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Perched high up atop Mount Guanapay, sits the Castle of Santa Barbara (Castillo de Santa Bárbara), the oldest castle in Lanzarote.
Initially built as a simple watch tower in the 15th century on the order of King Felipe II of Spain to warn the citizens of the islands, then capital Teguise to prepare for impending pirate raids, the castle offered no protection against the marauders.
Despite being owned by the new kingdom of Spain, the Canary Islands were on their own lying out in the Atlantic a thousand miles from the Iberian Peninsula virtually defenceless from attacks by foreign powers and privateers.
The crown of Portugal sent parties to plunder Teguise early on in the 1,400’s but it was not until Christopher Columbus used the island of La Gomera as a stopping off point on his way to discover the Americas that the Canary Islands gained the attention of raiders. With boats laden with provisions for the long journey across the Atlantic and hopefully full of gold and silver on their return journey the waters around the Canary Island became prime hunting grounds for pirates.
An impressive fortress now museum
Following the Reconquista in 1492 when the Christians forced the Moors to flee back to North Africa, Lanzarote and the rest of the Canary Islands were of particular interest to the Barbary Pirates who if they could not find a treasure to plunder would kidnap people and hold them for ransom.
The citizens of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote in fact encouraged the pirates to attack by making raids of their own on the North African states while kidnapping Maghreb people for ransom.
Following a particularly brutal pirate raid in 1551 the tower on top of Mount Guanapay was fortified to offer protection for the islands rich and noble.
Now an impressive fortress once more after undergoing a renovation in 1989 the Castillo de Santa Bárbara houses a modern museum dedicated to the thousands of émigrés who fled to Cuba and the Americas.
Following the massive volcanic eruptions of the 1730’s that left Lanzarote deforested, a severe drought in 1768 forced the majority of the population to leave rather than to die of thirst and starvation.
In 2011 the castle incorporated a museum dedicated to the many pirates that plundered the island, adding to the already impressive display of maps and documents of the immigration museum to create what is now one of the most visited tourist attractions on Lanzarote.
A half day trip to visit the Castle of Santa Barbara is something the entire family will enjoy. The drive up the mountain and the entrance to the castle is a bit precarious as are the unprotected steps up to the battlement. Keep a close eye on your children while admiring the panoramic views of the city below and the Ocean on both sides of the island.
Opening Hours and Pricing
Opening hours are from 10am until 4pm seven days a week.
The entrance fee is 3.00€ per adult and 1.80€ for island residents.