Arts & Entertainment

Cádiz cathedral’s centuries-old battle against salt

By Isabel Laguna

Cádiz, Spain, Jan 23 (EFE).- From the time construction began on the emblematic Cádiz cathedral some 300 years ago, when the city relished in a period of splendor fueled by the spoils of America, to the current day, it has battled against one enemy — salt.

The effect of the salt on the building, Spain’s only modern baroque-style cathedral, became evident soon after it was inaugurated in 1838 following 116 long years of construction.

The cause of this “congenital” problem also forms part of its beauty — its proximity to the sea.

The Cádiz cathedral is so close to the ocean that the well inside its crypt, which was used to extract water used in its construction, provided fresh or saltwater depending on the tide.

Beach sand was also used in the mortar holding the bricks together, impregnating the edifice with salt.

“Salt in a solid state is inert. The problem is that the humidity of the city dissolves it and the wind dries it, returning it to a solid state but larger in volume, which produces breakages,” architect Juan José Jiménez Mata, who has overseen restoration work on the cathedral for decades, told Efe.

The salt issues primarily affect the upper sections of the building.

Construction of the cathedral began in 1722, when the city’s wealth swelled thanks to trade and taxes from the Americas.

The base of the building was erected with high-quality material such as marble but that standard of quality dropped when it came to the upper reaches of the place of worship.

Just three months after the cathedral’s inauguration, its authorities noticed flakes of stone falling from the vault — the effect of the salt was already raising its head.

One of the most serious issues occurred in the 1970s, when a large stone dislodged from the roof and dropped onto a pue below just a day before mass was due to be held.

For safety reasons, it was closed for 16 years and by the time it reopened the following decades, a 3,000 square meter net had been installed to catch falling debris.

In this year, the 300th anniversary of the beginning of construction, the cathedral continues to resist salt erosion.

“We will not resign ourselves to say that the cathedral has a problem that cannot be solved and that it is condemned, on the contrary,” Dean Ricardo Jiménez told Efe.

“We want to work so that this historic difficulty is confronted.”EFE


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