San Lorenzo and San Rafael Mills, the Most Hidden Watermills in Córdoba

Obscured by the many trees and tall shrubbery, the San Lorenzo Mill

photography by: Omri Westmark

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Prior to the advent of modern-day electricity, water stream was the only way one could generate power. To harness this indispensable energy source, mills were constructed across many rivers and tributaries. Spread out along the Guadalquivir River, Córdoba's eleven watermills serve as a vestige of the city's bygone era. While some mills have been turned into museums, others have fallen into oblivion, including Molino de San Lorenzo and Molino de San Rafael, an interconnected pair of well-hidden monuments that has been slowly, but steadily, reclaimed by nature.

During the Islamic rule of the Iberian Peninsula (711-1492), Córdoba was one of the region’s most important cities, boasting a significant flour industry. As modern power plants were not even conceived at that time, locals resorted to a low tech, yet revolutionary idea. By utilizing the Guadalquivir River’s stream of water, the city has managed to manufacture a massive amount of flour that made it a major economic center during the medieval times.


For that purpose, a series of eleven water mills were constructed along the Guadalquivir River over a period of several centuries, with the oldest one built around the 12th century. The hydropower facilities were all using a set of wheels to convert the energy stored in the river current to grind wheat kernels into flour. Even after the Europeans successfully retook control of Iberia following the Reconquista, the flour mills continued their crucial role as food factories.


As the use of fossil fuel became more and more prevalent during the 20th century, the mills were subsequently deemed obsolete. While some were converted into museums or hydroelectric plants, most were abandoned, falling into a state of disrepair. Ensconced on the Guadalquivir’s east bank, slightly downstream of San Rafael Bridge, San Lorenzo and San Rafael mills are hardly noticeable as both are obscured by the surrounding tall vegetation. The two mills, along with their other 9 counterparts were listed as Andalusian Historical Heritage sites in 2009. Despite many plans for architectural restoration, the mills remain exceedingly derelict, consumed by the surrounding nature with every day that passes.


Formerly a flour mill, Molino de San Lorenzo is the closer to the river’s shore among the two. The mill features a barrel vault for the free passage of water, a vaulted ceiling and a flat roof, the latter is accessible by a crumbling staircase that lacks any railings, entailing a great deal of risk when crossing it. Unlike its conjoined twin, Molino de San Rafael was constructed in the mid-19th century as a paper mill, where wood pulp was processed into the coveted commodity. The building, which was later converted into a flour mill, has three naves, a central section with a square floor plan, and two additional trapezoidal ones.


The two mills are both partially visible from the nearby San Rafael Bridge, with a modest plaque indicating their existence. If you wish to have a closer glimpse, you’ll first have to find the secluded pathway that runs along the riverbank. Once you do, you’ll get a direct access to the San Rafael Mill. As you’ve probably realized by now, the mill is incredibly decrepit, making it a popular informal shelter for homeless people. Caution is warmly advised, whether throughout its interior part, the roof and even more so, on the aforementioned staircase. Unless you are a professional traceur, hopping to the mid-river mill is suicidal, and definitely not recommended.