Stories of people & places, festivities & traditions from my travels around the world

Stone water filters on the Canary Islands

by Lucy Hornberger

One of two destiladeras at the Casa-Museo del Timple in the centre of Teguise, Lanzarote. They are built into the wall opposite the kitchen, and can be accessed from both sides.One of two destiladeras at the Casa-Museo del Timple in the centre of Teguise, Lanzarote. They are built into the wall opposite the kitchen, and can be accessed from both sides.

I had read about Canarian destiladeras - porous stone basins traditionally used to filter water - in 'Crafts and Traditions of the Canary Islands' (Mike Eddy, Shire Ethnography 1989), so I was happy to spot a couple on our travels, and even happier to find one still in use in a place where we stayed.
Until recently the only water source in most parts of the Canaries was rainfall, stored in large open air tanks. When used for drinking and cooking, this water obviously benefitted from filtering to remove sediments and dirt. Today, with most drinking water coming from desalination plants - many with aging filters - some destiladeras are still in use, providing clean and pleasant tasting drinking water.
These traditional destiladera (also known as pila) have three main elements. A wooden stand or shelf, often built into the cool thickness of a courtyard wall, supports the volcanic stone basin through which the water slowly percolates drip by drip. Below the basin is a ceramic pot, the bernegal, where the clean water collects.
Mosses inevitably grow on the stone basins, thriving in the moist atmosphere and presumably assisting with the filtering. There's also a tradition of placing a potted fern on the cover that protects that water in the basin, or even encouraging ferns to grow on the stone basin itself. I was told that these are traditionally maidenhair ferns, and that if the fern is healthy then its sure sign that your drinking water is too!


The stone basin is covered with moss and ferns - a sign that it is still in use (Casa-Museuo del Timple, Teguise, Lanzarote).The stone basin is covered with moss and ferns - a sign that it is still in use (Casa-Museuo del Timple, Teguise, Lanzarote).

The destiladera at the Windmill Museum in Tiscamanita, Fuerteventura. It is built into the wall of what was presumably the kitchen of the miller's house. The lack of moss on the stone basin indicates that it is no longer in use.The destiladera at the Windmill Museum in Tiscamanita, Fuerteventura. It is built into the wall of what was presumably the kitchen of the miller's house. The lack of moss on the stone basin indicates that it is no longer in use.

The pottery bernegal pot has a cover with a central hole to funnel the water.The pottery bernegal pot has a cover with a central hole to funnel the water.

This simple destiladera is still very much in use, although the ceramic pot has been replaced with a bottle (Casa Florita, Antigua, Fuerteventura).This simple destiladera is still very much in use, although the ceramic pot has been replaced with a bottle (Casa Florita, Antigua, Fuerteventura).

The coating of moss suggests long-term continuous use. The water it produces is completely clear in colour and tastes pure.The coating of moss suggests long-term continuous use. The water it produces is completely clear in colour and tastes pure.

Article & photos posted February 20th, 2016

Text and photos copyright © 2016 Lucy Hornberger. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use prohibited.


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