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History of El Hierro

The island with soul has lots to tell us because it takes many years, decades and millenniums to be attain such a strong identity as El Hierro has.

The island has historically been known by many different names before arriving at its current one. Ombrion, Capararia, Pluvialia, Eseró or Hero were some of the most well-known. However, there is no doubt that Meridian Isle is the name that hides the greatest and most famous story. This name is supposed to have been given by Ptolemy, a Greco-Roman astronomer who, in the 2nd century AD, situated the prime meridian in the extreme west of the island, exactly coinciding with Punta de Orchilla on El Hierro. It would remain like that for centuries, until it was moved to Greenwich in 1884.

The first settlers

The island's first recorded settlers were the bimbaches or bimbapes, a native tribe that lived on the island at least from the year 120 AD until it was conquered by Juan de Bethencourt for the Kingdom of Castile. The bimbaches or bimbapes left us numerous petroglyphs, such as those in El Julan, where they are most extensive and meaningful and where we can also see remains of the ancient meeting placed called Tagoror.

They lived in caves or simple stone dwellings, in balance with their island environment, from which they obtained sufficient resources for subsistence. Agriculture, farming, hunting, fishing and gathering were their usual activities.

The Role of the Kingdom of Castile

Later, the Kingdom of Castile paid French-Basque mercenaries to conquer it. As of that time, the lands and other resources were no longer divided up equally but were distributed using a feudal system.

On 6 January 1546, the statue of the Virgen de Los Reyes (Virgin of the Kings) arrived by boat. The sailors gave it to some island shepherds in exchange for provisions. That is how it came to belong to and be the patron of the shepherds of La Dehesa and one of the most decisive features of the history of El Hierro. Today it is the islanders' most profound social and religious symbol.

Columbus on the Island

In 1493, the island received the visit of one of the most famous and important historical figures of all times. On his second voyage to America, Christopher Columbus made a 17-day port of call to the island, gathering supplies of water and food, and also waiting for better winds to push him towards the Americas.

The medical benefits of El Hierro

Throughout the 19th century, El Hierro became an island where politicians, military leaders and liberals were sent to live in exile. Nonetheless, this was beneficial for the island when Leandro Pérez was exiled there. He was the island's first doctor and confirmed the healing properties of the water from the Pozo de la Salud – a well in Sabinosa. Numerous other doctors later certified the properties of these waters and the spring became known as a place of pilgrimage.

Water – the island's source of life

The people of El Hierro have suffered from scarcity of water since the time of the first settlers. That is the real reason why they give so much importance to the Garoe Tree as they consider it a provider of this precious liquid. The tree was swept away by a storm in 1610 and, since that time, the history of water on El Hierro has been linked to its few-and-far-between springs. One of the main ones is the Azofa spring, near the village of Isora, which was already protected by island council regulations by the 18th century.

The islanders of El Hierro have adopted ancient practices, many of which were inherited from the bimbapes or bimbaches. These include the use of eres and maretas (natural systems for conserving water, such as underground streams and puddles of rainwater) and guásimos (natural or man-made holes inside trees that could collect up to 100 litres of water).

Recent events (18th, 20th and 21st century)

In 1899, a fire burnt the Valverde Town Hall to the ground, destroying the archives created in 1553. In 1912, the Valverde and Frontera town councils were created and the island acquired self-governance. On 15 September 2007, the municipality of El Pinar was constituted, making it the youngest in all of Spain.

An island with a lot of history created out of lives and stories experienced here.