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Historically, the origin of the Port of Vilagarcía takes place in Carril, where, in the first half of the nineteenth century, the first local shipping agents started to develop commercial activities. The Madoz dictionary (1845) shows accurate information of the Port of Carril in all those years.

The construction of the berth quays and the jetty of Carril, that still keep their original beauty today, dates from the half of the nineteenth century. The project was written in 1857 and finished in 1866. All the activity in Carril is concentrated on the Port in this period, in social as well as economic matters, keeping this town a narrow and profitable relationship with Santiago de Compostela.

As a result, the Port of Carril is a periodic arrival point for national lines with general merchandise and international ships with wood and cattle. Likewise, it is an arrival point for maritime traffic among ports from Galicia with general merchandise. It is also an entrance point for coal destined for the railway and the smelting factory. It is in Alemparte workshops where the first steamship with an iron hull is constructed in Galicia.

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Carril´s Expansion

The outstanding expansion of the emigrants wave, the railway construction between Carril and Santiago and the settlement of several ship agents are the three factors that, along the last period of the 19th century, force the expansion of the Port of Carril and, later, provoke the leadership of the Port of Vilagarcía.

Regarding the emigrants movement, we have to point out that Galicia exports labour often in humiliating conditions. South American countries carry out a surprising publicity with tempting offers for a starving population that does not doubt to embark on the search for a better life.

The railway project between Santiago and Carril was written by an English engineer named Thomas Rumball settled in Lisbon, and its definitive approval was in 1860. The official inauguration of the railway line took place in Santiago, the fifteenth day of September 1873, “…with bells ringing and twenty-five bombs, illuminated official buildings and a huge hot-air-balloon rose into the Compostelan sky”.

The maritime companies settled in Carril create a bourgeoisie identified with the local development. During the second half of the 19th century, important names like Salvador Buhigas y Prat and Santiago Sierra appear, both representatives of the Pacific Steam Navigation and Vasco-Andaluza Company respectively, as well as Ricardo Urioste, representative of Mala Real Inglesa and Ricardo Caamaño, representative of Navegación a Vapor.

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Vilagarcía's Takeoff

Vilagarcía becomes an incipient port town with the construction of a wharf “… 400 meters of length, with a ramp entrance between stone walls and a viaduct and head made of an iron structure and floor made of wood.” The project corresponds to the engineer Vicente Ruiz. The work is approved in 1878 and finished in 1893.

Emigrants have –Rafael Arizcun, emblematic engineer, director of the port of Vilagarcía, would write later about this project—a comfortable way to pass, they and their baggage, to the cruise ships dock in the bay, which can’t be docked in Carril quay because of their draught.”.

With this new quay, the port begins to have a greater importance. Little by little, there is going to be more maritime traffic to the detriment of Carril, and every time businessmen have more interest to establish in Vilagarcía.

The Port of Vilagarcía obtains an official “general interest” declaration in 1888. The acknowledgement means that, according to regulations, this port is already assigned to anchorages and commercial warehouses, loading and unloading from vessels that are used in industry and maritime trade. Also, when several provinces are interested in these ports and these communicate directly with the main production centres in Spain”.

The open expectations for the Port of Vilagarcía at the end of XIX century are finally consolidated with the construction of the Ramal Quay, initiated in 1901 and finished in 1903. Its first concessionaire was Laureano Salgado and afterwards, it passed from hand to hand until the Administrative Commission bought it from the Suarez Company in 1932.

Rafael Arizcun describes this quay as “provided with a railway that links to the railway station, and provided with steam cranes where low tonnage vessels dock. This way, all the commercial movement displaces its centre to this new residence”.

Between 1880 and 1903, Vilagarcía suffers the period of greater growth and expansion of all its history until then; the city and the port grow at the same time as a consequence of the transfer of that activity developed till then in Carril.

From an ambitious project, which contains the most necessary works for the Port of Vilagarcía growth, in 1911 they approve its definitive configuration with a shelter pier, a transverse quay, a link quay, slipways ramp, access road and accessory works.

The inauguration in 1915 of the works included in the general project of the Port mark a new period in its long history. But already it remains very clear that “ any attempt to construct or enlarge new installations should be done reclaiming land from the sea”.

