16 November, 2020

Did you know that 18th century Barcelonans quenched their thirst by drinking iced beverages at the height of summer? How could they enjoy such comforts long before the refrigerator age?

In those days, Barcelona was regularly supplied with ice harvested or manufactured in hilly and mountainous areas not far from the city. Ice entrepreneurs always chose the shadiest places available to manufacture and store this cold gold. It was meant to be carted off to Barcelona and other coastal towns for consumption during the hottest months of the year.

The production took place in sturdy circular buildings with a vaulted roof and very thick walls. They are locally known as pous de glaç, literally “ice wells”. Some of these constructions are still standing and can be found all over Catalonia and across Spain

We really wanted to show you one of them on this blog, so we arranged a nice excursion with friends, a few weeks ago. After a very leisurely morning walk in the heart of the lush Montnegre hills, we stopped over to rest and have a wonderful Sunday picnic by this impressive piece of protoindustrial construction. Amazing! This buttressed building, about 7 m. tall and 5 m. wide, rises on the edge of a clearing by the forest path. Just behind it, we saw the rest of the old facilities. The tank where water would freeze over in winter time is still perfectly preserved. Next to it, part of a small brickwork ramp is still standing. It was used to let the ice slide into the ice well. The building faces north, and we actually felt quite cold there in the shade!

The existence of ice wells is recorded since the days of the Roman Empire. However, the ice business expanded spectacularly between the 16th and 19th centuries. Although from the 1890s it was gradually supplanted by electricity powered ice plants, this ancient and sustainable industry managed to survive until well into the 20th century.  

All that remains of those times is an impressive building in a forest and the memory of how similar and yet so different life was just a few generations ago. Does this really matter? We believe it does. A little knowledge of history provides us with useful insights and an increased understanding of the present.

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