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Lanzarote – The Island of Fire of César Manrique

Black is almost everything on Lanzarote. This is the fire island of the ingenious painter, architect, sculptor and environmentalist César Manrique. You will encounter his life’s work at every turn on this spectacular island. Probably no one else has left such a mark on an island as this man, who one day was run over by a car in front of his front door and succumbed to his injuries.

It was Manrique’s vision to change the island of his home and his dreams. One thing he saw coming during his lifetime: Lanzarote has long since freed itself from its former status as the poorhouse of the Canary Islands and is now one of the most popular vacation destinations. This island must be enjoyed and experienced with all senses.

Lanzarote – born in fire and designed by an artist

If the word “wild” applies to one of the seven Canary Islands, then only Lanzarote can be meant. It was born in fire and presents itself in the Timanfaya National Park as a landscape that could have been created by the devil. At the park’s large visitor center and restaurant, this devil can be seen in stately size, created by the brilliant artist and architect César Manrique.

He has shaped this island like no other, and he will not have thought it possible during his lifetime that his fire devil of Timanfaya would one day become the trademark of Lanzarote and a sought-after souvenir for tourists. This island inspired César Manrique, and whoever travels to the most important sights of Lanzarote today will encounter his ideas and works again and again.

The fire devil of Timanfaya – a landmark of Lanzarote.

No records of the “Old Canarians”.

It is the contrasts that made Lanzarote a “wild beauty”. The view from there does not reach as far as the African coast, but it is not only the geographical proximity that connects the island with Morocco. This is probably where the first people came from who settled this largely barren landscape and who primarily helped themselves to the fruits of the sea.

There are no records of the so-called “Old Canarians”, except for circular scribbles on various rocks. We only know that one day they were driven out of their supposed paradise by the soldiers of the rulers of the Castilian royal house. In the early 15th century, Lanzarote was supposed to serve as a trading post and as a port on the way of ships to America, but these considerations then disappeared in the haze of history.

Testimony of a geologist: “No tree, no herb”.

Leopold von Buch was a German geologist who traveled to Lanzarote in 1825 because his studies were mainly devoted to volcanism. He had previously visited Mount Vesuvius in Italy and the Caldera de Taburiente on La Palma, and then realized on Lanzarote that the volcanic eruptions there apparently originated from a single fissure in the earth. Later he held a treaty about it in the Prussian Academy of Sciences. He gave Lanzarote the worst possible report card, and the scenery he found there he summarized succinctly: “Not a tree and not a herb…” At the time of his visit, Lanzarote was indeed still considered one of the poorhouses of the Canary Islands. But with tourism, a certain prosperity finally took hold there.

Only a blink of history

According to volcanologists, under the earth’s crust of the Canary Islands there is a “hot spot” that moves from east to west. Every now and then, it discharges in eruptions and gives rise to new islands off the African coast. Lanzarote is the best example of this, because the largest of all volcanic eruptions happened there in the six years between 1730 and 1736. Although these almost three hundred years that have passed since then are more like the blink of an eye in history, anyone who is chauffeured by bus through the Timanfaya National Park as a vacationer today can hardly escape the impression that this catastrophe occurred only a few years ago.

The priest of Yaiza experienced hell

A remarkable document has been preserved of the events of September 1730. It comes from the pen of the priest of Yaiza, a village located between the ridge of Los Ajaches and the volcanic landscape of the Timanfayas Mountains. These are the key sentences of his dramatic account: “A huge mountain formed the first night and it burned for 19 days. A stream of lava flowed into the sea and the coasts were covered with huge quantities of dead fish.” The clergyman did not finish his diary notes until that hour when the lava masses reached his chapel. He had experienced hell on earth as the former breadbasket of Lanzarote was destroyed.

Four hundred degrees Celsius at a depth of four meters

The Timanfaya National Park with the Fire Mountains is undoubtedly the greatest attraction on Lanzarote. It covers 51 square kilometers and can only be visited as part of a booked bus tour. The lava masses occupy a quarter of the total volume of the island, and in some places of this lunar landscape the underground is still quite hot. This is impressively demonstrated right at the visitor center when workers throw broom bushes into a hot vent and they immediately begin to burn.

When water is poured into the hole in the ground, a fountain of steam is created. At a depth of four meters, the temperature is four hundred degrees Celsius. Eight meters deeper, it is six hundred degrees Celsius. The restaurant “El Diabolo” serves chicken legs cooked on the grill with the heat of the earth.

From a wasteland Manrique made a jewel

The volcanic heart of the island apparently always had it in for the artist and architect César Manrique, because where others saw an endless wasteland on Lanzarote, he discovered one jewel after the next. He made use of the whimsical shapes of the formations made of lava and designed the unusual. All his life he was a fighter against the changes in Lanzarote. He hated the hotel castles and mass tourism and set his way of thinking and acting against it.

