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History of Lanzarote - Canary Islands Now

A history of Lanzarote

Guide to the history of Lanzarote

Veiled in myths and mystery, the Canary Islands were once thought to be the limits of the known world, with writers suggesting they could have been part of the lost continent, Atlantis. Lanzarote’s history is also vaguely known, being the oldest of the Canaries, existing for over 180 million years.

Thought to be inhabited from at least 1000 BC, the Canary Islands were then populated by Berbers who came from North Africa. The journey of how they got there remains a mystery to this day, as very little is known about their culture and language. The only archaeological discoveries suggest they had links with Phoenicians and the Roman Empire, as evidence of trade between them was found on the islands (metals, glass and other artifacts), dating between the first and fourth century.

Lanzarote and the Canaries fell into oblivion after the collapse of the Roman empire, being rediscovered again in the 14th century by Mediterranean sailors.

Although Arab ascendancy had been established on the Canaries as early as 1000 AD, Lanzarote was first conquered by Lanzarotto Malocello, a Genovese navigator, in 1312, giving the island it’s modern day name.

The early inhabitants

The first inhabitants of the Canary Islands were named Guanches, a term initially used only for the natives of Tenerife, but which was later attributed to the aboriginal population of the Canaries.

The term Majo was used specifically for the inhabitants of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. Their main forms of livelihood were fishing, basic agriculture and grazing, with some knowledge of pottery and no knowledge of metals. They lived in caves or stone houses, they kept farm animals and made gofio (flour) from barley they cultivated. For these reasons, European explorers said they were in a stone age state when they first discovered the islands.

Changes throughout time

More conquer attempts were later made by Europeans, who wanted to sell natives as slaves in their countries, seeking prosperity and prestige.

The ultimate conquest began in the early 15th century and was led by Juan de Bethencourt and Gadifer de la Salle, both Norman explorers. Conquest might be too much said though. As Lanzarote was almost deserted at the time, the population being decimated by diseases introduced by Europeans, the natives agreed to sign a friendship and nonaggression pact with the invaders, for protection against slavers and pirates.

The first governor of Lanzarote would become Bethencourt’s nephew Maciot, who married Teguise - the princess of Lanzarote, founding then the town that carries her name to this day.

The feudal system was later introduced to Lanzarote, which was under the control of Spanish nobility, namely the Herrera family. In order to expand the declining population, many North African slaves were brought to Lanzarote, and dromedaries were also introduced on the island.

The descendants of the Herrera family ruled the island until municipalities replaced the old parochial system in 1812.

The 19th century brought many changes to the Canary Islands, the Canarians becoming Spanish citizens, with free trade established between mainland Spain and the islands.

Starting with the 20th century, Cabildos were instated, meaning the Canaries have their own local governments and a tax free policy on some goods and products.

The flora and fauna of the island

Another fascinating fact about the history of Lanzarote is the volcanic eruptions which started in 1730 and lasted for 6 years, creating the magnificent Montañas del Fuego (Fire Mountains) with over 200 volcanic cones, later becoming the Timanfaya National Park. The powerful eruptions had a profound impact on the flora and fauna of the island, as the lava covered many villages and most fertile area, leaving the people of Lanzarote with barely any resources to live on; many years of hardship followed after the eruptions.

Although they were largely devastating, these eruptions also made possible the modern day industry of wine, by depositing a huge mass of lapilli in the La Geria valley.

Now considered dormant, the heat under the surface of Timanfaya can still be felt and geysers can be seen throughout the National Park.

Lanzarote’s delicate flora and fauna has been declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO, access to the park being strictly regulated. You can either take the available footpaths, a fun camel ride or you can take the couch to visit the splendors that the park has to offer.

The marine life is also very complex - you will be able to find many creatures crawling around or hiding on the bottom of the Atlantic such as sardines, cuttlefish, parrot fish, crabs and even octopuses, stingrays and angel sharks.

Montañas del Fuego (Fire Mountains), later becoming the Timanfaya National Park