Radio26.Cu – Matanzas, Cuba

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An image, a reality: the bridges of Matanzas City

Gloria Machado León 4 febrero, 2011

Matanzas, known as the City of the Bridges, has the most valuable and complete collection of bridges from the XIX and XX century in Cuba. These works of the Cuban engineering are not only appreciated as physical elements that go through rivers and seas, but also as a component of a great importance for both; the urbanization and the opening of the country to the modern times.

They are well-known by different names among the population of Matanzas, since they constitute an important part of its history. The structure of each of them changed due to the technological development as well as the engineering knowledge of those who contrived their creation.

At the beginning, their creators used limestone and wood to build them, and the middle supports were built in the river- beds. However, due to the rising of the rivers along with other natural phenomena these first treasures of the colonial architecture disappeared. Nowadays, it can only be appreciated through pictures.

“The professionals of that time were concerned about working out these problems. Thus they built bridges more resistant using other materials like metal (XIX century) and concrete (XX century), this time with the advantage of not having its support in the rivers”, said Ramón Félix Recondo Pèrez, architect of Architecture and Engineering Projects Enterprise of Matanzas (EMPAI).

Due to the fact that there has been in Matanzas City 28 magnificent works of this kind, the aim of this research is getting an approach to the main road bridges that beautify the environment of our city.

General Lacret Morlot Bridge, known as La Concordia Bridge in the city of Matanzas, Cuba

A symbol of Matanzas City

The construction of this architectural work, inspired by the Triana’s Bridge (1852) in Seville, Spain, started on February, 1875 under the government of Don Blas Villate, Valmaseda’s Count. The construction of this metallic structure bridge was projected and headed by Pedro Celestino del Pandal, the municipal architect.

After three years of construction, it was baptized on September 27th, 1878 by Spanish General Arsenio Martínez Campos as La Concordia Bridge, celebrating the precarious peace they obtained with the Zanjòn Pact. However its inauguration took place on November 4th, the same year, on the occasion of the feasts to the city’s saint, Saint Carlos Borromeo.

“In 1902, the Government of the New Republic decided to change the Spanish names given to the bridges that were built during the colonial time”, said Luis Roberto Gonzalez Arestuche, engineer of EMPAI. From that moment on, the first Cuban iron bridge was known as General Lacret Morlot.

The pillars of this bridge are recognized as symbols of Matanzas City. In spite of being the oldest one in the city, its shape is not appalling at all. The bridge has been damaged because its wooden supports were not designed to bear the weight of the heavy vehicles that circulates everyday on it.  Besides, it is necessary to carry out actions for the upkeep of its structure already affected by the inclemency of the weather as well as the traffic accidents.

General Calixto García Bridge, known as Tirry’s Bridge, in the city of Matanzas, Cuba

115 years of history.

The deterioration of the former erected bridges over San Juan River made feasible the achievement of a project that would allow vehicles to go across the river to the buildings and warehouses located in the harbor.

The construction of this engineering work began in 1896. It was also built by Pedro Celestino del Panadal, who projected and headed the work till he died in 1898.From that moment on his nephew Pedro Pandal continued his work as municipal architect and was in charge of its termination.

 The good quality of both, the construction and the materials they used helped it to remain undamaged 1948, when they first fixed the harms.

“Today, in order to preserve this architectural work there are weight restrictions that prohibit vehicles over 30tons of weight to pass through. Breaking this rule endanger the endurance of the well-known Tirry’s Bridge. However, its shape is acceptable”wrote Arestuche y Recondo on his book “Puentes de Matanzas”.

General Sánchez Figueras knows as La Plaza’s Bridge, in the city of Matanzas, Cuba

Left it to the chance

The well-known la Plaza’s Bridge is other of the legendary bridges that extols the architectural landscape of the city of Matanzas. It was built in 1916 under the name of General Sánchez Figueras .It was the first one to be built of reinforced concrete in the province and the second one in the country. Its foundation took place when Mario García Menocal was the president of the Republic of Cuba.

 This bridge, which was designed by Armando Macías López and executed by Conrado Martínez basically never underwent any relevant maintenance work, although during the 1910’s decade the sidewalks were widened and handrails changed.

This is one of the bridges whom shape is concerned despite of being one of the youngest ones. As a result vehicles weight limit under 10tons has been set up.

“The authorities in charge of the upkeep of the heritage must act on the Sánchez Figueras Bridge due to its current critical situation. In addition to its cost, which is extremely high, we also have to negotiate the means through worldwide cooperation or institutions”, said Recondo Pérez.

