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The capital city of Lanzarote, Arrecife has two waterfront castles the Castillo de San Gabriel which now acts as a museum of the island's history and the Castillo de San Jose where you will find a modern art museum and restaurant.
Plagued by attacks from the Barbary pirates who sailed their Corsairs under papers from the Ottoman sultan in Constantinople, the people of Lanzarote had no course of action, but to hide when the ships from Algiers and Salé arrived to plunder newly arrived Spanish vessels from the New World or to capture slaves to take back to North Africa.
Despite the last recorded attack on Lanzarote occurring in 1749 by the pirates of the Maghreb, King Charles III of Spain used the excuse of fortifying Arrecife against attack from pirates to raise the funds to construct two castles to protect the city’s harbour.
Truth be told the entire 1776-1779 endeavour would today be called a public works project, which was orchestrated to provide jobs at a time when the islanders were suffering from extreme famine and drought.
Brought on by the volcanic eruptions of Timanfaya between 1730 and 1736 in which a third of the islands best agricultural land was covered in lava and several years of less than average rainfall, the people of Lanzarote were desperate for a change in fortunes.
Neither castle has ever been called upon to defend Arrecife, but their construction provided the much-wanted income the islanders needed to see them through the tough times, which is why today the Castillo de San Jose is known as the Fortaleza del hambre (fortress of hunger).
Used primarily as a place to store gunpowder, the castle underwent a major renovation in the 1970’s under the watchful eye of Lanzarote architect and designer César Manrique. At the time Manrique was stamping his artistic vision throughout the island and saw the Castillo de San Jose as the ideal venue to house a modern art exhibit.
Not just a castle
Completed in 1976 the Castillo San Jose is now the proud home to the International Museum of Contemporary Art (Museo Internacional de Arte Contemporaneo).
The museum displays works of art made between 1950 and 1980 that focus on abstract forms of modern sculpture and kinetic art that include works by Barcelona-born Joan Miró.
The castle courtyard is used to display some of the larger sculptures, while the area beneath the museum was converted into a restaurant with floor to ceiling windows providing panoramic views across the harbour.
Admission to the restaurant is free and worth it just to experience César Manrique’s style of alleviating corners while making use of natural stone and island fauna. The restaurant is a great place to have a light lunch following a visit to the museum and is the perfect place to meet for an early evening cocktail.
Location and Pricing
Calle Nte, 51, 35500 Arrecife, Las Palmas.
Tel - 928 812 321
Museum: 10:00am until 8:00pm seven days a week
Museum Admission Price:
Adults 4€, children 7-12, 2€.
Restaurant: 1:00pm until 4:00pm and 5:00pm until 11:30pm.
A tasting menu is available for 18€ as well as a full a la carte menu offering various Canarian delights.