The site

Sant Joan les Fonts is a small city located in the region of Garrotxa, within the autonomous community of Catalonia, in northern Spain. The town gets its name, meaning Saint Joan of the Fountains, possibly from the more than two hundred sources of drinking water that soak the district. The peculiar geography of the area was created by ancient lava flows coming from now extinct volcanoes, which themselves constitute nowadays remarkable elements of this unique landscape. Sant Joan les Fonts is surrounded by a very dynamic region, where the medieval atmosphere of its history coexists with an outstanding natural backdrop created by the primeval volcanic formations.

A river known as El Fluvià was perhaps the reason for the appearance of the first settlement in this area, and it also gave the reason for a paper mill to be established there in 1723. The factory, called Molí Fondo, soon gained a protagonist stage in the life of the community, providing the town with an important source of work that sustained the local economy. It was later in the year 1841, when the paper mill underwent important interventions that introduced a mechanisation of the production process, which further developed and expanded the industrial site. The Molí Fondo hosted the paper factory until in 1966 a new processing plant was set up a few meters from the original one.

The enormous industrial complex entered in the second half of the 20th century a period of gradual decay of some of its structures. Nonetheless, the importance of this historical property is well understood by the community, since the history of Sant Joan les Fonts is without a doubt intertwined with that of its industrial heritage. Today, there is at the site an exhibition showcasing the history of the factory, and the site in spite of its decay, remains as an important example of industrial heritage in the region of Garrotxa.

The Municipality of Sant Joan les Fonts has assumed ownership of the Molí Fondo, and is supporting several initiatives to reutilise the site. One of the projects focuses on the structural rehabilitation of a part of the old paper mill, while another one involves the recovery of the hydroelectric power station from its interior, putting it back into operation. In 2020, the turbine was relaunched and is already producing electricity.

With the energy generated by this micro-hydroelectric power station, the Municipality of Sant Joan les Fonts has raised funding to invest in the maintenance of the historic complex and, in the long term, to allow visits and propose it as a cultural asset to facilitate its protection and integration into the community.


The project

The European Heritage Volunteers Project at the Moli Fondo will focus on conservation works at two buildings of the paper mill complex. The presence of the international group of participants and the conservation interventions undertaken during the project shall raise awareness amongst the local community about the importance of their industrial heritage while at the same time facilitating the building’s recovery as important social space for the people of Sant Joan les Fonts. 

The works will be centred on a building known as Can Vinyolas. The floor of the building and of the terrace will be reconstructed making use of historically correspondent materials such as ceramic rustic tiles for the exterior and hydraulic tiles for the interior – in both cases respecting the hatch, pattern, material and colour of the original tiles which are partly heavily damaged, partly completely missing. Hydraulic tiles are tiles produced entirely by hand with cement-based raw materials. This specific technique had been created in the middle of the 19th century in Spain, and was afterwards widely used in Europe and America. The tiles which will be used for the interventions at Can Vinyolas will be sourced from local artisans who still maintain the production of these elements.

The work will involve cleaning the work space, extracting the old and damaged floor tiles, preparing the substructure and placing the new tiles. In addition to this work, another building of the complex will also be prepared to facilitate future rehabilitation works that will continue to take place on the site.

The works will be guided by a local craftsman and master construction worker with decades of experience in working on this field on behalf of the Municipality of Sant Joan les Fonts.

The participants will be invited to continuously interact with the local community. One of these activities will involve the participants in taking photographs of the site and sharing their personal perspectives about this industrial heritage site to an audience of local stakeholders and interested members of the community at a public event. The final exhibition of the images collected and presented by the participants will remain for the remainder of the summer as an interpretative installation at a public location near the complex. This activity aims to present the paper mill complex to the local community viewed through the eyes of foreign visitors, as a way to promote a better understanding for the population of Sant Joan les Fonts of their own heritage. 

The project’s educational programme will be complemented by guided visits to other sites of heritage which are relevant to the history of the region. Additionally, the participants will also have the opportunity to take part in a guided excursion led by members of the community to visit the impressive volcanic formations of this remarkable landscape.


The project will take place from July, 17th, till July, 30th, 2022, and is jointly organised by ReStructure Heritage Association, European Heritage Voulnteers and the Municipality of Sant Joan les Fonts.

European Heritage Volunteers