Today Lanzarote would not be what it is without the ideas of this man. Standing one day in the north of the island in front of a cave entrance buried by garbage, he said to his companion, the friend of his younger years: “If you help me, I’ll make it one of the most beautiful places in the world.” He succeeded!

Of albino crabs and subterranean concerts.

Today, Jameos del Agua is equally a cult and cultural site. The impressive legacy of a genius. When the first visitors came to see this subterranean work of art in 1966, many of them held their breath. Under the lava field of the Monte de la Corona volcano, a miracle of nature had been created. With a lake in which albino crayfish cavort, with a hundred-meter-long tube, with an interesting lighting system that makes you think stars are twinkling on the still water, and with a vault that can be used for concerts. The lava tunnel, five thousand years old, has been brought to life and is one of the masterpieces of César Manrique. Above ground, the visitor reaches a swimming pool surrounded by palm trees shining snow-white, a restaurant and a museum.

“In the land of volcanoes, I am a volcano myself”.

Manrique was a child of the island of Lanzarote. His cradle was in the capital Arrecife. Later he studied in Madrid and was often ridiculed when he presented his ideas. He tried his hand at abstract paintings as a painter, then moved to New York, where his works hung in a gallery next to those of Joan Miró. Now he was famous, but his thoughts always went back to Lanzarote. “In this land of volcanoes, I am a volcano myself,” he once said, and began developing concepts for unusual projects. He dreamed of a “paradise of the few” and used in his construction the materials that this island had in abundance: lava!

No building is higher than a palm tree

But Manrique also saw himself as a kind of missionary and environmentalist. He wanted to prevent his homeland from becoming a concreted landscape. And he was successful in his endeavors, because the island administration signed a law stating that no building should be higher than a palm tree. From his think tank came the Jardin de Cactus, an impressive garden with countless cacti, the Mirador del Rio with a view of the small island of La Graciosa, and several works of art along the roadside. After he died in a car accident in front of his house in September 1992, his impressive home is now open to the public for tours.

Teguise – Spanish colonial style houses

Manrique is not really missed on Lanzarote. Thus the vacation center Costa Teguise with its white houses in the Canary style was developed under his direction. And he designed the swimming pool of the first five-star hotel on Lanzarote, the hotel “Melia Salinas”. The historic town of Teguise was destroyed several times by pirates and then rebuilt again and again. Today there are some houses in Spanish colonial style under monument protection. The entire old town of Teguise looks like a museum, and if you stroll through the narrow streets, you will walk in the footsteps of history. Everywhere on the island you will find hospitable innkeepers and tranquil restaurants.

Wine growers and landscape artists

The cultivation of wine is not only a tradition on Lanzarote – many winegrowers see themselves as landscape artists. In the area of La Geria, each vine grows in a depression dug out especially for it, where the moisture of the night collects and where the sensitive plants are protected from the wind by a piled up stone wall. In these vineyards, not far from Timanfaya National Park, fine wines are served on the tables of picturesque fincas. Most of the estates have a small pub with a well-stocked selection of wines and tapas. The main grapes grown are Moscatel and Malvasia. The oldest winery in the Canary Islands is El Grifo. Attached to the bodega is a wine museum.

The “perfect wave” at the fishing village La Santa

Windsurfers have long since found their best beach on Lanzarote and there the “perfect wave”. The experts among them are drawn to the fishing village of La Santa, but this is not a spot for beginners because of the unpredictability of the ocean. They should rather try their luck on the beach of Caleta de Famara. If you want to swim in the turquoise sea, you have to be careful on Lanzarote, because not all beaches are suitable for swimming. Preferred by vacationers is the northeast of Lanzarote with its dunes that also break the wind: Mojón Blanco and Caletón Blanco. If you don’t come here on a hot weekend, you will find your sheltered spot on the beach.

Luxurious hotels and first class restaurants

Lanzarote sees itself as a domicile for people who have a certain demand for quality in their vacation destination. Therefore, there is no lack of luxurious hotels, first-class restaurants and an exemplary infrastructure. Visitor numbers have skyrocketed to new heights since word got out about the magic of this unusual island in the Canary Islands. The most popular resorts are now Puerto del Carmen, Costa Teguise and Playa Blanca.

Lanzarote’s model of tourist resolution received international recognition, and in the early nineties of the last century the entire island was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Not all the dreams of the artist César Manrique came true on “his” island, but the balancing act between the demand to use the natural resources and to serve tourism, Lanzarote has undoubtedly managed with its varied leisure offer.