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La Quinta de San Rafael, a story of abandonment

The Rafael Puig i Valls Park was born at the beginning of the sixties, by private initiative, to urbanize the city that was expanding towards that area, where the Roman necropolis was located. Tarragona grows with the development of the petrochemical industry, which causes an increase in the population and the consequent lack of available housing. This fact launched certain builders and promoters to build on the estates that bordered the old Valencia-Reus road, the current Ramón y Cajal street. Some of these farms were part of the grounds of the Quinta de Rafael Puig i Valls.

At that time there was no urban concept of land or municipal planning, as we understand it today, but farms (urban or rustic) and a diffuse and distant design or city plan, which was later specified and urbanized by the promoter, following some municipal instructions, with the subsequent transfer of basic services. This may explain the high built-up volume of the streets in the area.

The Rafael Puig i Valls estate was located between the old Valencia highway (now Ramón y Cajal) and the new road (now Av. Roma), which coincided with a path that ran behind the estate building.

The Quinta de Rafael Puig i Valls did not completely coincide with the layout of the current park. The current strip of green area that adjoins the municipal car park was not incorporated. Prospecting was even carried out to open a new road that, finally, did not prosper due to the appearance of Roman burials.

The Rafael Puig i Valls Park, formerly the City Park, was intended to be an environmental space, a green lung in the center of the city, incorporating the environmental ideals of its initial owner. Unfortunately, little or nothing of all this has remained in the public memory.

Tarragona-center is not characterized by having green areas, apart from the Campo de Marte, the Saavedra park and the Francolí park. The latter managed by the Onada Foundation in a positive way.

As of today, the reality is that the Rafael Puig i Valls Park is a neglected, dangerous area abandoned by the consistories: the current one and the previous one. Only the dogs and their masters happily stroll through their gardens; The rest of the citizens avoid going through it and when we do we find sand drainers, pebbles that stick, homeless people, unemployed people, young minors, etc., in addition to the aforementioned dogs.

To the left of its main entrance, there are some Roman remains that no one identifies as such, since there is no indicative sign.

In the center of the park is the building of the Quinta de San Rafael, from 1913, the work of the modernist architect Juli Maria Fossas Martínez, commissioned by Marià Puig i Valls for her brother Rafael. The capital letters on the entrance gate remind us who its owner was, born in Tarragona on May 31, 1845.

Rafael studied the career of Forestry Engineer. His technical and scientific work was great: he worked on the repopulation of the Llobregat basin and the dunes of the Gulf of Rosas. He was a great promoter of science; to attract citizens to the mountains, and thus get to know the forest masses, he was the initiator of the Alpine Club and precursor of the Excursionist Association of Catalonia. He was the first ecologist of our time, since he focused his energies in defense of the protection of agriculture, the rational use of water and the conservation of the soil. And to this end he believed it essential to awaken love for the tree in all citizens and especially in children. For this purpose, at the “International Forestry Congress” in Paris in 1910, he proposed and it was approved that the governments agree to celebrate the Tree Festival in their respective nations, declaring it a national holiday. In recognition of his work, the French government awarded him the Legion of Honour, among many other awards and decorations. He participated in the Universal Exhibition of Paris and Chicago. As a curiosity, it must be said that he was the owner of the estate where the Roman Aqueduct of the Devil’s Bridge is located. Unfortunately, Rafael’s legacy was forgotten and there is no institution or educational center that promotes any act commemorating the Feast of the Tree in his gardens. What a pity!

On the farm that surrounded his house in Tarragona, the Quinta de San Rafael, the engineer planted a large number of species of trees and fruit trees, identified, with a clearly pedagogical intention. For this reason he is considered a precursor of environmental education. Currently, many of these trees have been felled to urbanize the area or to make the park, such as the chestnut tree promenade that from Avd. Ramón y Cajal arrived at the modernist Quinta, dotted with statues; other trees were planted to replace the original ones; and, finally, some of the latter had to be felled recently because they were inappropriate for the land, such as the eucalyptus trees.

The Rafael Puig i Valls Park is far from evoking the values ​​that its owner wanted to spread; on the contrary, the different trees are not cared for or identified by their name and species; roots grow out of control; walking becomes a bit difficult: there are areas where shoes sink between sand and pebbles; the stone seats, without backrests, do not invite you to read, relax or enjoy nature; There are no fountains, only for dogs. And what about the central area, to which the main gate gives access, from Ramón y Cajal? An arid and rocky wasteland, occasionally occupied by party attractions.

And the worst of the drama of the Quinta de San Rafael: the building, which is practically abandoned and destroyed inside, after several fires. It is the habitual residence of squatters, who enter through the windows after crossing the fragile fence that surrounds the construction.

The heirs of Rafael Puig i Valls ceded the modernist building to the Tarragona City Council in the 1970s. Since then the building has not been used or given any purpose, with the corresponding abandonment of maintenance. Fifty years… that’s a lot of years of laziness!

The modernist Quinta de San Rafael is a building with subtle decoration, with two domes covered in colored ceramics, with a beautiful cresting and a very distinguished railing made with floral decoration that is repeated around the entire house. The large number of flowers on the railings, the garlands on the windows, the ceramics and the wrought iron on the railing are all in the style of the Viennese Sezession. The tower located to the north is topped by a dome of white and blue ceramic scales that form edges. And what about the octagonal tower, reminiscent of medieval towers, but with modernist decoration. Another of the jewels is the well, its carved natural stone curb and the detail of the forge that crowns it, based on iron garlands, with its pendants.

How do you explain that a building of such beauty, history and values ​​is in such a regrettable state of abandonment? Year after year, the building is deteriorating, whatever the color of the Town Hall on duty. If you are not interested in the building, then please give it over to private management, but do not allow it to sink or deteriorate even more. A municipal government that does not take care of its parks and gardens or respect its heritage shows that it does not love its citizens and does not deserve to govern.

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