Port history


Are we really familiar with the Port of Castellon and what it means for our society? How does having an infrastructure of this scale nearby influence us? I’m going to look back over the history of our port in order to better understand how it has been forged and become an extremely important hub in the development of our province. It is a journey crammed with demands, investment, successes, and of course the odd setback along the way which the stakeholders involved have always managed to cope with. I will address what is perhaps the most unknown aspect, since for many of us PortCastelló is simply the place to go for a good meal when the sun is shining. Yet PortCastelló is much more than just that. It is a key instrument working for local economic players who would not be what they are today without it. Likewise, the port would not be what it is without the drive, resilience and constant capacity for improvement of our province’s manufacturing community.


It all started out with an appeal. The history of the Port of Castellon began to take shape in 1865 when a group of 39 local politicians and businessmen wrote to Queen Isabel II asking for a port in the city of Castellon “to export artistic ceramics and agricultural produce and promote the development of industry and trade”. So, you can see that a century and a half later, the main products of this symbiosis between port and business community are still pretty much the same. The letter, headed by engineer Leandro Alloza, argued that the petition was warranted by the improvement in the road network around the city, the railway running through Castellon and the Barcelona-Valencia highway. It also mentioned the constraints of the natural harbours due to the proliferation of steamships with an ever-increasing tonnage which needed a deeper draught and more efficient means of handling goods. Leandro Alloza himself drafted the first plan for the port whose design was approved in 1869. Over 150 years after this missive, it is impossible to picture the present and future of the city of Castellon and its province as a whole without its port.


Although it is true that this letter to Isabel II prompted the founding of the Port of Castellon, we need to go back much further, to 1716, when the then towns of Castellon, Vila-real, Burriana and Almassora sent two notes to King Felipe V requesting a wharf to foster trade in the produce and products used in these towns such as wine, oil, silk, wheat, hemp, broad beans, string beans, corn and figs. From that moment on, the ambition of the people of Castellon to have an artificial harbour in El Grau persisted and in 1841 the municipal corporation wrote to the regent Maria Cristina asking for a port to be fitted out for importing colonial and foreign products. At that time, items including cod, ironware, woollen cloth, sugar, cocoa, coffee and cinnamon were imported while carob beans, corn, lard, blankets, paper, leather, furs, raw silk and others were exported. In lockstep with these demands, in 1847 building some lighthouses was authorised as part of the general lighting plan for Spanish coasts to coordinate the main sea trading routes. These included the ones at Oropesa, Castellon and on the Columbretes Islands.



Things were by no means easy at first. The Ports Law of 1880 said that funding for the future Port of Castellon was to be provided by local treasuries as it was not on the first list of ports designated as “of general interest” and hence paid for by the national government. Castellon society’s spirit of protest once again rose to the fore and played a key role in finding a solution to this setback. A delegation from Castellon led by the then chair of the Provincial Council, Vicente Ruiz Vila, went to Madrid to ask for the decision to be reconsidered, which they achieved in a Royal Order of 1882 approving the design of the Port of el Grau de Castelló de Alloza for 2,593,737 pesetas along with its classification as a port “of general interest”. This prompted the City Council to award the Freedom of the City of Castellon to Vicente Ruiz Vila and Leandro Alloza.


In 1882, work began on extracting stone from the Serretes quarry (next to La Magdalena Chapel) to build the Levante Breakwater which was brought into service in 1891. However, it was not until the establishment of the Port Board of Works (the predecessor of today’s Port Authority) in 1902 that the construction of PortCastelló really got underway. One of the Board’s first decisions came in 1903 when it levied a 20% transport tax on all goods loaded or unloaded at the port.


It soon became obvious that the Levante Quay had to be extended to 150 metres to provide additional berthing line. New warehouses and the locomotive shed were also built in the late 1920s on the site where the Port Authority of Castellon’s offices now stand. Moreover, at this time the middle classes were already calling for rail links, claiming that the Port of Castellon was “the only one in the whole of Spain not served by railways” (some demands never change) and because of the need to import fertilisers and coal and export citrus fruit and ceramic tiles. A fun fact is that in 1916, 150 tonnes of oranges were exported through the Port of Castellon to the United States and at that time a workshop apprentice was paid 1½ pesetas a day and a foreman 10 pesetas a day.


