The History of Empuriabrava

Part of Empuriabrava's main canal
Looking down the main canal

Today, Empuriabrava is a tourist resort/residential area made special by an attractive system of canals, a busy marina, beautiful beaches and its own aerodrome with flying club and skydiving centre. Many shops form the commercial areas and Empuriabrava’s residential area is full of beautiful villas, townhouses and apartments. It is strange therefore to think that only 50 odd years ago this was all farmland.

Empuriabrava now sits on land that once supported five farms and a handful of other agricultural plots. The first mention of these farms (or cortals) can be found in records going back to the 14th Century.  In the 19th century the area was used to grow wheat, maize and alfalfa for towns as far away as Olot and Perpignan and in the early 20th century the land supplied cattle produce for the markets of L’Emporda and down toward Barcelona.

As late as the 1940s and 50s Castello d’Empuries, the administrative town for Empuriabrava, was the location of an important livestock market and in the early 1960s, when the rest of Spain was experiencing the first major tourism boom, the area was still an agricultural community unsure of what tourism would do to its way of life.

The first time that Empuriabrava was mentioned in the context we know it today was in a document dated 30th December 1964. It states that a company called Eurobrava wanted to improve a parcel of land between the rivers Muga and Salins, the Figueres/Roses road and the sea. The company wanted to build a runway for light aircrafts, ultimately for an international aero club.

Photo of Trabuc park, Empuriabrava
Trabuc Park, site of Cortal Llebrer

On the 5th June 1965 a Partial Plan for the Development of Empuriabrava was put forward in accordance with guidelines already proposed for the development of the Bay of Roses. In this document, Eurobrava proposed a three part plan:

  • Part One was the development of a zone for “tall, separate structures” designed
    to break up the “horizontal monotony” of the Bay of Roses.
  • Part Two was the building of a big canal
  • Part Three was about the necessity of building roads to connect to the
    surrounding area.

Work on the development started three months after the plan was submitted even though planning permission hadn’t been granted, and for the next two years there was a love/hate relationship between the town hall in Castello d’Empuries and Eurobrava as wrangling over planning continued. Eurobrava was later to become Empuria-Brava S.A.

The green light for planning permission was finally given on 26th June 1967 although development had been continuing during the planning debate. The canal and streets had been created. All that was left to build was the buildings.

Empuriabrava was to be a resort for wealthy tourists offering tennis, water and aerial sports. The main canal was built so that boats could sail a full circuit and was intended to be for both enjoyment and communication and travel. Empuriabrava was to be “like Miami where you could access your villa
from either the canal or the street.”

Photo of Empuriabrava apartments
Tall structures?

The initial plan for Empuriabrava was that there was to be room for 20,000 residents living in 4,500 homes and 2,500 apartments. The town was to be grouped into five zones

  1. A large tourist zone with hotels, restaurants, discos etc.
  2. A zone for large apartment blocks with bars, fast food and souvenir shops
  3. Properties on the canal
  4. A public green/park zone
  5. A private green/park zone

After final planning permission was granted in 1967 there was an intensive advertising campaign to promote Empuriabrava. The focus of this campaign was Germany and to a lesser extent France and the Benelux countries.

The second phase of the development of Empuriabrava started in 1975 where the remaining land started to be built on.

There is one final date of note. On 11th June 1980 control of the running of Empuriabrava passed from the developers to the town hall of Castello d’Empuries.

The source of this article is Empuriabrava 25 anys 1967-1992 by Albert Compte, Maria Crehuet & Joan Antoni Rodeja. Any errors are mine.