Monday, 12 February 2007

The Hidden Costa Blanca

Dotted around the hills of the Costa Blanca are some remarkable relics of a time gone by. Before the age of industrial refrigeration the only way to enjoy the luxury of ice throughout the year was throught th euse of huge snow pits, Neveras dug into the ground and filled up throughout the winter. These were not "quick fixes" but major constructions that must have taken vast amounts of labour to complete. The best examples are beautifully built, often situated in natural hollows high on the mountains where snow would drift in the colder winters of the 16th to 19th centuries. The snow holes are up to 20 metres deep with amazing domed roofs (most roofs have fallen in but a few remain).

Of course even when full of snow (which would compress and turn to ice) it was a major job to dig out the frozen blocks and carry these down to the villages and towns on mules and donkeys at night. The snow was layered between straw to aid insualtion, and if you look at the floow in some snow holes you will see drainage channels to take away any melt water. The re contructed Nevera "Pou Cerde" between Torre Manzannes and Jijona has an example of the winding gear that must have been used to haul out the heavy frozen blocks. Some like the fine example at Bocairent are even built cleverly into cliff faces so that access to the bottom is possible via a tunnel. This one is also unusual in that it is built on the edge of the town. I wonder if they ever got enough snow to fill it? It's worth a visit as it has now got a staircase all the way from the floor to the top exit.

The arrival of industrial refrigeration at the end of the 19th century brought an end to this unusal industry and gradually the snow wells are falling into a sad state of decay.

More pictures here


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