The 1920s also saw the start of the Costa Quay scheme to cater for the growth in the shipping of oranges, the extension of the demountable dock building to protect the oranges from inclement weather and the drafting of the design to revamp the Transversal Quay. The Fishing Guild was founded in 1924 to lobby for its economic interests and in 1934 construction of the Yacht Club was given the go-ahead.


The 1930s were shaped by a shortage of work owing to the conclusion of the main construction projects planned for the Port of Castellon and also by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in which the Port of Castellon was bombed, destroying part of the Costa Quay, the railways, the dock building, business premises and power lines. The port was left practically unusable and products such as tiles and ceramics had to be shipped from elsewhere. By contrast, the fishing industry’s economic significance grew, and it boasted 82 fishing vessels. The Port’s Board strove to restore trade from the Port of Castellon, but this was thwarted by the outbreak of the Second World War which hindered maritime traffic.


After this world conflict, a number of major initiatives were carried out at PortCastelló such as extending the Fishing Quay and the fish market, building the net dryer, completing work on the Transversal Quay and carrying out more dredging of the commercial dock so that it was big enough for vessels of 10,000 tonnes and 150 metres in length to manoeuvre in it. The goods shed on the Costa Quay was also begun and finished in 1954. It was around this time that the lighting system on the Columbretes Islands was replaced, and the port’s marker lights were fitted. Technical and mechanical resources were meagre in those days and consisted of little more than a three-tonne electric gantry crane. Oranges were loaded by taking them out to the ships by barge.


1955 was a pivotal year because the Port’s general alteration plan was approved in order to organise the successive extensions, finish building the breakwaters to ensure sheltered waters and improve access to its docks. This plan was concluded in 1967. The 1960s heralded the revival of the Spanish economy and also of the Port of Castellon, as major companies set up in its vicinity after the City Council gave the green light for the Serrallo industrial estate in 1964. The oil refinery, then run by Esso, was the first to be set up. Its impact is evident in the figures: in 1966, 431,000 tonnes of goods were handled in the Port of Castellon, while a year later it was 4,300,000 tonnes due to crude oil entering and leaving the port. This meant that the Port of Castellon had the highest freight traffic in the region at that time ahead of Alicante and Valencia. Campsa and the thermal power station followed in Esso’s footsteps and opted to set up business in the Port of Castellon, prompting discussions about the need to upgrade its facilities. In the late 1960s, they resulted in plans for fitting out the Fishing Dock, completing the Costa Quay and extending the Levante Breakwater.


Another key year for PortCastelló’s development was 1966 because the economic and financial operation of ports was changed, and it was decided that port infrastructure extensions and improvements should be undertaken with their own surpluses and not with state aid. In spite of this shift towards self-financing, upgrading the port’s facilities continued and in the 1970s the dry dock and the floating repair dock for fishing boats were built and the north esplanade was opened in response to several companies’ interest in concessions for the land in this area. By the end of the decade, four products were leading the rise in goods traffic in PortCastelló: ceramic tiles, cement, iron and steel.


The early 1980s were also productive for the Port of Castellon. Work to build the Outer Transversal Quay began in 1983 at a cost of 350 million pesetas with the aim of attracting solid bulk traffic. The works were completed in 1988 and it became the largest in the port featuring a 235-metre berthing line with a 10-metre draught. There was also investment in goods handling equipment in this decade including the purchase of eight cranes, one of 35 tonnes. The port additionally played a key role in the growth of foreign traffic following the opening up of trade that began with EC accession in 1986 which, in turn, provided significant financial aid for projects such as extending the Levante Breakwater and demolishing the Poniente Breakwater. This project was allocated 1.68 billion pesetas of ERDF funds out of a total of 2.8 billion pesetas and was crucial in attracting new goods and lessening PortCastelló’s dependence on oil products.


