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Educação / 14/08/2020

The fountain that gave drink to the Indies fleet

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The fountain that gave drink to the Indies fleet


The Port of Santa María restores the last witness to the expensive network of aqueducts the 18th century that supplied the royal galleys with water

"To attend even to ships, he raised, on the very shores of the ocean, this continuous source of water, certainly useful and worthy of admiration for foreign and neighboring sailors." At the Fuente de las Galeras Reales, with each precise blow of the stonemason, a small flake of pollution, dirt and forgetfulness comes off. An almost erased tombstone recalls how the water that gave the Indias fleet to drink gushed out of its spouts, before leaving the bay of Cádiz in the 18th century. Blurred as a simple ornamental fountain and worn out by erratic interventions, a restoration seeks to finally recover the lost splendor of the last standing witness to the revolutionary network of aqueducts that ended the shortage of water in El Puerto de Santa María.

On the banks of the mouth of the Guadalete river and in the heart of the city, the Fuente de las Galeras is one of those monuments that, so present and assumed, become invisible. But the truth is that it is "a key witness of the Indian trade", as explained by José Manuel Lojo, archaeologist at the municipal water company Apemsa that is in charge of a restoration that will cost 27,000 euros. For weeks, expert stonemasons Cantomar - a company specialized in stone work on historic buildings - have been striving to discover hidden details of a spout erected in 1735 as the final destination of a kilometer-long underground aqueduct.

The monument is exceptional not only because the architect in charge of the works, Manuel María Fernández-Prada, has found “very few sources of his style that are conserved”. But because it speaks of the presence of the power of King Felipe V in an area that had already been expanding for more than two centuries due to the vigorous trade with the overseas provinces. With the discovery of America, El Puerto - then in the hands of the Lordship of the Dukes of Medinaceli - experienced a demographic expansion that brought serious water supply problems.

The wells of the city were not enough to give drinking to the people of Puerto Rico, nor to the Royal Galeras, established at the mouth of the Guadalete as a port due to its geostrategic value. The key was in the nearby Sierra de San Cristóbal, the Sidueña springs could guarantee quality water. But the company was not easy, a failed first pipeline in the seventeenth century forced the city to build a complex network of aqueducts, built between 1727 and 1736, under the command of Tomás de Idiaquez, captain general of Baetica.

In total it was necessary to drill a gallery of more than five kilometers in which the water flowed, thanks to the slope of the mountains. They are the same excavated or ashlar tunnels that Apemsa runs into in each work - the last time in January of this year, as Lojo recalls - but which have been boarded up for years and awaiting a museumization project that makes them accessible. "It would be very interesting to visit them because they are impressive," says the archaeologist, although the company explains that there is no short-term plan for an idea that would require the involvement of the City Council.

The so-called “work of the Fountain” that supplied El Puerto with clear water cost a whopping 1,824,425 reais, according to a local historian Jesús Manuel González, about 5.4 million euros currently. The amount made it necessary for the Council of Castilla to authorize the municipal council to divert the proceeds with two taxes to this end. Paradoxically, the Portuenses were able to drink spring water with the 2 maravedíes that had to be paid for each 0.5 liter of wine consumed in the city and with 2% of everything that entered its Customs.

But as it was not enough, the City Council designed them to charge any wealthy neighbor who wanted a pipe service that would supply them with “a straw or a half straw” of water in his palace. " modern times, it must be one of the first pipes to be delivered to Spain," says Lojo. And there was more business. As the neighboring and powerful Cádiz also suffered the pressing problem of drinking water, El Puerto launched itself to sell it water that was loaded on tankers that approached the pipes that the Fuente de las Galeras had on its face facing the river, today missing.

The liquid element became famous in Cádiz, only the wealthiest could afford that water appreciated for its flavor at a time when that was as valuable as it was scarce. The convenience of having a fountain next to the docking pier also made it popular for supplying the fleet of merchant ships on their early stages of travel to America. González Beltrán calculates that the city obtained around 200,000 reais per year with all these sales. Despite the commercial effort, the City Council took almost ten years to make the investment profitable.

In return, the city obtained ten public sources in which water was free for both the residents and, in the case of the spout on the river, for the Royal Galeras. Of all of them, only the Fuente de las Galeras and the Caja de Aguas in the Victoria park remain standing. Both retain tombstones that recall the feat of engineering, both had been mired in decades of apathy and layers of paint. Red, indigo, ocher, bitumen, white; the Guadalete spout added colored hands that will now be left behind when discovering the original stones: limestone, scallop - a local stone obtained the sea - and Tarifa.

With each expert stonemason blow, the vegetable scrolls and pinnacles of its late Baroque decoration recover the lost enhancement of an infrastructure designed by the master maestro Bartolomé Mendiola. In the center, two crowned rampant lions and the coat of arms of Felipe V remember that this was not just any spout. Now Apemsa hopes that the City Council will give its approval so that the monument ceases to be a closed-circuit source and recovers the supply of drinking water - now with mains water - that it lost decades ago. Poetic justice for the fountain that gave the Indies fleet a drink.

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