1.1 The location
The geographic region of High Cauca lies in to the southwest of Colombia's current territory and has, today, close to 230 thousand inhabitants. Its principal city is Popayan, founded by the Spaniard Sebastian de Belalcazar in 1537. The city was built some 1737 meters above sea level and it is located at 02°26'39"N and 76°37'17"W. Its average yearly temperature is of 19.8°C, although there are strong fluctuations in temperature for short periods of time. Its annual precipitation regime reaches 1941 mm. The region also evidences intense seismic activity, which for centuries has been affected earthquakes of considerable magnitude; the most recent of which took place in 1983 with an intensity of 5.5 degrees on the Richter scale, causing great material damage and loss of human lives.
In spite of having a relatively hostile environment threatening the conservation of buildings, the High Cauca region was, since its colonization (in the early part of the 16th century), of high strategic value - given its being located at an intermediate point between the port of Cartagena de Indias and the commercial centers of Quito and Lima (Fig. 1). This condition gave added importance to network of roads in Popayan and to its works of infrastructure in the regional system of communication paths (Galindo, 2004) and motivated
local authorities to build at least 34 brick arch bridges between 1718 and 1920.
Each of the bridges has a set of particular geometric and dimensional characteristics, following Mediterranean tradition standards related to the preparation of construction materials (brick and mortar), the fabrication of centerings, the laying of rings, the dimensioning of piers, and in general, all those elements related to the conformation of structures that have lasted for decades.
This paper will explain the historical genesis, along with the constructive and structural characteristics of one of the most significant bridges of this group: the bridge built near the city of Popayan between 1769 and 1778 over the Cauca River, as part of the roadway between this city and the city of Cali, which is located 120 km to the north.
Figure 2. Lateral rendering of the brick arch bridge over the Cauca River in the city of Popayan. Drawing by: E. Sotelo.
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