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At least two circumstances point to the need of postprocessing techniques to recover lost time information from non-time-resolved data: the increasing interest in identifying and tracking coherent structures in flows of industrial interest and the high data throughput of global measuring techniques, such as PIV, for the validation of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) codes. This paper offers the mathematic fundamentals of a space--time reconstruction technique from non-time-resolved, statistically independent data. An algorithm has been developed to identify and track traveling coherent structures in periodic flows. Phase-averaged flow fields are reconstructed with a correlation-based method, which uses information from the Proper Orthogonal Decomposition (POD). The theoretical background shows that the snapshot POD coefficients can be used to recover flow phase information. Once this information is recovered, the real snapshots are used to reconstruct the flow history and characteristics, avoiding neither the use of POD modes nor any associated artifact. The proposed time reconstruction algorithm is in agreement with the experimental evidence given by the practical implementation proposed in the second part of this work (Legrand et al. in Exp Fluids, 2011), using the coefficients corresponding to the first three POD modes. It also agrees with the results on similar issues by other authors (Ben Chiekh et al. in 9 Congrès Francophone de Vélocimétrie Laser, Bruxelles, Belgium, 2004; Van Oudheusden et al. in Exp Fluids 39-1:86&-98, 2005; Meyer et al. in 7th International Symposium on Particle Image Velocimetry, Rome, Italy, 2007a; in J Fluid Mech 583:199&-227, 2007b; Perrin et al. in Exp Fluids 43-2:341&-355, 2007). Computer time to perform the reconstruction is relatively short, of the order of minutes with current PC technology.