El Salvador in Central America is one of the most volcanic and earthquake-hit countries in the world. Twenty-two volcanoes crowd into the smallest of spaces. There is hardly a place in the country from which one does not see these mighty giants. The capital San Salvador, on the other hand, has only few sights. Whatever is built collapses in the shower of earthquakes. Each of the inhabitants remembers one or the other catastrophic quake that affected his family. The last bad quakes that cost the lives of hundreds of people date back to 2001.
One of the most terrible and dangerous volcanoes in the world is hidden under a picturesque crater lake very close to the city. The Llopango. The traces of the threatening past of the Llopango can be found everywhere in the country. Every hill that is dug shows a colourful stratigraphy and if you drive past road works, one of the locations, a particularly extensive one, catches the eye – it is white. Snow-white, like the ashes of Llopango, which can be found not only here, but almost everywhere in the world.
If you think Naples was built on a ticking bomb, take a look at San Salvador.
Today scientists believe that the Llopango had a considerable influence on world events in its past. It seems that one of its eruptions can be described as the worst volcanic eruption in the world.
The volcano is suspected of having wiped out life in Central America within a radius of 100 kilometres by its most powerful eruption. It is also possible that he caused the downfall of Teotihuacan. He is finally also said to have contributed to famines in Europe and thus to the collapse of the Roman Empire. The dating of his pyroclastic sediment recently resulted in an estimate of his worst eruption date to the year 429 AD. Other researchers rather assume the year 435, in which a considerable weather anomaly occurred. Historians such as Prokopios of Cesarea, Michael the Syrian and Flavius Cassiodorus uniformly report that in the years 535/536 there occured low temperatures with snow in the summer and failed harvests. Even at noon the sun cast only a dull shadow and the circumstances that usually accompanied a solar eclipse lasted almost a year. Contemporary Chinese and Indonesian sources also speak of such unusual atmospheric events, so that it was clearly a global phenomenon.
But the Llopango area has another surprise in store. Latin America also has its pompeii.
Joya de Ceren.
The village Joya de Ceren was destroyed by Llopango’s smaller neighbour, Loma Caldera, and buried under 10 metres of ash. The site is hidden behind an industrial centre in a small forest. What awaits the visitor is impressive. An entire ancient Mayan village is buried under ashes. A mysterious greeting from the past. Impressively preserved and a true gateway to a journey back in time.
It is said that the eruption that buried the village was not the first in the area, as the village was already built on ash layers. It is said to have been destroyed around 535 AD. The approximately 200 inhabitants still had time to flee and no bodies were found. But their escape must have been hasty. The food was still on the table, a feast had been prepared. In Joya de Ceren manioc was found for the first time – and it had just been planted.
Many huts were identified, of which only a part was excavated, as in Herculaneum and Pompei. Particularly impressive are a sauna and the tiny house of a shaman.
The visit is awe-inspiring and Joya de Ceren’s reputation as one of the most important archaeological sites in Latin America is undoubtedly deserved.
If you have not yet been there, hurry.