Hideaways, secrets, mystery and legend. The power of nature, astounding eerie beauty.
These are only some of the sensations whirling around my mind during my first visit Cueva de los Verdes.
The cave system that includes Jameos del Agua and Cueva de los Verdes was formed when La Corona erupted 3,000 years ago. Both sit in the ‘Atlantic Tunnel,’ a section below sea level that runs for 1.6 kms and reaches heights of 50 m. It is now a place of great geological interest.
As the lava flowed over a ravine at some 1200°C, the surface lava slowly cooled, solidifying to form the cave rooves. Meanwhile, hotter lava persisted underneath, flowing towards the sea. When the eruption finally ceased, the bubble-like underground caves were formed as the rooves remained intact.
Driving towards Cueva de los Verdes, you see nothing. The untamed volcanic landscape dominates the horizon, reigned by the majestic summit of La Corona. The signposts are the only indication that you are on the right track.
The birds’ eye view gives a different perspective: the cave entrances appear as great sunken holes, or ‘jameos’in the lava fields, over 20 of them dotting a trail between Corona and the sea. Standing at the entrance to Cueva de los Verdes, you are faced with a dark abyss, luring you into the unknown.
I imagine how the terrified islanders must have felt some 400 years ago. The North African pirates were advancing fast, and their only hope for survival was to hide in this dark hole. They took refuge for as long as six weeks, families huddled together, with only fire torches to show the way. The ‘secret door’ they used to escape is kept a secret until this day.
Today, we can fortunately experience this natural wonder at the hand of qualified guides. The cave was first opened for visiting in 1964, following its adaptation by architect Jesús Soto, from Fuerteventura, who later joined forces with César Manrique on several other projects.
Minimal intervention with nature has always been the aim of Lanzarote’s tourist centres, and Cueva de los Verdes is probably the most minimalistic of all. The only evidence of man’s interference are the smooth access paths that lead you through the galleries, music and imaginative lighting effects.
The caves twist their way into the ground. Cleverly placed lighting draws your attention to the beautiful greens, whites, rusts, blacks, greys and yellows from the calcium carbonate, iron and phosphate rock deposits. The cave does not lend its name to the traces of green, as one might think. ‘Cueva de los Verdes’ (Green Cave) is actually named after the family of shepherds who lived in the area during the 16thcentury.
As there is no infiltration in the caves, there are also no stalactites. Instead, the roof is lined with small droplets, formed as the lava slowly drip-dried. The range of textures and shapes, colour and shadows is fascinating.
Our visit takes us through 1 km of cave and takes around 45 minutes. The first-hand information is invaluable, and to me it would seem impossible to find your way around without a guide. We arrive at small auditorium where classical music concerts are sometimes held. The background music gives you a notion of how enchanting a classical quartet may sound. I just might have to come back to experience it…
Our guide then leads us to the upper gallery, a sort of upstairs level that was formed during a second lava flow. It’s incredible at how the islanders managed to hide here in the dark, without falling into the deep crevasses that line our path.
We are then met with one of the most beautiful sights of all, an awesome deep, wide cavern, with a cathedral-like roof. Man could not have designed this magnificent sight, even in his wildest imagination. It is here that one of nature’s best-kept secret lies, tucked away underground.
But don’t ask me to reveal it, you’ll have to visit Cueva de los Verdes and find out for yourself!