Above the clouds

Vall Fosca

The only easy way to reach the Vall Fosca is through a tunnel, which only came to existence one hundred years ago with the arrival of hydro electric exploitation. Before that time the 1.400 inhabitants of the Vall Fosca were self-sufficient, migrating their cattle and sheep before the bitter winter across the 12 km of mountains, down to the plane of Lleida where they would stay until the Spring. Mules and horses were used for transport; there was no infrastructure, there were no roads. This all changed at the beginning of the 19th century; Barcelona had become a heavy industrial city and electricity to feed its factories was in high demand. Until then it had been generated with millions of tonnes of expensive coal imported from Wales eating heavily into the profits. Emili Riu i Periquet, a visionary Catalan politician, pushed for the adoption of hydropower and the abundant presence of glacial lakes and waterfalls at the Vall Fosca made it the ideal setting for the first electric power plant in Catalunya. The dynamics of this once secluded valley changed almost overnight: a tunnel was excavated through the rock connecting the Vall Fosca to the outside world,  permanent structures were erected to house the increasing working force and with them arrived the first curious visitors who got the last glimpse of a vanishing world.

Visiting the Vall Fosca is an unusual experience: the immense beauty of its natural landscape coexists with an industrial infrastructure that has left its mark even high up the mountains. In 2001 a sky resort started taking shape in one of its most remote areas but the 2008 financial crisis disrupted any future work and the developer went bankrupt. Someone painted the words ‘l'estupidesa humana no té límits’ human stupidity has no limits on one of its concrete pylons, an apt epitaph to the destructiveness of mankind.