In medieval times, all European communities, whether rural or urban, had a network
of water mills. These mills served a variety of functions including flour milling, cloth
making, cider pressing, rock crushing, etc. The town of Murcia, in southeastern Spain,
was no exception. On the Segura River and on the town's main canal there were eight
separate mills operational between the 13th and 15th
centuries. Each mill had a varying number of waterwheels.
At least two were of Moorish origin.
Los Molinos Nuevos
The mill known as Molinos Nuevos (New Mill) is located on the
right bank of the Segura River, near the Puente Mayor bridge.
Its origin goes back to the 14th century, with
the first written
record dated 1363, when it was a fulling mill. It
was latter converted to a flour mill. This early mill
had 2 vertical water wheels or "acenas." During the latter
Middle Ages, it was known as the "Molinos de Allende" or mills
on the far side of the river.
Until the 16th century, the "Molinos de Allende," like many
others, was run by wealthy families in return for payment of
an annual tax to the town council. This gave the operator the
exclusive rights to use the installation. By all indications,
the mill turned a healthy profit for the concession-holding
Water mills in Mediterranean countries have always been at
risk from being damaged by floods. The "Molinos de Allende"
was no exception. For example, in 1743, the wooden structure
was completely destroyed by a flash flood. The replacement,
a structure built perpendicular to the river, had 6 water
wheels. At this time, it became known as the
After a succession of flooding disasters (the severest in
1784), it was again rebuilt. This time it was constructed
parallel to the river and had 21 water wheels
(later expanded to 24). The new structure,
because it did not project out into the river, created less
of an obstacle to the free flow of water.
In the 19thcentury,
modernization, which was occurring all across Europe,
brought about the demise of the
mill. Water mills could not compete financially with more
"modern" milling operations which used different energy sources
and could mill higher-quality flour at a lower cost. "Molinos
Nuevos," for a short time at the end of its functional life,
was used for milling coarse cattle-feed. But this enterprise
Parts of the Mill
Water for "Molinos Nuevos" was diverted from a weir on the
Segura River into a channel. The differential head between
the channel and the river was used to turn horizontal
waterwheels, called "rodeznos" (see illustration 1 and
photograph 1). Each wheel
turned a shaft which transmitted
the energy from the turning waterwheel to the grinding of
the millstone (see illustration
Click on the image for a larger version.
The upper millstone was concave and lower one was convex.
To function properly, the millstone was not
supposed to turn faster than 60 revolutions per minute.
The flour overheated at higher speeds.
Because it was important to know when there was no grain
left between the millstones, a small bell
was tied to the hopper. When the
bell ran, the miller knew that the hopper was empty. No
grain meant that sparks could be struck between the two
millstones, and this situation was a fire hazard.
A bridge mechanism was used to increase or decrease the
distance between the two millstones (see illustration 3).
This distance, which was kept constant by a lever or wheel,
determined whether the flour would be fine or coarse.
Illustration 3. Diagram showing how the
bridge works. The lever (E) which regulates the distance
between the millstones moves the guiding rod (D), which is
joined at one end of the bridge (C). The other end of the
bridge rests on a masonry block. This allows the shaft (B)
and the moving wheel (A) to be raised.
Click on the image for a larger version.
The historic remnants of "Molinos Nuevos" were reborn
as an impressive museum and cultural center (see photograph
2). The architect's concept was to restore much of the
original look of the mill. The building/museum was reopened
in 1989 and was a top-ten project of the 80s in Spain.
The permanent exhibit titled "How a mill works" includes
various facets of the history and technology of mills in the
Murcia area. It has excellent displays, many fully functional
and interactive, which shed considerable light on
water-wheel/mill technologies (see photograph 3).
All the exhibits are in Spanish, but the museum has an
excellent brochure which has been translated into other
languages (including English).
The author was at the museum on a Saturday in late April, 2002.
Other than myself, I saw only one visitor (I got the impression
the museum is set up principally for school children). The museum staff
consisted of one man, and he was not particularly helpful, though language
was a problem.
This write up is heavily dependent on the museum's English