The 'Book of Fountains' (1650): Water Knowledge Codification as Adaptation to Drought in Early Modern Barcelona


Around midday January 5, 1634, the fountains of Barcelona’s Cathedral stopped flowing. Francesc Socies, the city’s master of fountains (“mestre de les fonts”) had cut the water supply to the church, which was accused of using it to bake bread and sell it illegally. Deeply offended, the Cathedral’s chapter excommunicated Socies and the city’s leaders, initiating a loud legal dispute about water rights.

Like many other Mediterranean cities, during the 17th century Barcelona went through an agitated period of crisis, famine and war. Extreme weather events, particularly drought episodes, became more common and severe, as confirmed by reconstructions of rain rogations. Barcelona’s city council attempted to enforce its control over urban water supply, leading to several conflicts which have bequeathed us precious archival records.

By 1650, the city’s efforts materialized in the production of the “Book of fountains” (“Llibre de les fonts”), a detailed description of its supply system, authored by the master of fountains, in office since 1621. This manuscript, addressed to the “future masters to come” – in Socies’ words –   condensed decades of experience and codified urban water knowledge in a volume that had to remain exclusively on the grounds of the city council.

Using the example of Barcelona, this research project aims at understanding how Mediterranean cities coped with drought episodes during the Little Ice Age and how the conflicts derived from these episodes contributed to new adaptation strategies.

Project dates

 January 2018 - December 2021

Research area


  • Environmental history
  • historical climatology
  • Barcelona
  • Little Ice Age
  • history of science

Team members

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