Lanzarote — History and Culture
Not much is known about the history of Lanzarote. Records and relics that were once kept on the island were largely captured by pirates and other invaders between the 11th and 14th centuries. Nevertheless, there is still an interesting, traditional culture on display throughout the area.
The first European expeditions to the island of Lanzarote occurred during the early 14th century. Lancelotto Malcello was first captain to map the island, but by the end of the era, European powers were frequent visitors, returning often to find more slaves to trade. French explorers, including Jean de Bethencourt, explored Lanzarote’s southern reaches, including the area now known as Playa Blanca. Within several months, the French controlled the island, taking their own slaves and setting up agricultural areas.
In 1479 after years of conflict with Portugal, Spain became sole controller of Lanzarote through the treaty of Alcacovas. Due to the decimation of the island’s population by the French, the Spanish often raided the western African coast to get slaves. This led to Moorish and English pirate invasions in the 16th century.
By the 18th century, Lanzarote boasted an impressive farming and agricultural industry until everything was destroyed by the devastating volcanic eruptions around the Mountains of Fire in 1730. The burst leveled more than a quarter of the island with molten rock, taking out vast numbers of villages and hamlets, not to mention many square miles of important crop lands. The one upside was a better wine-growing environment was created, which still exists in La Geria Valley today. The Timanfaya National Park (Crta. de Yaiza a Tinajo, Lanzarote) is the center of the volcanic activity and beckons to be explored.
Lanzarote and the Canaries became a province of Spain after abolishing the original feudal system in 1812. A law was passed in 1852 granting the island free-duty and free-tax status. Today, this has significantly helped Lanzorate and the Canary Islands boost its travel industry. In 1927, the Canaries were split into two, with Lanzarote residing in the province of Las Palmas.
Tourism didn’t really become popular in Lanzarote until 1966 when Puerto del Carmen opened a new hotel called the Fariones Hotel. This, coupled with Lanzarote Airport opening in 1970, sparked a massive economic boost for the island. In 1982, the Canary Islands became an autonomous region of Spain, which led to an annual celebration on May 30th. Much of Lanzarote’s natural and unique architecture was preserved thanks to efforts by the famous artist, Cesar Manrique. His residence is a popular museum, known as the Fundacion Cesar Manrique (Calle Falcon de la Corona, Arrecife)
Lanzarote’s culture could very well have been lost when mass tourism and development began to encroach upon the island. However, thanks to the famous artist, Cesar Manrique, much of the beauty and traditions have been preserved. One of the most striking aspects of Manrique’s work is his Centers of Culture and Art that are located around the island. He and his partners designed magnificent architectural wonders intertwined with natural phenomena, which are still seen today. This includes the wondrous Green Caves Concert Hall.
Folklore music is still profoundly important on the island. As one of the Canary Islands traditions, Lanzarote has small ukele-type instruments called the timple made and used here. The best time to hear these interesting traditional songs is during one of the festivals that are held on the island.