Antonio Guiteras Bridge, well-known as Canímar Bridge in the city of Matanzas, Cuba

A paradigm of the engineering of Matanzas

 Antonio Guiteras Bridge, one of the most important ones in the province, rises above the Canímar River, in the outskirts of Matanzas city.

After developing geological engineering studies between 1924 and 1945 as well as other later investigations, they decided to use for the construction of this bridge the project set up in

1946, which is the one we see today.

It was created by the engineers José Menéndez Menéndez and Luis Sáenz Duplace. This work of 297 meters long and more than 35 meters high was inaugurated on July 8th, 1951. However, it was really opened to the public on October, that very year after making some weight tests.

Although its current shape is quite preserve, it is required to take into consideration the idea of carrying out upkeep actions in order to assure its future endurance.

Bacunayagua’s Bridge, in the City of Matanzas, Cuba

Bacunayagua: a compulsory way between Matanzas and Havana

Surrounded by a lush vegetation raises a magnificent bridge above the Bacunayagua river. It is located 18km away from the city of Matanzas, and gives way to Mayabeque province.

It was also designed by the Cuban engineer Luis Sáenz Duplace. They started to build this architectural work in 1956 and they finished it on November, 1959.On September 26th, the very year the bridge was finished, Fidel Castro, Raúl Castro and Celia Sánchez passed along the bridge, this was a strong reason to take that date as the bridge official inauguration. Moreover, after 2009, the 26th of September became the day of the bridges in Matanzas city.

The construction of this bridge constituted a challenge for the epoch. Its structure has an anti funicular design.  According to the book “Puentes de Matanzas” written by Arestuche y Recondo the bridge is 313,5 meters long, 110 meters high, and 16 meters wide.

At the end of the 90s of the former century, the Bacunayaguas’s Bridge was distinguished as one of the seven wonders of the civil engineering in Cuba because of its elegant pillars, the techniques they used to build it and its beautiful structure.

Nowadays there are two main factors that damage the bridge: the corrosion and the aggressive environment around it. Due to these harms, the Applied Researches National Enterprise (ENIA) and the EMPAI carried out a detailed study about its pathologies. The project to intervene and fix the damages is likely to be executed as soon as possible, although these damages don’t jeopardize the security of the passers-by.

Puente Guanima, well-known as Tennis’s Bridge, in the City of Matanzas, Cuba

In the pursuit of aboriginal traits: Guanima’s Bridge

 The construction of the Guanima’s Bridge over “El Tennis” beach culminated in 1993. Its main target was giving continuance to the traffic from the highway to Varadero as well as eliminating the circulation through the historical center.

This engineering work was designed as part of the solution Viaduct of Matanzas .It showed some irregularities, just two years after being finished. Among other reasons these difficulties were caused by hurricane Gordon in 1994”, said González Arestuche.

Today, this bridge designed and executed by engineers and architectures of the EMPAI, is basically damaged by human activities, mainly in those areas often visited by fishermen and bathers.

A nameless bridge, well-known as Viaduct’s Bridge, in the city of Matanzas

A nameless bridge

This architectural work, that has a metal board and a reinforced concrete structure, as well as Guanim Bridge, makes possible the circulation of the vehicles, and at the same time mitigate the circulation through Calixto García Bridge.

“Since it is located in an unfavorable geographical zone, the foundation using pillars became more difficult. It was built with a horizontal curve shape and an intermediate pile of 45 meters, said the architect Jose Ramon Recondo

The current shape of this bridge is better than the one we were talking before since this bridge is higher and so it rusts slower, besides the paint that was used had a better performance.

It is necessary to put the plaque that officially names this bridge, just known as “Puente Del Viaducto”, stated by Ramon Ulloa Roman, development manager of the Construction Business Group of Matanzas (GECMA).

It’s hard to think of Matanzas without its bridges, a city that has been identified by them all over the world for more than a hundred years.

These great works of the Cuban engineering and architecture are immense treasures for the cultural, urban, and historical heritage of the Anthems of Cuba.

They are engineering works; however we have to take into account the beauty of the environment where they are located. The fathers of architecture and engineering in Matanzas loved their mother land, that’s why everything they designed was like true work of art.  Unfortunately we haven’t kept those standards lately, since we are talking about an exceptional city, said Architect Ramon Recondo.

Its time for us to be aware of the need to protect and restore this legacy left by those engineers and architects who wanted to create a prettier city. The need to protect the bridges is an imminent  issue of the people of Matanzas, because every damage caused makes the Venice of America lose a piece of identity, a piece of soul.

 Original text by Radio26 Redaction and Tania Rosa Álvarez,  Journalism´s undergraduate student.

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