History – El Musel

El Musel

Cape Torres appeared as a noteworthy place and its anchorage El Musel as a suitable place for sheltering ships during storms on the first maps of the Cantabrian coastline drawn by sailors and cosmographers in the 16th and 17th century, known as portolans or portolan charts. This was the case of several charts and atlases, such as Mateo Prunes 1539 Portolan Chart or the first printed Nautical Atlas (1584-85) by the German pilot Lucas Jansz Waghenaer. From the 17th century, of particular note are two detailed maps of the Gijón coastline by the Portuguese cosmographer Pedro Texeira de Albernas in 1634 and by Fernando Valdés in 1635. However, it was not until the second half of the 18th century that maps and descriptions of the Asturian coastline were given with greater precision thanks to the progress made with regard to the scientific instrumentation used. A significant example of this part of the coastline from the period is the map drawn by the Navy pilot Francisco Leal in 1752 that included the construction of a quay with its corresponding breakwater at the tip of Peña Lladra (Cape Torres). Another is the 1787 Map of the Concha de Gijón beach that forms part of the Hydrographic Atlas of the Spanish Coast produced by Brigadier Vicente Tofiño de San Miguel. In 1784, Jovellanos suggested the establishing of a work plan on the El Musel anchorage, “to provide shelter for provincial and foreign vessels from northerly winds during stormy weather”.

In 1852, the Ports Bylaw declared that a port of refuge must be established on the Cantabrian Coast. Three years later, the Engineer Salustio González-Regueral Blanco was commissioned with locating and proposing a place for this port. After intensive search, he proposed its location in the place known as El Musel in the district of Gijón on the Asturian coastline and, in 1862, presented the first preliminary project for the El Musel port of refuge. On 19th March 1865, a private bill approved the siting of the Asturian port of refuge on the El Musel inlet, in line with the study made by González-Regueral Blanco. The port was exclusively for refuge and was particularly intended for yachts. It was not designed as a large commercial port, which was just what the regional industry really needed. The initial work, which was called for tender in 1870, was awarded to Sociedad de Próspero Alburquerque y Compañía and was subsequently lost for not meeting the stipulated conditions. New building and operating work on the El Musel port was awarded to the contractor José Ruiz de Quevedo in 1872, although this was not started either.

In October 1879, the Port Board Engineer Fernando García Arenal presented a project to enlarge the old local port, commonly known as “apagador” (snuffer), due to its two seawalls in the shape of a candle snuffer. Futile internal controversy then began between those defending the plan to enlarge the old Local Port, “apagadoristas” and those in favour of building a large commercial port on the El Musel inlet, “muselistas”. In 1886, Salustio González-Reguerals son Vicente presented a new project to elaborate on that of his father, which was known as the “Reformed Musel”. In 1887, the Public Works Advisory Board issued a report in favour of building El Musel port, although it was not until several years later that the work was started. In 1889, the engineer Román Oriol alluded to the blindness to reason of the locals embroiled in useless debates while the coal trade from the Caudal valley, faced with the failure of the Port of Gijón to meet its demands, moved to San Juan de Nieva at the Port of Avilés along the Ferrocarril del Norte branch line inaugurated the following year. At the end of the century (1899), La Sociedad General de Ferrocarriles Vasco-Asturiana was constituted with the support of Asturian and Basque businessmen and, in 1904, the railway line taking coal from the Aller and Caudal basins to the port of San Esteban de Pravia was inaugurated, due to the lack of suitable port facilities in Gijón.

Despite the competition of coal ships from the two ports, particularly from the port of Avilés, the start of operations at El Musel in 1907 saw the coastal port of Gijón rise as the indisputable leader in regional coal and steel traffic. Hence, for Rafael Fuertes Arias in his Industrial Asturias, the industrial development of Asturias started in 1892, when construction of El Musel port was finally settled.

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