Rincon del Bonete

Next fall I will be studying abroad in Montevideo, Uruguay, and I decided this week was the perfect time to look into an engineering accomplishment in the country.  Uruguay might not be known for their engineering advancements, but every country has to have a few accomplishments in the industry.

Today we are going to take a look at the Rincon del Bonete Dam located 269 km from Montevideo.  It was completed in 1945 and produced the largest freshwater lake in Uruguay.  The dam is set on the Rio Negro creating the lake spanning 1,140 sq. km.  which contains 6.4 cubic km. of water.


Uruguay was heavily dependent on other countries for fuel to produce power since they had no resources of their own.  This motivation led engineers to begin looking into the possibilities of hydroelectric power in the country.   Through exploration the idea of a dam at Rincon del Donete was first proposed in 1930 and accepted by the government it 1934.

Construction was started in 1937 but due to rationing from World War II equipment was scarce and the construction took longer than expected.

At the start this was run by a group of German engineering companies.  Construction was running smoothly when in 1942 Uruguay broke relations with Germany.  Uruguay negotiated with the United States to acquire a loan for materials and equipment to finish the hydroelectric plant.   An American engineering company was hired to work along side the Uruguayan workers.


The majority of the dam is designed with flying buttresses flanked with concrete wings.  The largest height is 40.8 meters.  The buttresses are reinforced, and the spillway and base slab are heavily reinforced.   The grouting was completed in four stages from top to bottom in two layers in order to protect against any seepage.

The dam has four turbines with 6 blades each.  The generators were produced by General Electric and are immediately connected to water-cooled transformers.

Uruguay Today

The Rincon del Bonete Dam was the first hydroelectric plant in Uruguay and it has really transformed the power industry in country.  Since 1945 many other dams have been constructed on the Rio Negro as well as other national rivers.  A lot of the construction on the Rincon del Bonete Dam was done by international companies, but Uruguay has been a true testament to the phrase “give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, but teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime”.  Uruguay has found a way to be more nationally dependant and stable in their power sources.


I can’t wait to go to Uruguay.  I’ll be studying engineering at the University of Montevideo and am excited to see how engineering education varies from country to country.  I hope to be exposed to more Uruguayan engineering accomplishments, but I will try to plan a trip to visit the Rincon del Bonete Dam.  To be able to see one of the feats I have researched will be very rewarding.  From the culture to the sights I doubt I will have a dull minute abroad.



http://www.frenchriverland.com/WATER%2520POWER%25201951%2520-%2520Hydro electric%2520Development%2520in%2520Paso%2520de%2520los%2520Toros%2520Uruguay.pdf+&hl=en gl=us&pid=bl srcid=ADGEESjg3d5TuqsrvWdjE7Rm375gWAiLJKDR6tmOlMxC9RLSJvQb0xuAZxQFeMHxGKJA2Q7epige8i1azEDVS0nrcTR-n4ej9tFRfFCOd2x-yNGHfu7bkWUkIwIIxlUvV4PSQfNMkYz8&sig=AHIEtbRNY-4HqwM6IW_wsasiAOKxyHbzEw

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Alcantara Bridge

The Romans made large strides for engineering during their time.  It is impressive how many of their developments we use today.  This week, we will be looking at their Alcantara Bridge, which crosses the Tagus River in Spain.  Its name means “The Bridge” in Arabic, and has also been called Puente Trajan at Alcantara in Spanish.  Caius Iulius Lacer originally built it in 105 CE.  It has been subjected to many wars, and therefore has been reconstructed numerous times throughout the years.  It has lived up to its inscription, which translates to “ who will live (the bridge) so much as the world would live”.


The bridge was commissioned from Roman Emperor Trajan in 98 CE.  Construction didn’t start until 104 CE.  His honor was shown through a triumphal arch in the center and a temple at one of the ends.  No mortar was used in the original construction.  It was fit together with the rope technique.  There are also metallic staples used in the lower part of the pillars for additional stability.


The bridge is 616 feet long and 26 feet wide.  There are 6 arches supported by five pillars and two supports at the ends.  The two middle arches have a span of 150 feet.  On top of the bridge the triumphal arch is about 46 feet high.


The Alcantara Bridge has been damaged a few times in order to protect the city of Alcantara from possible attacks during wars.  One arch was destroyed in 1214 by the Moors and was rebuilt in 1543.  Another was destroyed by the Spanish and repaired in 1762.  Then the Spanish destroyed it again to protect against the French in 1809.  It was repaired in 1819, and reinforced in 1860.  In 1969 the pillars were repaired in order to withstand the new pressures caused by the Dam of Alcantara.

