Chimenea (often misspelled "chiminea") is the Spanish word for chimney, and there are many different types available. These days, it's a backyard kind of word used worldwide to represent a cozy, portable fireplace made either of clay or metal. The clay chimenea originated in Mexico and thrived there and in the American Southwest, becoming an international fad in recent decades.
Popularity and History
Now there are even Asian countries that manufacture clay chimeneas. They have become a staple of garden decor in Britain where some owners even use them to roast chestnuts. In America, they can even be purchased through large department stores and at farmers markets.
Many stories place the beginnings of the chimenea somewhere in the central to southern highlands of Mexico and connect it with ancient, nomadic Mayan culture.
The fireplaces were used for cooking as well as keeping people warm. But finding solid information online about chimenea history is as difficult as trying to catch smoke in your hands. One British seller sums up the fireplace's history this way: "Once upon a time in Mexico the Chiminea was invented."
The Patio Living website says that the hand-building of clay chimeneas is at least 1,000 years old. It notes that traditional methods of production involve a special clay that is found in the highlands and which is fire- and frost-resistant. The clay is trampled to achieve an even texture, then smoothed with an oversized rolling pin before being fit into molds, dried and fired.
Traditional chimeneas are plain terra cotta and pear-shaped. They have a bulbous bottom or "bowl" with a front opening through which wood is placed and air enters to fuel the fire. The bowl is attached to a tall chimney that has a lid for use when it is time to slow down and extinguish the fire. The cap also protects the bowl from filling with rainwater.
Varying Sizes and Shapes
Craftsmen and manufacturers now are producing chimeneas featuring a wide variety of dimensions, including geometrically abstract designs with mouths and chimney tips cut on the diagonal. There are sedate designs with tall, slender silhouettes and others that have necks carved to look like Grecian columns. Short, squat models include lidded firebowls. Heights range from 2 to more than 4 feet. Bowl openings go from widemouth to tiny arches to multiple mouths around which a number of people can sit enjoying the fire.
Clay chimeneas no longer are limited to basic terra cotta. Grey stone-like colors abound along with tans, rusty reds, purples and polished mahagony finishes. Stars and suns grace chimenea necks. Flowers, vines and animals such as iguanas creep up the sides of the bowls.
Animal and Holiday Designs
Chimenea sales websites are showing an increasing number of unusual designs including fireplaces shaped like wide-mouth fish, frogs and pigs. Some are Halloween jack-o-lanterns with friendly or ferocious expressions. Others are shaped like Frosty the Snowman whose stovepipe hat is the chimney's cap. This indicates that some folks are stepping out on the patio to fire up their chimeneas during winter. Perhaps Peter Cottontail will come hopping down the chimenea trail sometime soon.
Whichever style of chimenea you choose for your outdoor space, you will love the added warmth and comfort it provides.