region of Aragon wants its coolers to be preserved as Spanish cultural property | Spain
No two are alike: some look like stone igloos, others more like deep pits. Today, a Spanish regional government wants part of its network of 500 ice houses to be officially declared an asset of cultural interest.
During Europe’s “mini ice age” which lasted from around 1600 to 1850, snow often fell in places that had never been seen before. The prolonged cold snap led to the widespread construction of coolers, nowhere more than in Aragon, which produced extraordinary hielo architecture (ice architecture) in the form of vast stone refrigerators.
The region of northern Spain is known for its extreme temperatures and the never, or coolers, besides being remarkable for their architecture, were an ingenious way to conserve enough winter ice and snow for use during the hot summer months.
Alberto Bayod, a historian who did a study on Aragon’s ice houses, says the onset of the mini ice age coincided with an increase in the use of snow and ice in medicine, especially in the treatment of fever, inflammation, bleeding and burns. .
In work Alivio de los Sedentos (Thirst Relief), a medical treatise published by Francisco Micón in 1576, it extols the health benefits of “cold drinks, both water and wine, cooled with snow, in order to stay healthy and to cure many ailments ”.
Bayod said: “In Aragon, almost every town or village had its own cooler for medical use, for cold drinks and for the preservation of food,” adding that food was never stored in the coolers themselves. and that they did not serve as refrigerators in the modern sense.
Coolers come in many forms. The majority are circular stone structures made up of deep pits lined with stone, sometimes barely visible from the surface. Others, such as the igloo-shaped cooler in Fuendetodos, the birthplace of painter Francisco Goya, are more important. Fuendetodos supplied ice to Zaragoza, 50 km to the north.
Snow and sometimes ice were piled up on a wooden platform in layers about 50 cm (19.6 inches) thick separated by straw and sawdust which acted as insulation. The stone walls were also insulated with straw.
In the spring the ice was dug and cleaned and sold limpio de polvo y paja (without dust or straw), an expression which survives today and which means without tie.
Some coolers were large, up to 60 feet in diameter, and could store thousands of tons of snow. Most of the larger ones are found in Bas-Aragon, which borders Valencia, which exported fish to the interior.
The religious prescription to eat fish on Fridays led to a thriving salt cod business, mostly run by Basques, as a means of supplying preserved fish to areas hundreds of kilometers from the sea. However, the fresh fish also found its way inland.
“The fresh fish transported from the coast of Valencia to Zaragoza has passed through Lower Aragon and it seems likely that these large coolers ensured the freshness of the fish as it arrived inside,” Bayod said.
He said it was not clear why coolers fell into disuse in the mid-19th century, as commercial ice production was not yet advanced in Spain. People started dumping their garbage and dead animals there and it wasn’t until the 1990s that restoration work began.
Today, the Aragon tourist office organized a tower of six bovedas de frío (cold rooms) in Bas-Aragon.
“The many peculiarities of these spectacular coolers, which share common characteristics but are also quite distinct from each other….
The oldest record of a cooler dates back to around 1700 BC in Mesopotamia.