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Administrative Comission of the Port

At the request of the Chamber of Commerce, being its president Elpidio Villaverde, and with the support of the main commercial companies –Hijos de Simón Bourrel, Asociación Patronal de Mineros Asturianos, Gerardo Serapio, Enrique Caamaño, Compañía Transmediterránea, Compañía General de Carbones, etc.—it is elected the Administrative Commission of the Port of Vilagarcía in year 1924, with the purpose of improving the capacity of management of the port, an objective that it has fulfilled since the very beginning.

The approval, that same year, of the “Works Project of Improvement of the Port of Vilagarcía” is its first important agreement. This project written by the engineer-director Carlos G. Espresati includes a commercial quay of 340 metres of length, 80 meters of width and 7 meters of depth that begins in the rocks opposite Comboa and finishes in Diate shoal. Likewise, the project includes a link quay and a coast quay that goes from Castro Ramp to Suárez Ramp, leaving a big esplanade opposite the “Alameda”. The global budget is 5.222.712,98 pesetas.

The performances included in the mentioned project require a long processing, so that its definitive approval does not take place until 1931 and its later execution does not begin till 1934. The same happens with its termination, expected initially in 1940; but technical and economic problems delay its definitive completion until 1946.

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Effects of the War and Postwar Period

The Civil War and its direct and indirect effects open another period of clear transition in the history of the Port of Vilagarcía that goes to 1.949, when its emblematic engineer Rafael Arizcun Moreno dies. Two months later, he is replaced by García Toriello who also marks another period inside the history of the port due to his strong personality.

To face the lack of resources, the Port Administrative Commission depends almost exclusively during these years on the funds from the State. And, despite these difficulties, between 1.939 and 1.949 the final bases of the Port of Vilagarcía are set down.

From that moment, there will be quay enlargements, replacements, land-fillings, new roads; but always starting from the macrostructure designed in the pre-war and completed”, según el historiador Manuel Villaronga.

At the beginning of the fifties, after not few difficulties and delays because of the economic insufficiency. The construction of the access from Gondar-Vilagarcía road, for example, took more than 20 years to be finished.

The port traffic takes during this period a new course, from a qualitative perspective as well as a quantitative one.

On the one hand, traditional merchandise like wood was recouped in a spectacular way, until reaching almost 50% of the total movement in 1.949 while the general merchandise reaches 30% and the other 20% belongs to solid bulks. Both, the boarding of emigrants and the dock of war ships from foreign countries disappear.

On the other hand, the drop in the traffic rates is very pronounced. The rates obtained in 1.935 (90.000 tons) are not reached again until 1.946, and to match the figures obtained at the end of the twenties (140.000-150.000 tons), we have to wait until the early fifties.

At the end of the forties, The Port of Vilagarcía also faces the replacement of the old Ramal Quay made of iron by a new one, made of stone, what supposes expensive repairs.

The initial proposal of this essential replacement comes from Rafael Arizcun in 1.947, but the replacement project of the Ramal Quay of the railway is carried out later by his successor as director of the Port, García Toriello, and its definitive authorization by the General Direction of Ports dates from 1.950.

The works of the replacement of the iron quay for a new one were awarded to Elosúa y Cía in 1951 by a global budget of 3.244.000 pesetas, after making a reform that delayed the definitive reception until march 1954.

With the passage of time, the traffic influx to the Ramal Quay causes an enlargement and extension of this quay, whose new physiognomy will remain until the eighties. These works are awarded in October 1961 to Construcciones Civiles by an initial budget of 20.151.143 pesetas, suffering afterwards, several increases due to revisions and reforms.

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Incipient Organization

The beginning of the fifties decade is marked by several administrative disagreements when it comes to understand and face an organization of the port of Arousa. “Any resemblance –says Manuel Villaronga in his history of the Port- between the intention of the authorities and the opinion of the engineers that were dealing with problems in the port day after day, was pure coincidence”.

At the request of the General Direction of Ports, the engineer-director García Toriello presents, in 1954, an outline of the General Plan that names “Plan of works, installations, materials and auxiliary means to carry out during a quinquennium in the Port of Vilagarcía,” with a global budget of 101.696.942 millions of pesetas.

Two years later, that first General Plan defines and fixes its main contents in the Plan of Organization of the Commercial Quay and annexed Zones, fundamentally established because of the need to receive the vessels “Montes” and “Cabos”, both coastal navigation.