The 1990s brought a legislative change whereby the ports’ Boards were renamed Port Authorities under a new law that gave them control over the land area of their ports and also their waters using a landlord model with independent management and their own legal personality and budgets. At that time, the Port of Castellon was in fourteenth place in terms of total goods traffic. Today it is ranked ninth out of the 46 Spanish ports. This decade saw major projects such as the first stage of building the Outer Levante Quay, better known as the Ceramic Quay, and the extension of the Outer Transversal Quay.  In 1995, following a more social approach and efforts to make the port area more accessible to the city and El Grau, work was completed on the first stage of the Plaza del Mar featuring a restaurant, twelve bars and a viewing tower at a cost of 185 million pesetas. This initiative would be followed by others aimed at opening the port up to society including bringing the first stage of the Costa Quay into service in 2000, with an open-air music auditorium, a maze, a kids’ play area, a bandstand and a promenade with the Font del Peix fountain.


Permission was also given in 2000 for the €52-million extension of the northern part of the port which meant creating a 50-hectare esplanade reclaimed from the sea and building a multipurpose terminal. In 2002, the first stone was laid for building the 11-kilometre dual carriageway connecting the Castellon bypass with the port to handle the growth in freight traffic. A new Infrastructure Master Plan for the port was also approved in that year whose most outstanding feature was building the South Dock involving over two million square metres reclaimed from the sea and an initial investment of around €30-40 million. This dock is now the site of facilities including the largest biodiesel plant in Europe, a bulk terminal with 500 linear metres of quayside and a clinker plant, while businesses from the Serrallo industrial estate have set up shop in its surroundings to leverage its strategic location next to the dock. Significant investment is currently underway to develop the dock and thus cater for the province’s production sectors.


Work to extend the port went on, and one of the highlights was the Centenary Quay opened in 2004 with over 300,000 square metres of new surface area and draughts of up to 14 metres. It is used for general cargo and containers, thus adding to business opportunities at PortCastelló. In 2011, the 450-metre-long East Breakwater was built using an innovative and groundbreaking technique in Spain after successful results tested in CEDEX (Centre for Public Works Studies and Experimentation) laboratories. This system has been used in ports in Japan, Italy and France and lessens the swell in the entrance channel and consequently makes it easier for vessels to enter and leave the port.



The Port of Castellon is now planning production infrastructures which will make it more competitive. This includes investing in enhancing land connectivity, mainly by rail, building an intermodal station and the rail link between the two docks where it is pioneering the construction of a double retractable bridge. It is also continuing with the development of its South Dock to upgrade it and building a new Liquids Berth which is needed to cope with growth in this type of cargo.


All these gradual expansions make up PortCastelló’s major infrastructures in recent years and have shaped a new port since it was established in 1902 when its loading facilities were just 64 linear metres of quayside with five fixed cranes and one mobile one. Today, PortCastelló hosts 8,750 metres of quayside and 22 cranes and other mechanical equipment. And we are going further because in the highly competitive and global port industry, standing still means being left behind. We continue to move forward hand in hand with our customers because the port is not an end in itself but rather a tool supporting logistics.


As a port where solid and liquid bulk plays a key role, our responsibility for sustainability and the environment, factors which will shape our future, is by no means inconsequential. We also have the major challenge of improving our general cargo and container services which calls for better maritime connections. At present, the Port of Castellon has connections with ports in 101 countries and scheduled lines with countries in the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, the Red Sea, Africa and the Persian Gulf.


All this history is a reminder that the Port of Castellon has always grown alongside the society it is part of, meeting its needs and anticipating future situations. Hence enhancing this port-city and port-province integration is also crucial to ensure that we are less and less unknown and more and more widely used; to become the port for everyone.


*Most of the information in this report has been taken from the book “Rumbo al progreso. El puerto de Castelló a través de la historia” published by the Port Authority of Castellon.