As of 3rd September, 2014, my knowledge of Terrassa was tabula rasa. Yeah, doesn’t really work, I know. Almost does. Close enough to be disappointing that it doesn’t. What I mean is that, as of the 3rd September last year, I’d never heard of it. On the 14th September, I moved here. 11 days. Well, 5 days from when I was officially offered the job to being on the plane. It was all quite quick. Since then, I’ve been trying to write a post describing the town I found myself in. The first draft of this post started “6 weeks ago, I’d never heard of Terrassa”. As you can tell, it’s taken me a while.
Moving abroad and writing a blog post. One of those it’s good to do in a couple of days, the other it’s sensible to take some more time over. It’s an exercise for the reader whether I got them the right way round…
So, what is this town I’ve found myself in like? Well, a Canadian writer once described my home town, Walsall, in the English Midlands, as being “like Ceacescu’s [Communist] Romania with fast food outlets”. I’ve taken to describing Terrassa as being like Walsall with hills.
I’ve been informed independently, without prompting, by three people that Terrassa is used in architecture courses as an example of how not to design a town. The meme doesn’t seem to know what aspect of the town is so educationally bad. Possibly the zoning. Whatever, it’s bad. You could paint a perfectly good picture of a lot of the town with only shades of grey. Well, maybe you’d want a broader palette to replicate the graffiti. We have one real, long, thin park with grass and trees and water, but apparently that only exists as the small, sharp valley it’s in would be too much effort to build in.
The first thing my boss pointed out as we drove into the town that first day a year ago was the huge open storm drain. Terrassa is one of a group of settlements clustered about half an hour inland from Barcelona (which is on the eastern coast of the Iberian peninsula, in the north). There’s Rubí (Terrassa but smaller), Sabadell (twin and friendly rival), Matadepera (rich and posh and posh and rich) and a handful of others. They huddle together beneath the Catalan Pre-Coastal mountain range which provides the run-off that necessitates the storm drains. And they are needed. Fifty years ago, flooding and ensuing deaths were major problems for the area. Even with the storm drains, roads can become rivers.
There has been settlement in the same area as modern Terrassa since Prehistory. This isn’t the kind of history that makes for a healthy tourism sector, however. It’s the kind of history that makes people reticent to do much work on their houses for fear of requiring archaeologists before the builders can properly begin.
The city proper was founded by the Romans in the first century CE. The Latin name, Egara, is still in popular usage for business names, a hockey team and one of the two demonyms for the town (Egarenc, the other being Terrassenc). (I should note at some point that Terrassa is the Catalan name, Tarrasa being the Spanish version.)
It then seems to have plodded along, rather unperturbed by the passing of the centuries, popping up only when changing hands or being disturbed by events as you would expect for a town here (in the Muslim conquest, for example, or being caught up in the War of the Spanish Succession). It did, however, gain momentum again with the Industrial Revolution (see, I said it was like the English Black Country!). Textiles were the order of the day here. Both Terrassa and Sabadell are spotted with their legacy – chimneys, hundreds of feet tall, rocketing upwards, the only parts of the majority of the factories that weren’t demolished years ago. Modern Terrassa, like so many towns, is left with precious little secondary sector, most people employed either in the service sector, or using it as a commuter town for Barcelona. This is helped by its decent transport connections. It’s heavily reminiscent of that old joke about the best thing about a town being how easy it is to leave…
This lack of illustrious history or status is remarkable given how large it is for Spain: population 200,000+ (making it the 24th largest municipality in the country, according to that most reliable source: https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anexo:Municipios_de_España_por_población). There just isn’t that much here. It was a provincial town, then became an industrial one, missing out on tourism or any real power. It’s the kind of town where one of the main central meeting points is outside the hospital.
It’s not all bad though. As one of my friends said, “I’m amazed how much Terrassa has grown over my life. It’s becoming a real proper city. There’s something happening almost every weekend!”
So that’s what I’ll talk about next week. I’ll squeeze some good out of this town having found so much of the bad and the ugly. That’ll be a nice little challenge.