Les Tres Xemeneies, Barcelona’s Seaside Chimneys

The former power station as viewed from the nearby beach

photography by: Óscar Palop/ Flickr

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For thirty-five years, Central Tèrmica de Sant Adrià power station provided northern Barcelona with an incessant supply of electricity. Despite a long list of controversies and its arguably unsightly design, the 3-chimney plant became a popular landmark among Barcelonians. While the facility was permanently shut down in the early 2010’s, the lifeless structure still adorns the local skyline to date, waiting for its impending repurpose.

Away from the famed tourist sites of downtown Barcelona, Sant Adrià de Besòs rarely attracts as much attention as the quarters to its south. However, it turns out that this municipality has its own analog of Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia, with its dominance over the surrounding skyline left unchallenged for decades.


Nestled on the northern bank of the Besòs river estuary, Sant Adrià thermal power plant was built in 1976 as an answer to the city’s insatiable appetite for energy. Fed by oil, the station was conspicuous by its three massive, 90-meter-tall chimneys, known locally as Les Tres Xemeneies. Perching atop an equally tall turbine hall, the concrete chimneys were later garnished with a 20-meter-tall metal stack, making their total height a whopping 200 meters.


Even before its completion, the plant was steeped in multiple scandals, including the premature death of a laborer who was killed by the police as he struck alongside his co-workers. The power-generating complex was also the main culprit behind years of black rains that contaminated the area with a thick layer of soot.


You might expect that with a reputation like that, the power station will be despised by virtually everyone, but surprisingly, that was soon to be proven as resoundingly false. As the facility was set to cease operations by 2011, local residents were asked whether they wish the building to be demolished or not. With an overwhelming majority of 82% voting for its preservation, the oddly-shaped structure was spared from a probable demise.


In the following year, authorities seized control of the place with the intention of converting it into a multi-purpose complex in the future. As of today, the former power station is still waiting for its thorough transformation. Since the plant and its surrounding grounds are off-limits to visitors, the gritty monument can only be appreciated from afar.