In Lanzarote the land was opened in 1730 through the mouth of Timanfaya and the expulsion of magma did not stop until 1736, six years later. Almost half of the island was destroyed, multiple neighborhoods were buried under lava and mountains were raised where there were none before. The prestigious Canarian historian José Viera y Clavijo summed it up like this:
Life among volcanoes
“The fire ran through the places of Tingafa, Mancha Blanca, Maretas, Santa Catalina, etc., destroying them all and covering with its sands, lava, ashes and gravel those of Asomada, Iñaguadén, Gerias, Macintafe, San Andrés … It was the noise of those explosions so loud that they could be heard in Tenerife, even though they were 40 leagues from Lanzarote “.
The affected villages, which were home to about 25% of the island’s total inhabitants (about 2,000 people), were not important because of their population size, but because of their high economic value, as explained by archaeologist José de León in his thesis Lanzarote under the volcano. The richest people in the territory lived in these towns and the most fertile lands of it were found. But after the volcanic eruptions there was a reorganization of all strata of Lanzarote’s society, as well as its production model.
Without forgetting the catastrophic effects of the lava, which covered about two out of every 10 kilometers of the island, other consequences began to fall as a gift to the Conejero people. The first, and perhaps the most relevant at that time, were the exceptional qualities brought by the volcanic sand, formed by the huge amounts of ash emanating from volcanoes, as is happening now with that of Cumbre Vieja, in La Palma.
The key lies in its ability to absorb and retain moisture, as well as in its low thickness to, as de León says, “reach the mother earth.” Those who still lived in Lanzarote, since many had migrated to Fuerteventura due to the uncertainty of not knowing when the sea of lava was going to stop, transformed the historical future of the island by taking advantage of the fertility produced by volcanic ashes. “The production of wines and spirits means that in just over forty years the population that left the island due to the eruptions has recovered and doubled.”
According to an article in the Journal of agriculture and rural history dated 2006, The secret of success is to avoid, with great care, that the layer of lapilli or irritation it mixes with the topsoil, thus allowing the seeds to be deposited, which are subsequently covered with a new plow pass. And that’s it. “It only remains to wait for the scarce autumn rains so that the lapilli fulfill its function and provide us with the harvest of grapes, vegetables, potatoes, sweet potatoes, millet or legumes “, the article adds.
Viera y Clavijo, surprised, said: “The hardworking farmers from Conejeros knew how to take good advantage and substantial profit from the initial cataclysm, obtaining new, more profitable crops for the island’s agriculture.” The most important was the cultivation of the vine, which promoted the rich area of La Geria, in the center of the island, in which the residents of the area suffered horrors to collect the fruits of the earth due to the enormous layer of ash that it had accumulated.
Unsurprisingly, there were lawsuits surrounding the more prosperous areas “created” by the eruptions. De León highlights the accumulation of capital among some families, who acquire wealth and power in the heat of this phenomenon. And also of numerous constructions around these spaces, very attractive in the European market. Lanzarote went from an agrarian model based on cereal and pure subsistence livestock to exporting barrel (a plant from which soda was extracted for making soaps) to different parts of the world. Its economy before the incessant volcanic activity was taking off, but it was afterwards that it gained the final push.
Fishing also gained momentum after the eruptions. The lava flows penetrated the sea and transformed a coast of the island that is especially rich in marine resources, which runs from Playa del Paso, in the municipality of Yaiza, to Tenésera. However, it was not all good news. Going into these remote areas was (and still is) very dangerous. The strong waves make an appearance every few minutes, which has caused several drownings, as observed in some anthroponyms existing in these slopes and cliffs, explains de León. Even so, the picture is different: fishermen with their rod and with their backpack loaded with fish and limpets bending down to collect salt. “An element of identity of the territory covered by the volcanoes of the 18th century”.
The eruptions are also felt in the present
“There are distant glimpses of those events, but it is now the newly created territory that speaks from the present.” José de León refers to what is now the Timanfaya National Park, one of the economic engines of Lanzarote due to the huge number of tourists it receives each year. According to data from Promotur, the public tourism company in the Canary Islands, and the Cabildo de Lanzarote, more than half of the travelers who visited the island in 2017 passed through Timanfaya, becoming an important source of income.