The total budget of this Organization Plan of the Commercial Quay was 39.100.000 pesetas and it was approved in 1957. However, most of its proposals were never carried out; but this Organization Plan helped later actions that were developed in the following decades.

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Iberport and Development Plan

At the end of the sixties it is born a project of a big Iberport through the Company Iberport, mainly from Spanish capital: Liga Financiera (50%) and Cabana (25%), together with the Portuguese Sousa&Machado (20%) and the North American Odgen (5%).

The company studies the possibility of building a huge port for the redistribution of solid and liquid bulks in the Iberian Peninsula; almost an industrial revolution, according to its program. After studying up to fifteen different options, Arousa, Bilbao and Algeciras arrived at the end. Arousa finally succeeds.

The development company Iberport presents the project in July 1969 to the General Direction of Ports. A super port that would link O Terrón, Vilanova, with A Illa de Arousa, following the same line of the present bridge.

The bridge would be built joining A Illa de Arousa with the smaller islands Xidoiro Grande and Xidoiro Pequeno. From that big dike, they would leave four huge piers that would have two berths for ships with 500.000 tons and the other two berths for ships with 100.000 tons. Apart from those, there would be another two additional berths for ships up to 350.000 tons and another two for ships up to 250.000 tons. This port infrastructure would be finished with a wide land-filling in O Bao inlet, where there was planned the construction of one or two tanks for oil products with capacity for a million tons each one.

The project of the Iberport of Arousa is characterized for its polyvalence. It would be not only a terminal port but also a port for supplies. Big ships would bring commodities from all over the world and these ones would be sent to other points in Europe and Africa in smaller ships. The traffic forecast was between 1.600 and 2.000 ships a year, which would move tens of millions of tons.

After several difficulties, the most hopeful and decisive moment for the industrialization of Arousa and the construction of the Iberport took place in the summer of 1970, during a reunion of the Consejo Económico Sindical of Galicia.

The commissioner ministry of the Development Plan, Laureano López Rodó, makes then the following announcement: “The Commission of Economic Matters has agreed today (19 of august) to present in the next Ministry Council the proposal to declare Vilagarcía de Arousa “Polo de Desarrollo.” This measure represents the basic complement for the planned installation in the Ría de Arousa of a super port for the reception, storage and redistribution of commodities. We will make a powerful industrial complex, whose decisive influence reaches not only the Ría de Arousa but also the interior area of Galicia.”.

At last, the Interministerial Commission gives the Government the approval to make a selection process for the construction of a super port for solid bulks and vessels up to 150.000 tons. But the elimination of liquid bulks ends up becoming a final burden and the official announcement of the selection process sinks into oblivion because of its economic inviability.

Since it had happened in so many occasions –explains Villaronga in his book—the days began to pass, so did the months, and the selection process as well as the same super port started to sink into oblivion. And many analysts had already noticed this before. Stopping the traffic of crude oil, it would be very difficult that someone assumes the risk of building a port budgeted for several thousands of millions of pesetas just for solid bulks in an area with big possibilities, but having an industrial weave that, at least for the moment, was not at the level of those immense investments”.

The project of the Iberport is still going to be alive during several years in different areas of Galicia, but the Minister of Public Works, Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo, closes this episode in a visit to Vilagarcía in March 1977.

Observing the bad conditions that the smallest port of the whole area present, the Ministry considers urgent and necessary the requested improvement works, at the same time that he considers impossible to undertake such an expensive project. “In Europe –says Calvo Sotelo categorically- no one is willing to invest a coin in view of the general economic situation.”.

In the early eighties, the transfer of powers from the State to the Autonomic Communities has a great importance for the Port of Vilagarcía in the mentioned historical context, since it breaks the port unity with Vilaxoán and Carril.

A Real Decree of the Presidency of the Government of the November 27th 1982, establishes the transfer of 64 ports from the State to the Xunta, included all those of Arousa except Vilagarcía that continues being General Interest Port of the State.

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All information in this history of the Port of Vilagarcía has been taken from the book "Vilagarcía y el Mar" in two volumes written by Marcelino Abuín Duro (1880-1936 period) and Manuel Villaronga (1936-1988 period), which was edited in 1993 by the Junta de Obras del Puerto de Vilagarcía de Arousa.