A warm Sandwagon welcome to Nick Ball, editor of Lanzaroteguidebook who lives on the island, in Tabayesco village. I'm happy to share Nick's article in an effort to help Lanzaroteguide's cause - inspiring travellers to visit and explore this uniquely beautiful Spanish island.
Lanzarote – Césars' Empire by Nick Ball
Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, is best known as a bucket and spade beach destination. This small speck of Spain, located just off the coast of West Africa, attracts around 1.5 million foreign tourists every year(the majority of them from the UK)thanks to a clement year round climate and over ninety beaches.
But despite its enormous popularity Lanzarote still remains largely unspoiled – thanks to the work of a locally born artist and architect called Cesar Manrique.
Back in the 1730s around a quarter of the island’s surface area was submerged beneath a sea of lava, following intense volcanic eruptions which lasted for six years.
Fast forward to the 1960s and the island faced another type of burial – this time beneath a sea of concrete. As property developers and hotel chains eyed Lanzarote greedily. Package tourism was just starting to take off in Spain under the protection of General Franco and swathes of the Spanish coastline were starting to disappear – to be replaced by high-rise hotels and apartment complexes.
At this time, Manrique was studying and exhibiting in New York, where he was rubbing shoulders with contemporaries such as Andy Warhol and the Factory crowd. But by 1968 he resolved to return to Lanzarote instead – determined to fight for the island of his birth.
“Those of us born to you, Lanzarote, those of us who know about your magic, your wisdom, the secrets of your volcanic structure, your revolutionary aesthetics, those who have fought to rescue you from your enforced historical isolation and the poverty which you have always suffered, begin to tremble with fear as we see how you are destroyed and submitted to massification.” [Manrique]
The artist was already an influential figure in his own right on the island. But his trump card lay in the fact that his family enjoyed a close relationship with the governor of the island, Pepin Ramirez. Who shared many of Manrique’s fears about the advent of package tourism.
Together the pair successfully secured a ban on all high rise construction on the island. Meaning that only edifices no taller than a Canarian palm tree could be built. They also successfully secured the outlawing of advertising hoardings. Leaving Lanzarote largely as nature intended.
Manrique´s other master stroke was to create alternative tourist attractions to the eco-unfriendly water parks and golf courses that were favoured in most other Spanish sunspots at this time. Instead he resolved to “fuse art with nature” by uniting his own artistic aesthetic with the islands raw, volcanic scenery.
Initially, most locals thought we was nuts. What was he going to do with a mound of rocks? They soon changed their tune, however, when Manrique unveiled his first creation – the Jameos del Agua – the conversion of an underground volcanic tunnel into a breathtaking auditorium and grotto. Two years later he then built his own house and studio from five volcanic bubbles.
Manrique´s work rapidly garnered awards plaudits in the world of international architecture and this in turn started to attract some of the highest profile film stars of the day – such as Petter Sellers, Omar Sharif and Rita Heyworth – to this novel new holiday destination.
Thanks to Manrique, Lanzarote went on to be declared a UNESCO protected biosphere in 1994 – the first island in the world to enjoy such status. His creations are still the most popular tourist attractions on the island today.
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