City Council will keep it as a cultural and tourist landmark
The materials have to work like the skin for a human body; they must not let water in but let it sweat, Miguel Louis explained when he gave as the details of rehabilitation
Alicante. 29 January 2020
On 23 July 2019, the University of Alicante Research Group in Architectural Restoration (GIRAUA-CICOP) led by Professor in Architectural Construction Miguel Louis Cereceda, started rehabilitation work of Aspe’s aqueduct most relevant part, the section known as the ‘five eyed bridge’. This is one of the last two rehabilitation works to which GIRAUA-CICOP has submitted its proposal representing the University of Alicante, bidding in public competition and becoming the winners. The second one, a much more important work, was the Palace of Rubalcava in Orihuela, built in 1917. Miguel Louis explained the most outstanding features of the repair work.
In mid May, the UA was awarded the rehabilitation works of both infrastructures. In March 2019, the city council put out to tender contract work for the five eyed bridge project. In September 2018, GIRAUA prepared the basic project and execution of the five eyed bridge, the most important of the remaining sections. In November 2017, they were commissioned to study the materials and structure of the aqueduct in order to find out what would be the best technical solution for the rehabilitation work. Initially, in December 2016, Miguel Louis' research group presented the Master Plan for Aspe's aqueduct, commissioned by Aspe's City Council.
Although the execution period for the rehabilitation was planned to be four months, starting last July, Miguel Louis made it clear that the rehabilitation work was very slow due to problems with the floods last September, as access was impossible. Thus, they were granted an extension, with a completion date set for 1 April 2020. In this sense, he confirmed that works have made good progress during Christmas and two thirds of the works have already been finished. The idea is to leave it as if it were not brand new. They are trying to recover the image it had in the 18th century and also incorporating new materials, respecting the interventions that have been made in the 19th and 20th centuries.
In this sense, with the works still in progress, the Aspe city council, interested in the recovery of the city heritage, has organised a visit to the aqueduct for the residents for next Sunday, 2 February. For this purpose, some buses will be chartered.
The Obispo Tormo water pipe from Aspe to Elche responds to the continuous lack of drinking water that Elche suffered. Since the end of the 17th century and throughout the 18th century, Elche city council studied the possibility of channelling fresh water from Aspe, with the preparation of up to four different projects to conduct water from different sources in Aspe. According to Louis, the Elche reservoir is one of the oldest in Europe, because there was a great need for water, but it was built on land with brackish water, so it was later discovered that this water was useless. He also said that the main canal of Elche was built later, resulting again in useless water. This is how the Aspe aqueduct was built, to bring the water from the Tarafa river in Aspe. Finally, fresh water this time. It was in 1783 when the Elche city council decided to channel water from the Fuente de Barrenas, located in the Tarafa riverbed, sponsored by Bishop of Orihuela Mr. José Tormo, with the project being approved by the Royal Council of Castile. It was a great work of hydraulic engineering, of about 15 kilometres, which fed the water to Elche. As explained by Louis, they then proceeded to make a complicated conduit with stone emptied in the form of a ‘u’, which had been used until the 19th century. Numerous sections of the canal and some of the aqueducts that were built to overcome the slopes and irregularities of the Los Barrancos area crossed by the pipeline are still preserved, including the one that is the object of this project.
The aqueduct of this project is the largest in the network, called Cinco Ojos (Five Eyes) because of its five arches. It has a maximum length of 50.15 metres and is 18.17 metres high. It consists of four brick arches on its upper level and one on the lower level.
GIRAUA-CICOP has drawn up four actions for the Aspe Town Hall: firstly, the Master Plan; secondly, the study of the materials and possible treatments; thirdly, the aqueduct project; and fourthly, the current work. The aqueduct has no use and will not be used for water. The City Council will maintain it as a cultural landmark for tourist attraction. The area where the aqueduct is located is a protected area, but it is used a lot by visitors.
The work was executed during the months of July and August and they worked with water spray, both for the elements and for the people who were working there because it is an area where there are no shades.
The experts have carried out a study of structural deformations because one of the piles moves downwards, as the director of the group stated. In this sense, they are recovering the entire brick factory, the damaged parts of the stone factory and trying to leave it in good condition. It has some serious injuries, although it is not the most likely to fall, according to Louis
GIRAUA-CICOP plans to preserve the current image of the aqueduct as much as possible by restoring and replacing existing finishes and those considered necessary for the correct architectural understanding of the aqueduct.
The approach is to carry out all the necessary actions to prevent further deterioration of the aqueduct by the effect of water from filtration, capillary rise or runoff at the base of the factories.
Also, it is planned to strengthen those parts in both stone and brick elements that are sand-blasted and to waterproof areas that may have occasional water accumulation, applying products that have been previously tested.
The work consists basically of reinforcing everything and injecting the many cracks because there are a lot of decomposed bricks. As explained by Louis, when the aqueduct was built, all the factories in the area started to make bricks for it. Many bricks are not well fired, and if they do not reach the adequate tempering — professionally known as quenching — they become deteriorated and GIRAUA-CICOP is going to replace them.
According to the Professor, previous studies carried out in petrology, using electronic microscopy to characterise both the stones and the bricks and mortars, have allowed them to know that it is a black stone, a dolomite. We have located the area from which it was taken. Fortunately, there is little to replace. This will help us later to see the consolidation treatments that have been tested in the laboratory. No trace of them can be seen. This is good, even though it may not seem like it is. Louis has found the key of what makes them good materials: The materials have to work like the skin for a a human body; they don't let the water get in but they let it sweat.
More details about this five-eyed aqueduct give an idea of its construction and later reforms. The original mortar is made of lime and some of the linings are made of plaster. Plaster does not hold up well to humidity. It has been lined with cement and it does not sweat; as opposed to lime that it does. That is why we use lime for the mortars.
The next work of the research group will be the Rubalcava Palace in Orihuela, the award of which was notified to the UA on 16 May 2019, but it will still take time to be executed. The experts submitted the basic project last August and the deficiency report required this past Christmas.
Images provided by Miguel Louis.
Imágenes: Obras enero 2020 detalles de rehabilitación
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