Wednesday, August 10

The business that made the Goya family succeed, the more than 500 refrigerators that stored “white gold” in Aragon

Snow to refresh wine or water in hot summers, ice for bleeding, headaches and to alleviate ailments. Snow for making pastries, or simply, ice to cool off with cloths. From the middle of the 16th century until well into the 19th century, snow was a staple commodity, which is why an extensive network of underground storage (and sale) snow deposits was created. In Aragon there were more than 500 refrigerators in operation, also called snow (or ice) wells.

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Alberto Bayod is the current mayor of Belmonte de San José (Bajo Aragón), he is also a historian and has spent many years documenting and investigating these unique constructions. “In the second half of the 16th century there was a climate change that has been called the Little Ice Age. There were very significant drops in temperatures that caused it to snow even in areas that were unusual. This lasted until the middle of the 19th century “, he says. What fell from the sky was a manna and little by little it was discussed in what uses to give it.

For Bayod, the Renaissance medical literature was transcendental to encourage the storage of snow: “The medical treatises promoted its application for antipyretic and anti-inflammatory use, both to lower fevers and to stop bleeding. It became a good of first necessity.” It was popularly used, also to cool off in the torrid summer working days, as well as in drinks or desserts, “that is why each town needed a place to conserve snow (and market it), and that it was not lacking in the months hotter “.

According to the historian, the first documented lease for a refrigerator dates back to 1622, when a provision of snow was arranged for the town of Castelserás. Bayod considers that during the first decades of the seventeenth century a good part must have been built, since “in the town of Belmonte, in 1636, the death of a worker by a disgrace in the fridge“.

These spaces did not store food or perishable products, the refrigerators were only made of ice or snow. The mayor explains that the collection system worked in such a way that, when a snowfall fell, many caballerias would come out to bring and accumulate around the refrigerator, and impound them inside the well. “Inside, there were workers who pressed the snow until they created a layer of 40 centimeters, on top a layer of straw to isolate it and on top another layer of snow, and then another of straw. Like the floors of a cake, well,” he adds . Once the refrigerator was full, the wells were closed until May, the month in which the tenant would open it (day and night) until October.

The archaeologist José Luis Ona, for his part, became interested in “the architecture of Ice” thanks to Francisco de Goya. Twenty years ago he was working on the painter’s youth and he got to know Fuendetodos, the place of his birth (1746). “In the documentation the question of the Fuendetodos refrigerators continually appeared: the sale of snow was the great business of the town. There are about twenty ice wells documented and the town distributed throughout Zaragoza. The transport was by car, at night to that would decrease as little as possible “. Ona assures that she has found documentation that relates the Goya family to the snow business: “His grandfather Miguel Lucientes bought a snowfield at the beginning of the 18th century, and at the end of the century, his niece acquired two more”.

Although each well has a unique architecture, most have a circular plan and the walls of the tanks lined with stone, “with masonry rigging, joined with lime mortar or laid dry,” says Alberto Bayod, who says that “they existed drainage channels or a drainage tunnel located at the bottom of the well. ” Most of the refrigerators were equipped with a fixed vaulted cover, of a stone character, which improved the insulation. “The most common constructive was by approximation of stone courses, although they were also built of ashlar masonry, brick or using supporting ribs or arches,” he adds.

The Belmonte snowfield is one of the most unique because it is accessed from the top, so, according to the mayor, “it makes it possible to know how a snow well was built since you can see its solid dry-laid masonry rig, with a passable drainage tunnel and a spectacular vaulted roof made with a porous stone, the calcareous tuff, and supported by two slender crossed arches of ashlar stone. This shows a good know-how of the project manager “.

According to José Luis Ona, the activity began to show symptoms of crisis at the end of the 19th century, since “a warming of the climate is registered and the snow begins to diminish”. “In cities like Zaragoza, artificial ice factories are created, so the use of cold storage to be used as a landfill is gradually disappearing,” he adds.

Due to this, in the 90s some historians such as Ona or Bayod began to work to dignify these places and document their historical value. Because, as Ona observes, “they are architecturally singular and unique elements, they also have an essential ethnological charge. These wells tell us about the climate, techniques, the value of trade, customs and uses, as well as the micro-history of people ( that have been documented) that they frequented these monuments “.