First, our reconstruction of drought episodes for the period 1525–1821, based on pro pluvia rogations as documentary proxy data, identifies the years 1625–1635 and 1640–1650 as the most significative drought events of the period 1521–1825 (highest Drought Frequency Weighted Index of the series). Throughout the article, we focus on human responses to drought and discuss how water scarcity was perceived and confronted by Barcelona city authorities. We present the ambitious water supply projects launched by the city government, together with the construction of windmills as an alternative to watermills in order to mill grain, as attempts to cope with diminishing water flows. The context was aggravated by political instability, related first to the tensions between the centralising efforts of the Spanish King Philip IV and later to the impact of the Thirty Years’ War in the border region between the French and Spanish Crowns (1635–1659). Finally, we interpret the efforts of the city government to codify and appropriate knowledge about urban water supply as an attempt to systematise historical information on infrastructure to improve institutional capacities to cope with water scarcity in the future. These efforts materialised in the elaboration of the Llibre de les Fonts de la Ciutat de Barcelona (“Book of Fountains of the City of Barcelona”), a manual compiling the knowledge of Barcelona’s water supply from source to tap, written by the Barcelona water city officer in 1650, after three decades of experience in his post.
Original languageEnglish
JournalClimate of the Past
Publication statusSubmitted - 2020

Keywords

  • Environmental history
  • Ecological History
  • Climate History

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