Volcanic Eruptions

Lanzarotes "Big Bang" started on September 1, 1730. By April 6, 1736, one of the worlds most devastating and long--lived volcanic eruptions had finally come to an end.During those six horrifying years, the area around what is now the Timanfaya National Park -- Lanzarotes Fire Moutains -- was transformed from an agricultural zone of quiet villages with exuberant vegetation and extensive vineyards, into a deadened stark landscape, a monstrous heap of volcanic debris and a bleak reminder of the totally unforgiving face of nature.

Before the colossal volcanoes erupted, the old Vegas de Timanfaya boasted some of the islands most fertile terrain. Cereals swayed gracefully in the wind, and herds of cattle grazed on the grassy meadows of the Vegas. Springs, like those in Ortiz and Miraderos, were dotted around the landscape which literally blossomed with abundant crops.All that came to an end on a September night more than 250 years ago when molten lava came teeming out of Timanfayas countless craters.Mountains rose and fell like gigantic waves and lava spewed out for six years, practically non--stop, punctuated by relatively short periods of calm.All the surrounding villages were totally destroyed including Tingafa, Mancha Blanca, Maretas, Santa Catalina, Jaretas, San Juan, Pe˝a Palomas, Timanfaya, Rodeo and Mazo.

Entire villages and homes either disappeared under a torrent of red--hot lava or were reduced to mere ashes. Volcanic ash rained on other nearby villages, destroying in part, La Asomada, Iquadez, La Geria, Mozaga, Lomo de San Andres, San Bartolome, Conil, Masdache, Montana Blanca and Guatisea. Father Lorenzo Curbelo was the village priest in the nearby pueblo of Yaiza at the time of the eruption. He wrote a graphic historic eye--witness account of the catastrophe which has survived the passage of time. Since the hand--written account gives the clearest idea of the terror of Timanfaya, we publish below an extended extract from the Yaiza priests chronology of a catastrophe.

"On the first day of September, 1730 between nine and ten oclock at night, the earth suddenly opened near Timanfaya, two miles from Yaiza. An enormous mountain emerged from the ground with flames coming from its summit. It continued burning for 19 days. Some days later, a new abyss developed and an avalanche of lava rushed down over Timanfaya, Rodeo and part of Mancha Blanca. The lava extended over to the northern areas to begin with, running as fast as water, though it soon slowed down and ran like honey. On September 7, a great rock burst upwards with a thunderous sound and the pressure of the explosion forced the lava going northwards to change direction, flowing then to the north west and west north west. The lava torrent arrived, instantly destroying Maretas and Santa Catalina in the valley.On September 11, the eruption became stronger. From Santa Catalina lava flowed to Mazo, covering the whole area and heading for the sea. It ran in cataracts for six continuous days making a terrible noise. Huge numbers of dead fish floated about on the sea or were thrown on the shore.Then everything quietened, and the eruption appeared to have come to an end.

But on October 18, three new fissures formed above Santa Catalina. Enormous clouds of smoke escaped, flowing over the whole island, accompanied by volcanic ashes, sand, and debris. The clouds condensed and dropped boiling rain on the land. The volcanic activity remained the same for ten whole days with cattle dropping dead, asphyxiated by the vapours. By October 30, everything had gone strangely quiet.Two days later, however, smoke and ashes reappeared and continued until the 10th of the month. Another flow of lava spewed out causing little damage as the surroundings were already scorched and devastated.A further avalanche started on the 27th, rushing at unbelievable speed towards the sea. It arrived at the shore on December 1 and formed a small island in the water where dead fish were found.On December 16, the lava, which until then had been rushing towards the sea, changed direction, heading south west, reaching Chupadero which, by the following day, had turned into a vast fire.This quickly devastated the fertile Vega de Uga, but went no further.New eruptions started on January 7, 1731, with spontaneous fireworks embellishing the sadness and desolation of the south. Powerful eruptions with incandescent lava and blue and red lighting crossed the night sky.

On January 21, a gigantic mountain rose and sunk back into its crater on the same day with such a terrifying sound, covering the island with stones and ashes. The fiery lava streams descended like rivers towards the sea with the ash, rocks and dense smoke making life impossible. That lava flow ceased on January 27.But on the third day of February, a new cone threw out more lava towards the sea, which continued for 25 consecutive days.On March 20 new cones arose, with more eruptions continuing for 11 days.On April 6, the same cones erupted again with even more fury. And on the 13th, two more mountains collapsed into their own craters making a frightful sound.By May 1, the fire seemed to have burned out, only to start up again the following day, with yet another new cone rising and a current of lava threatening Yaiza itself. By May 6, everything was quiet again and remained so for the rest of the month.However, on June 4 an enormous land rift took place which opened up three new craters and accompanied by violent tremors and flames which terrified the local people.The eruption once more took place near Timanfaya. Different openings soon joined into one and the river of lava flowed down to the sea.A new cone appeared among the ruins of Maretas, Santa Catalina and Timanfaya. A crater opened on the side of a mountain near Maso spewing out white fumes which had never been seen before.Towards the end of June, 1731, all the western beaches and shores were covered with an incredible number of dead fish of all species -- some with shapes which islanders had never known before.In the north west, visible from Yaiza, a great mass of flames and smoke belched forth accompanied by violent detonations. In October and November more eruptions took place which worsened the islanders fears.

On Christmas Day, 1731, the whole island shook with tremors, more violent than ever before. And on December 28, a stream of lava came pouring out of a newly risen cone in the direction of Jaritas. It burned the village and destroyed San Juan Bautistas chapel near Yaiza".

Father Lorenzos account ended in this way, but the devastation went on. It went on, in fact, until April 16, 1736 when the lava flow completely ceased. No more cones appeared and the land, at last, stopped tearing itself part. Almost ninety years later, however, three small fissures opened between the hamlets of Tao and Tiguanton, and sprayed out boiling hot salt water, which had entered through underground cracks.A mountain rose in Tao from July 31 to October 16, 1824 and became covered in ash, although it never fully erupted.Meanwhile, on September 29, another volcanic cone emerged, just to the north of Timanfaya which was to prove the only damaging eruption of the period. The "Black Volcano" spewed lava towards the sea and the eruption lasted for a week. There was some ensuing devastation, but nothing in comparison to the catastrophes of the previous century.Surrounded by death and destruction, Father Lorenzo and his parishioners could never have suspected Timanfaya would one day become a major tourist attraction. But today, thousands of holidaymakers visit the Timanfaya National Park, to gaze upon the vast area of desolation and wonder at the evidence of natures rage.


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