In the 18th century, the Torre del Oro (Golden Tower) was built for defense.  It over looks the bridge.


Visiting the Alcantara Bridge is one of the many things you can see on a trip through Spain.  The city of Alcantara is on the Spanish- Portuguese border, commonly referred to as the Raya.   You can get a taste of the ancient with the bridge as well as enjoy the beautiful scenery of forest that surrounds the reservoir.  In town you must view the paintings of Luis Morales on many of the religious temples.  Spain came into wealth with the discovery of the Americas and therefore they were able to adorn their buildings very beautifully.  When you are finished sight seeing, you can hike, horseback ride, fish, or partake in water sports.

While I have been to Spain before, learning about this bridge and the rest of Alcantara has proven to me I must go back.  There is a lot to see and do in Spain, and I would definitely recommend planning a trip trying to experience as much of the country as possible.





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This week, let’s travel south to Bolivia to explore Pumapunku.  This wonder has been argued about since the time of the Incas.  It was once a large building made of a giant stone blocks.  Today it is in a state of ruin, but it still very apparent how glorious it once was.

There is a lot of debate about Pumapunku and how it was constructed.  Similarly to the pyramids of Egypt some believe it is proof of alien visitation.  Others insist ancients would have been able to build the marvel.


Pumpapunku’s construction blocks weigh as much as 440 tons and average between 100 and 150 tons.  The quary for the stone used is ten miles away from the building site.  Some believe transporting the stones would have been impossible, but it is more common to believe it was possible, though difficult, to drag the stones into place.  There are some marks on the stones that lead some researches to conclude that they were designed to be dragged with rope.

The reason Pumpapunku is an engineering marvel is because, if the pieces are examined it is apparent that the overall design was complex and advanced.  All of the blocks were carved in order that they would interlock with each other.  The blocks were cut as specific angles to make them fit perfectly together in a large puzzle.   How they were cut is still unknown.  Some say the cuts are too precise for any ancient civilization to create, and others say it was possible with hard-work and hand tools.


It is interesting how little we know about the construction and reasoning behind Pumpunku.  The Incas told the Spaniards that Pumpuku was there long before them.  With all of the groups of people who took over the land, it is hard to tell what was done by the original builders.  The lack of a written language means we may never know how or why it was built.  Personally, I credit the ancient people and believe in their ingenuity.  While impressive, Pumapunku doesn’t seem to be so outrageous that aliens were needed.


To fly to Bolivia, you will fly into La Paz.  In order to visit Pumapunku, I would recommend taking a group tour of the area.  Signing up for a trip through an agency such as Absolute Latin America will help you get the most out of your visit.  They can take you through all of Bolivia as well as show you the ruins.  Going with a tour guide will help you see the most incredible parts of Pumapunku.

While I had always planned on visiting Peru, now I have to add its neighbor, Bolivia, to the list.





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Antikythera Mechanism

In 1900 sponge divers found an impressive mechanism near the island of Antikythera, a Greek island.  When it was discovered, its use was unknown, and there were many theories.  The majority of researchers thought it was some kind of dating or clock device.  The only thing that was apparent was its complexity.  It is so complex some believed it proved time travel’s existence.

The mechanism was found on an ancient Roman merchant ship, during what is considered the first underwater archeology expedition.  It was built in the late 2nd century B.C.E as a complex computer to track the cycles of the Solar System.  It is proves to be accurate today, and nothing with such intricacy was created until the 14th century C.E.

While we have known about its existence for over 100 years, the biggest advances in comprehension have been in the last 10 years.  The use of modern technology to analyze the mechanism has made great strides.  The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project is the current team of international researchers assessing the mechanism.  The project has been supported with grants from many different countries.   The main universities supporting the project are the University of Cardiff, the University of Thessalonica, and the University of Athens.  There are also technology companies heavily involved, mainly Hewlett Packard and X-Tek Systems.  The main technology being used is x-ray.  With this technology they have been able to view details of inscriptions and reach a resolution better than a tenth of a millimeter.  All the analysis has been preformed in Athens, as that is where the Antikythera Mechanism is housed.

