Travel Guide 2021
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 on his doorstep 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 in 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 holiday destinations. This island has to 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 is born in the fire and presents itself in the national park Timanfaya as a landscape that could have been created by the devil. At the large visitor centre and the restaurant of the park, this devil can be seen in stately size, created by the ingenious 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 desired souvenir for tourists. This island inspired César Manrique, and those who travel to the most important sights of Lanzarote today will encounter his ideas and works again and again.
No records of the “Old Canarians”.
It is the contrasts that made Lanzarote a “wild beauty”. The view from there does not reach to 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”, apart from 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 station and as a harbour on the way of the ships to America, but these considerations then disappeared in the haze of the history.
Testimony of a geologist: “No tree, no herb”.
Leopold von Buch was a German geologist who travelled to Lanzarote in 1825 because his studies were mainly devoted to volcanism. He had previously visited 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 treatise on this at the Prussian Academy of Sciences. He gave Lanzarote the worst possible report card, and the scenery he found there he summed up succinctly: “Not a tree or 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 an eye in history
According to volcanologists, underneath the earth’s crust of the Canarian Islands there is a “hot spot” that moves from east to west. It discharges itself every now and then in eruptions and lets arise new islands in front of the African coast. Lanzarote is the best example for this, as there, the biggest of all volcanic eruptions happened in the six years between 1730 and 1736. Indeed, these almost three hundred years that passed since then are rather a blink of an eye of history, but those who are chauffeured as a holiday maker by the bus through the national park Timanfaya today, can hardly avoid the impression that this catastrophe happened only a few years ago.
The priest of Yaiza experienced hell
A remarkable document of the events of September 1730 has been preserved. It was penned by the priest of Yaiza, a village located between the Los Ajaches ridge 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 shores 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 granary of Lanzarote was destroyed.
Four hundred degrees Celsius at a depth of four metres
The national park Timanfaya with the fire mountains is undoubtedly the biggest sight in Lanzarote. It is 51 square kilometres in size and can only be visited as part of a booked bus tour. The lava masses take a quarter of the whole volume of the island and in some places of this moonscape, 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 metres the temperature is four hundred degrees Celsius. Eight meters down, the temperature is six hundred degrees Celsius. The restaurant “El Diabolo” serves chicken legs, which are cooked on the grill with the heat of the earth.
Manrique turned a wasteland into a jewel
The volcanic heart of the island has obviously always appealed to the artist and architect César Manrique, because where others saw an endless wasteland on Lanzarote, he discovered one jewel after the next. He took advantage of the bizarre shapes of the lava formations and created the unusual. Throughout 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 rubbish, 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 underground concerts
Jameos del Agua is now a cult and cultural site in equal measure. 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 tube that is a hundred metres long, with an interesting lighting system that makes you think that stars are twinkling on the still water and with a vault that can be used for concerts. The five thousand year old lava tunnel had been brought to life and is one of the masterpieces of César Manrique. Above ground, visitors reach a snow-white swimming pool surrounded by palm trees, 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 alongside 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 buildings 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 concrete landscape. And he was successful in his efforts, as the island administration signed a law according to which 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 as well as 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 – Houses in Spanish colonial style
Manrique is a must-see on Lanzarote. Thus, the holiday centre Costa Teguise with its white houses in the Canarian style was created under his direction. And he designed the swimming pool of the first five-star hotel on Lanzarote, the hotel “Melia Salinas”. The historic village of Teguise was destroyed several times by pirates and then rebuilt again and again. Today some houses in the Spanish colonial style are under monument protection. The whole old town of Teguise looks like a museum and those who stroll through the narrow alleys walk on the traces of history. Everywhere on the island you will find hospitable innkeepers and contemplative restaurants.
Winegrowers 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 specially dug depression, where the humidity 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 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 at the beach of Caleta de Famara. Those who want to swim in the turquoise sea have to be careful in Lanzarote, as not all beaches are suitable for swimming. Holidaymakers prefer the north-east 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 holiday destination. Therefore, there is no lack of luxurious hotels, first class restaurants and an exemplary infrastructure. Visitor numbers have shot up to new heights since word got around about the magic of this unusual island in the Canaries. The most popular resorts are now Puerto del Carmen, Costa Teguise and Playa Blanca.
Lanzarote’s model for tourist development has received international recognition, and in the early 1990s the entire island was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Not all dreams of the artist César Manrique came true on “his” island, but the balancing act between the claim to use the natural resources and to serve tourism, Lanzarote has undoubtedly managed with its versatile leisure offer.