Healing wounds, constructing future: Riopar Factories
The history and technical characteristics of the Metal Factories of San Juan de Alcaraz, in Riopar (Albacete)
is a unique chapter in the history of Spanish technology, recognized in studies of industrial archaeology and its claim as a unique link in its technique history.
It is a historic milestone: the first brass factory founded on Spanish soil, pioneer in metallurgical experiments and hydraulic engineering applied to mass production, within the European context of the first industrial revolution. The Royal Brass Factory was founded in 1773, under the protection of the economic policies of Carlos III. It is an exceptional case for having resisted all kinds of lucks until its closure in 1996: no less than 233 years of industrial and business history.
In its creation and development are involved leading engineers and architects at the time: its creator, the Viennese Johann Georg Graubner, Juan de Villanueva, Carlos Lemaur, Augustin de Larramendi ... The factory complex was developing an entire production process: from raw material extraction from the bowels of the mountain to the finish, more or less artistic, items for the market.
Objects made here during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are present in homes, churches and palaces: lamps, reliquaries, braziers, beds, door knockers, bronze sculptures ... endless
articles prized in the XIX century Universal Exhibitions.
The factory gave birth to the town, located in a Natural Park (Calares del Mundo y de la Sima). There was the only zinc mine known at that time in Spain: Riopar was born from a wound in the mountain.
Until the 70 decade, it was an industrial colony with the typical strong paternalism of the era. All municipal services were borne by the factory: the local town hall, chapel and priest's house, clinic and doctor's house, the barracks of the Guardia Civil, the inn, the theatre, the local music band are owned by the company. In 1954 was declared "empresa modelo" by the Franco regime, for its "exemplary performance" and energy self-sufficiency, with its hydroelectric plants in operation, giving light to the whole town.
Serious problems started at the end of the dictatorship: global markets opening and internal dysfunctions led to the closure of the company in 1996, after a couple of attempts to work it out as a cooperative.
Closure was traumatic; it is hard for the people to talk about those years, of which they have a bitter memory. The failure of his fight to avoid the close of this century-old company, which families have lived from the beginning, yet weighs: the factory was school, and life.
Our own families had worked here. When we realized the richness of this mistreated heritage, and its great possibilities, we searched for others and we started to bring the project into reality by engaging relevant local stakeholders, giving birth of "Friends of the Royal Factories of Riopar Asociation" (AARFR) a not-for-profit organization that promotes industrial heritage preservation and sustainable use, directing its conservation towards the generation of employment and wealth in the region.