Through detailed analysis, the researchers have made conclusions, some more well supported than others.  They believe the mechanism was created on the Island of Rhodes.  It was made of bronze, though the corrosion has gone so far it is impossible to be sure. The Greeks were known for being good at metalworking and for the complexity of the mechanism it is actually simple to manufacture it. The mechanism was found on an ancient Roman merchant ship, during what is considered the first underwater archeology expedition. The shipwreck likely happened around 85-60 B.C.E.  The mechanism was stored in wooden box, though after being removed it has deteriorated.  It is also believed that it was made by someone at the Hipparchos school.  Hipparchos was a Greek astronomer, mathematician, and geographer.  The mechanism wasn’t the only one. While no others have been found, there appear to be no mistakes on the copy we have.

There are 30 gears total.  It was able to calculate the positions of the sun, moon, and stars.  It was important for the culture that it could predict eclipses.


The mechanism is currently displayed at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Greece.  The exhibition is titled “The Wreck of Antiythera: The Ship, the Treasures, the Mechanism”.

Traveling to Athens is simple as you can fly straight in.  Once you arrive there are many things to visit, such as the acropolis, plaka, monastiraki, Thissio, Kifissia, Nea Smyrni, and Kolonaki.  Visiting the mechanism is a nice addition to an already planned trip to Greece.  It isn’t something your whole trip should be oriented around, but it is a sight to see





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Ice Hotel

This week let’s explore a frigid region of Sweden.  In Jukkasjarvi, Sweden a hotel made out of ice is constructed every Fall and melts every Spring.  The hotel is a combination of engineering and art creating a breathtaking sight.

Ice hotel

Preparation for the hotel starts early.  In March, workers start harvesting ice from the river Torne.  The harvested ice is crystal clear because the flow of the river ensures there are very few bubbles in the blocks.  They store ice and snow in a warehouse until it is needed later in the year.  A lot of supplies are collected, but some snow and ice have to be machine made when construction occurs.


Construction usually takes about two months.  Due to the dependence on nature, delays and setbacks are common.  While the structure is completely made of ice and snow, metal casts are needed to build.  The forms are reused every year to create the basic layout of the hotel.  The mortar used in construction is something the engineers call snice.  It is a mix of snow and ice that has the perfect material properties for building.  If the snice layers are thick enough, it will have the same strength as concrete.  Once it is built up, the forms are removed to reveal the rooms.

When the basic construction is complete, the artists start their job.  They sculpt everything needed in each room from all of the furniture to additional artwork.  Artists from around the world add their own flair, making the rooms vary in style.


When everything is finished the hotel has over 60 guest rooms, several suites, a lobby, bar and theater. The interior is kept at -5oC to -8oC, quite warm compared to the possible outside temperature of -370C.  Fiber optic and diode lighting is used throughout the hotel creating a blue-green glow.  Some say the hotel is made of magic because it is hard to believe something so perfectly beautiful is manmade.


This engineering feat is a great reason to travel.  To get to the Ice Hotel, fly into the Kiruna airport and take a short drive to Jukkasjarvi.   You can stay in one of the ice rooms, or in a heated room in one of their other buildings.  Many recommend spending most of your time in a heated room and one night, to get the full experience, sleeping in a sleeping bag in the Ice Hotel.  During the day, all of the guest rooms are open and you can tour around the hotel and enjoy the art.  Then at night the guests have access to their personal rooms.

While there is a bar inside the hotel, the restaurant is in a separate heated building.  It offers a wide selection for every meal.  There is also an independent restaurant, the Homestead, located on the main road if you want to venture out of the complex.

The Ice Hotel is also a great destination for viewing the northern lights.  You cannot depend on the northern lights illuminating the sky, but if the conditions are right you will have a first class view.

This is a unique hotel for a unique climate, and I hope one day I am able to make the trip.





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The MOSE Project

Venice, Italy is a historical city known for many things, but most notably as the City of Water.  The water creates its charm and uniqueness.  This important characteristic also can be the biggest threat to the city.   Venice has survived for a long time, but due to rising water levels, and gradual foundation decay there is more and more concern for flooding.  Back in 1966, Venice was flooded and a lot of ground floors were ruined along with trillions of dollars worth of art.  The long-term danger of flooding is that once water hits the bricklayer it can travel up and start eroding the structural rock.  In the 1900s Piazza San Marco flooded approximately 7 times a year, whereas it flooded 121 times in 2004.  There is obviously a very present danger, and something needs to change.

