The Arenal and Canal de la Fontana

Text of an article which appeared in The Grapevine - August 2011

The Mystery of the Arenal and the Jekyll and Hyde Canal

by Christine Betterton-Jones

Anyone who has looked out over the sea from the viewing point on the Cabo de San Antonio, will have been impressed by the sweeping curve of Jávea bay, and wondered at the tiny crescent-moon of the Arenal beach, which looks as if a mouse had taken a nibble out of a slice of melon.

Why is Jávea bay so flat, yet so rocky? How did the Arenal beach, the only sandy beach in the whole of Jávea, come into being? And what about that canal next to the Parador, the "Canal de la Fontana" which fizzles out near the end of the Avenida Augusta? Who made that and why? …or is it a natural feature?

To find some of the answers we have to go back a few million years. Movements of tectonic plates underlying the earth's crust, created a rift valley, the Jávea valley, which was flooded by the sea. Ocean currents and the dominant north-west winds of those times gradually piled up a mixture of sand, fragments of red algae and the bodies of tiny sea creatures into a long, curved sand bar which blocked the mouth of the valley so that it was eventually cut off from the sea. Rainfall and river water turned the flooded area into a freshwater lagoon, or "albufera". If you have visited the Albufera, just south of Valencia, you will have an idea of what Jávea's valley looked like two million years ago. The lagoon gradually filled up with sediment and the sand bar compacted into a ridge of porous sandstone or "tosca" which now forms the rocky coast of Jávea's bay. This is what the tourism brochures mean when they describe the Montañar beaches as being made of "fossilised sand dunes". The tosca was excavated as a building material until the 1960s and cuts made by stonemasons can still be seen, especially along Montañar I, between the Parador and the Port.

What of the moon-shaped Arenal beach? We know it is located on the edge of a 250 acre sandy area known as "El Arenal" (literally - area filled with sand) which is a remnant of a lagoon's sediments. The beach was formed in an inlet which was itself created by movements of the earth's crust and it marks the boundary between the lower, narrower tosca beach of Montañar I (Baix) to the north and the higher, wider ridge of Montañar II (Montañar Alt) to the south. Wind and wave activity sculpted the sandy cove we see today, so contrary to a number of stories in circulation, the "Playa del Arenal" is not an artificial beach, but a natural one.

The "Canal de la Fontana" beside the Parador has its own mysteries, but its name gives us a clue. "Fontana" is Valenciano for fountain or spring, and in times gone by it was not a deep channel but a place close to the sea where fresh water bubbled up from below. Boats replenished their water supplies there, and the Romans used the sweet water in their fish processing factory (which is now beneath the Parador). The canal has been connected to the sea at various times in its history, but was often completely blocked with sand. In 1957, Jávea suffered devastating floods, especially in the port, so in 1960 they dug a flood relief channel for the river Gorgos away from the port and opened the Canal de la Fontana to the sea once and for all, excavating 200 metres inland. In 1963 the tourism industry arrived big time with the construction of the Parador and the canal was modified to become a marina, which is what it is today.

So the Canal de la Fontana is something of a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. On the one hand it is a spillway for flood waters, and on the other a "safe" mooring for leisure boats. In 2007 its function as a spillway was beautifully illustrated when the Gorgos broke its banks and a torrent of water surged through the canal, tearing boats off their moorings and carrying them out to sea. (See You Tube video: Ironically the 2002 Valencia flood prevention plan (PATRICOVA) recommended extending the channel back along an ancient water course to make drainage more efficient and recently the town hall took a step towards these measures by canalising under the Pla dual carriageway.

Is it a spill-way or marina? The two functions seem to be contradictory. Ideally there should be a proper plan for use of the canal, and clear risk assessment, but a huge tangle of different groups is involved in its management: The stretch from the bridge to the sea is controlled by Costas (Madrid) with mooring concessions given to the Parador as well as boat hire and pedalo companies; the section inland from the bridge is under the control of the Valencia Government. A management agreement between the small boat owners association (AEXAMAR) and the Marina Nou company (which runs the private marina) is in limbo, awaiting permission from Valencia. The National Rivers Authority (Confederación Hidrográfica del Júcar) and the Town Hall also have an interest.

This summer there have been arguments about congestion in the water way because too many boats are moored there. No doubt there will be a lot of finger-pointing and nothing will get sorted; but come October's rains - who knows? - perhaps nature will organise another spectacular clean out.

Next month : a look at Jávea's floods and the Saladar.

Thanks to Ximo Bolufer at the Soler Blasco Museum for his time and expertise.

  • Senderos de la Sal - El Saladar de Jávea

  • PATRICOVA 2002 - Generalitat Valenciana
  • Museo Soler Blasco de Xàbia
  • Conversation with Ximo Bolufer - Director of Soler Blasco Museum
  • Geomorfología continental y submarina del espacio costero entre Denia y Benidorm (Alicante): Nota Bibliográficas - Ana Maria Blázquez Morilla, Univ. Valencia 1999
  • IGME - Mapa Geológico de España - Jávea - Información complementaria 1975
  • La riqueza geológica de piedra natural en la provincia de Alicante - Roc Maquina Sept 2005 (Google Books)
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