Monday, February 25, 2008

Cobblestones: a permeable pavement

Native cobblestones and setts, mostly granodiorite and gneiss were profusely used through the last part of the XIX century to pave the access alleyways to many hilly neighbourhoods of Valparaiso. Examples of these "subidas" these days are being repaired and are found in most of the hills from Lecheros to Playa Ancha.
Originally all the cobblestones were bedded within a maicillo sandy ground, allowing it to be permeable to diminish runoff water. Later improvements have added mortar and more recently even including water piping drainage underneath that haven't been calculated for the episodic rainstorm volume falling in the area every southern Winter. This should be taking into account for any foreseeable restoration work.
On the other hand, heavy use of mortar and volcanic lithologic material from Colina (Santiago) should be restrained. If restoration work is done it should use the same kind of material and original contruction techniques as much as possible.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Adieu Valparaiso

Some years ago I discovered the lyrics of this traditional french sea shanty that uses the music of the most famous scottish fawerell song Auld lang syne (canción del Adios in Spanish). By that time, a colombian band, La Montaña Gris had released a CD containing some traditional celtic songs used by the old sailors and they read my manuscripts with this story and later they asked me permission to use some of my writing for their second CD En el Regazo de La Caramañola. Later, this work was staged by them in Chile at the IV Festival internacional de Música Inmigrante de Valparaiso and this song was sung once again decades after the crews of the last sailing french Cap-hornier ships used to say farewell to our cityport.

Girls of Valparaiso: An irish sea ballad

Some years ago, on the 150th anniversary of the Great Irish Famine, a recording with irish sea ballads was released and dedicated to those who braved the Atlantic crossing from Ireland to America. God bless them all! In the “Golden Age of Sail,” many Western Ocean seamen were Irish. Some from Derry, Kerry, Cork and Cavan, some Liverpool born and bred, others Irish-Americans from Boston, Philadelphia and New York. These are their songs, together with those of their emigrant passengers - ballads, shanties and songs of shipwreck, hardship, frolic, parting and high adventure... sung and played here by an all-star crew.
One of these recorded tracks reminds us about how happy the sailors were when they arrived to Valpo to visit ..... The Girls of Valparaiso.
This forebitter appeared in Songs of the People. Sam Henry’s source for “The Girls of Valparaiso” was an “old salt” who, once he had given up the sea, had to get his wife to throw buckets of water against the window to induce sleep.
This is not the only one sea shanty dedicated to Valpo's girls.... There are a few others like the ballad known as The Girls around Cape Horn (Calle Esmeralda in the old times).

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Restoring cobblestoned streets?

After much procastination, in the last couple of years the city council Heritage office along with the MINVU office using state grants and a BID heritage loan have been replacing the old cobblestones and stone setts from the port area with new ones.
Earlier on, the original cobblestones rested on a sandy bed and, it was just shear gravity that bedded them together. Many of the older cobblestones were later replaced by setts and are still resting covered now by tar or asphalt pavement that just recently have been opened again to restore the old streets. This time, most of the older cobblestones and stone setts have been replaced by new setts glued by 1/3 mortar resting on a new concret bed. For this work new smaller sized grey and pink volcanic rock setts from Colina (Santiago) are being used.
These smaller stone setts should generate a larger infiltrating area to improve the quality of permeable paving of the original cobblestone paving. Nevertheless, the use of heavy mortar and a concrete underbed foretells future drainage and cracking trouble especially in the area of the flats (plan) next to the surrounding slopes of the hilly neighbourhoods of town.

The old cobblestones

Cobblestones and setts (adoquin) are part of the traditional urban landscape of Valparaiso. They represent the past of the area preserved as World heritage site by UNESCO and despite their unknown history for many also show the urban geology and stoneworking techniques developed in this port through the XIX century. Earlier on and up to 1840s streets in town were covered by simple empedrado and enlosado using more metamorphic granodiorite such as the ones seen at the right at the top photograph. This was the stone state of art up to 1850s when Juan Melgarejo, governor of Valparaiso from 1840 onwards tried to get setts made locally. This first try didn't work so at the end Melgarejo contracted the ballast bulk weight of returning sailing ships coming back half empty from Liverpool and other ports to carry european cobblestones and setts as ballast weight. Therefore, surprisingly enough according to the records, the earliest sett streets of the country were paved with material of english and scandinavian origin. Later on, local makers started to make setts from granodiorite and andesite rocks and their origin still may be traced associated with the names of the places where they got the material to make it, the canteras.
I wrote some more on this subject in Spanish at:


Marble is metamorphic limestone that keeps traits of colour from white to variously patched or streaked with green, gray, brown, or red that maybe traced and identified to their origin. Traditionally marbles have been imported from Europe and those older found in Valparaiso originally came as ballast weight from places such as Carrara (white), Galway (streaked green), Novara (pink), etc.
Therefore, in Valparaiso you might find samples of diverse origin like those shown at the photos herein.
Halls of larger buildings, cemeteries and churches are the best places where these rocks maybe dated and identified. Valparaiso is full of them and they might be used to teach geology and history to its citizens.
Some of them are absolutely identifiable by its texture and colour. Others, require petrographic analysis. A typical example is found at the local cemeteries where everybody says that Carrara marble is the material used for all gravestone work. Nevertheless, as an example, there are historical and anecdotical records providing information about nitrate sailing ships carrying marble and cobblestones as ballast weight from the british islands to Valparaiso, Chile. The question left, where all that marble has gone?.

Cemeteries of Valpo

Perhaps the best places keeping a cultural record on the population make up inhabiting any town through time are the public cemeteries. Valparaiso keeps 4 historical cementeries recording the passing away of their citizens. 3 were operative in two hill sections of town during the last quarter of the XIX century. 2 of them dating back to 1820s, being officially recognised when the local governor Juan Melgarejo inaugurated their earlier buildings, settling in that way the first public cementery outside catholic church grounds in Chile at the top of the Panteon Hill. Of course, for that age segregation occurred quickly and soon three cemeteries emerged, two public for catholics and another private for no catholics.
One of these older cemeteries is the so called Cementerio de disidentes (non conformist non catholic) where most of the earlier british anglican and german lutheran citizens of Valparaiso started to be buried. Here is where most of the earlier traditional celtic crosses for british subjects are found. Later on, the local german community of Valpo bought their own walled quarter at the larger public cemetery 3 of Playa Ancha Hill where traditional germanic gravestone work is preserved. I started to look after the cemeteries because they keep the best historical record of stonework in different rock materials such as sandtone, granite, diorite, marbles, etc. that came along with cobblestones as ballast weight in sailing ships from all over the world to build the streets and buildings of Valparaiso.