In 1989 an idea was proposed to control flooding, and it was called the MOSE Project.  Technically, it stands for Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico (Experimental Electromechanical Module)], but also Mose is Italian for Moses who parted the Red Sea in the Old Testament.  Eventually the plan was approved in 2003, and the estimated completion date is in 2014.  The project consists of 78 floodgates as well as smaller breakwaters and planted vegetation.  There are three inlets to the lagoon where the MOSE project is concentrated.

How the Floodgates Work

Each of the floodgates is independently operated in order to fit the specific water conditions.  Individually the gates are 20 meters wide, 20 to 30 meters high, and 4 to 5 meters thick.  When water levels are fine, the gates lie flat at the bottom.  When the water levels rise to over 100 cm the gates are pumped with compressed air, which causes them to rise.  At full extension, the gates are at a 60-degree angle and above the water level, blocking any additional water from entering.  When the conditions are no longer a threat, the gates are filled with water and sink back to the bottom.

A model of an extended MOSE floodgate

A model of an extended MOSE floodgate


This project is estimated to have a final cost of 8.8 billion US dollars, but for most people it is worth it.  There are a few who are worried about the negative impacts the MOSE Project could have, especially on the environment.  When the gates are up the normal sewage will be unable to flow out.  Environmentalists are concerned with how the wildlife will adapt.  The impact is difficult to predict, but I think there are situations where you have to address the most imminent concern first, which in this case is flooding.


Venice is already on most engineers travel list.  The original construction of Venice is an amazing accomplishment, and the MOSE Project only adds to the cities impressive engineering status.  Visiting the city is straight forward compared to the other sites we have focused on.  It is easy to fly into the city and to find places to stay.  Unfortunately since the floodgates are underwater there isn’t too much to see.  If you want to see something, the best view is from Lido di Venezia.  Perhaps the most visible way you can see the MOSE Project will be in the future when Venice is still standing.






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The Underground Churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia

For this week’s adventure let’s journey to Lalibela, Ethiopia.   In the twelfth century King Lalibela commissioned the construction of underground churches in the Ethiopian capital of Rocha, which was later renamed Lalibela in honor of the late king.  These churches are special and unique because they are all hewn from the same rock below the ground surface.  The compound was created to be a new Jerusalem for those who couldn’t make the long pilgrimage.   This development was made so long ago, but is still beautiful today.  During the day the churches are red, but at dusk they are described as glimmering gold and green.  Although Lalibela seems to be a bit of an international secret it is an intriguing sight I am happy to explore.

Rock Hewn Church in  Lalibela

Rock Hewn Church in Lalibela


Legend has it that angels helped build these marvelous buildings, which seems possible considering it took 40,000 workers to hand chisel these churches out of one scoria block.  The whole process took 24 years; it was fortunate that King Lalibela lived 96 years so he could see the finished product.   Although the main reason for the construction was to make a holy city more convenient, there was side motivation.  Rocha’s rival city, Axum, was the (self-proclaimed) holder of the Ark of the Covenant and with the addition of these churches Rocha could have similar spiritual importance.


The churches are in two groups with their roofs at ground level.  The churches are connected through a system of tunnels underground.  There are 11 total churches, but one, Medhane Alem, is the largest monolithic rock-hewn building in the world.  The churches go 40 feet deep and therefore they are relatively invisible to outsiders.  The positioning of the churches serves as protection and lets people practice Christianity safely.

Arial View of one of the Churches

Arial View of one of the Churches

The real engineering amazement is that many of the churches have a water supply via wells.  The workers were able to find a way to draw water up to where the city is located on the mountainside.


The churches are still in use today with daily church services.  Approximately one tenth of the population of Lalibela is made up of Ethiopian Orthodox priests.  They have tried to keep the complex in the same condition throughout the years.  Newer buildings in the area were torn down as to not distract from the underground churches.  When below the surface it is easy for people to feel like they stepped back in time.


One of the benefits of visiting Lalibela is that it isn’t overrun with tourists.  When you visit you will authentically feel its greatness.  To get there you can fly directly into Lalibela on Ethiopian Arlines and take a cab to the town or you can take a two-day bus ride from Addis Ababa.  Visiting the churches costs about 350 birr or $19 USD.   There are licensed guides from the tourism office in town for 150 birr or $8 USD.  There are unlicensed guides around the town, but try to avoid them.  This is a time when you are better off paying a little extra.

Maybe Lalibela will be my first visit to Africa.







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