The history of the island of Lanzarote is filled with tumultuous changes — from volcanic eruptions to tourist invasions, but Joe Cawley believes that the island has benefitted from the drama.
Benjamin Franklin once said, ‘In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.’ He could also have added progress. Very little on this planet remains the same over a long period of time – including holiday destinations. Take Lanzarote for example …
Around 35 million years ago, give or take a fortnight, the island surged from the seabed 100 kilometers from the African Coast in a powerful volcanic awakening. For years it remained nothing more than a barren rock until populated by the Guanches from North Africa and subsequently by the Spanish, who built villages, small towns and trading harbors. Then in 1730, a violent eruption spewed fire and ash for six whole years, refurbishing the landscape with rivers of lava and swathes of black volcanic rock, giving parts of the island a lunar-like look.
It wasn’t until the 20th century that the progression of the island leapt forward again. In 1970 international flights were permitted for the first time and word soon spread about this sub-tropical island with its broad swathes of golden sand. With average temperatures loitering around the 75°F mark, 3,000 hours of sunshine a year and less rainfall than parts of the Sahara, it wasn’t long before the 2,000 tourist beds available at the time became woefully inadequate. Eight years later, the resort of Puerto del Carmen was created and the capacity to accommodate visitors began to swell.
It was during this eruption of tourism that one man stepped up and vowed to save Lanzarote’s landscape from being overwhelmed by the tidal wave of tourism. That man was César Manrique, a local painter, sculptor and architect. This environmental warrior ensured that the progress of tourism developed in harmony with the island’s dramatic beauty and has been, without doubt, the single most dominant figure in influencing the progression of Lanzarote. It was Manrique who persuaded the authorities not to build any house higher than 2 stories, to only allow homes to be painted white and to limit the color of those archetypal olive green or powder blue shutters that keep rooms cool enough for a midsummer siesta.
It’s hard to explore any part of the island now without coming across Manrique’s trademark styling of Lanzarote’s natural assets. He created a feature from the underground caves and tunnels of Cueva de los Verdes and Los Jameos del Agua which now incorporates tropical gardens, a swimming pool and a 600-seat auditorium where musical concerts are held. He also worked with the volcanic landscape to create the Mirador del Rio viewpoint with its head-spinning heights and views across the Strait of El Rio to the archaic island of La Graciosa. His influence can also be seen in the wind toys dotted around the island. These large-scale sculptures are designed to work with the elements, their moving parts coming alive when the wind blows.
There’s no doubt that both tourism and Manrique have benefitted the island significantly. Lanzarote stands out for its harmonious blending of nature and man. Between the volcanic cones, the fertile plains are peppered with sugar-cube houses, the compact villages studded with palm trees. Visitors flock to marvel at the natural wonders such as the ruddy red slopes of Fire Mountain. It’s here that visitors are reminded of the island’s fiery origins with volcano-fuelled barbecues and flaming examples of the incredible heat still bubbling away inches below their sandals.
But they also come for the modern, man-made attractions: the daring cowboy antics at Rancho Texas Park; the quayside shopping and dining at the Marina Rubicon; and the lush green fairways at the golf courses of Tias and Costa Teguise. Progress doesn’t stand still. Lanzarote will see more change. You can’t halt the path of progression, either natural or man-made. Like death and taxes, that is a certain.