The dancing devil holding a five-pronged fork over his head while his arrow-tipped tail snakes along the ground between his feet is instantly recognisable to anyone who has visited Lanzarote. This image, designed for the El Diablo restaurant in 1966 by César Manrique, the celebrated artist, architect and environmentalist, has become inextricably linked with the island, and in particular with the vast expanse of the Timanfaya National Park where, on one night in 1730, the Devil came to call.
“On September 1st 1730, between 9pm and 10pm, 11 kilometres from Yaiza, the ground close to Timanfaya suddenly opened up. That first night, a huge mountain grew out of the ground and, from its peak, enormous flames that kept burning for 19 days could be seen.” Don Andrés Lorenzo Curbelo, Yaiza parish priest, had just witnessed the beginning of an eruption that was to last for six years – the longest eruptive incident in history. During those long, dark years, the residents of Lanzarote did not see the sun, its light cloaked in a dense veil of volcanic ash while eruption after eruption threatened the very earth upon which they stood. By the time the eruptions ended their flow and the ash cleared, eleven villages and 420 homes had been destroyed and one quarter of the entire island had become barren, volcanic malpaís (badlands).
In geological terms, the three centuries that have almost passed since Padre Lorenzo witnessed the earth opening up are a mere heartbeat in time. The ground is still so delicate that a footprint could remain visible for years, and just 15 metres below the surface the heat still reaches levels of 600°C. A dried shrub placed in a shallow hollow instantly explodes into flames while cold water poured into a bore hole is exhumed, seconds later, in a powerful jet of vapour. The park's landscape is a volcanic wonderland imbued with a kaleidoscopic spectrum of colour that races through the cones and craters of its surface – a vast dreamscape that looks, literally, like nowhere else on earth. Although the surface is too fragile to walk on beyond two short, guided routes, air-conditioned coach tours take visitors deep into the landscape, driving through the moon-like terrain, describing the drama that took place all those years ago, and conducting powerful demonstrations of the force that still lies just beneath your feet.
Perhaps most impressive of all is how that power is used in the aptly named El Diablo restaurant. The brainchild of César Manrique, El Diablo epitomises his architectural and environmental philosophy of working with, rather than against, the natural landscape of his beloved Lanzarote. When the Devil left his calling card, Manrique harnessed it by sinking a vast oven into the earth and placing a metal grill over the opening. Chicken cooked on a volcano – how diabolically clever.