History of Lanzarote

History of Lanzarote

In this section, we wanted to bring together and relate the different events that occurred in Lanzarote and that are part of its history, describing in detail the events that took place from prehistory to the present.

Pre-conquest of Lanzarote

The few archaeological remains found on the island have not yet made it possible to study the first prehistoric human settlements. It is known, however, that the ancient settlers were the majos, who called the Island Tite-Roy-Gatra.

Although the Archipelago formally becomes part of the pages of History from the fifteenth century, the Islands were known in ancient times. Already in classical Greece they knew of the existence of the Islands, designating them Hesperides. Although it was also called Purpuraria due to the large amount of orchilla (lichen from which natural dyes are extracted) that it possessed. Its current name is due, however, to the Genoese navigator Lancelotto Malocello who, visited the island for about fifteen years, traded with its inhabitants and it seems probable that he gave it the name of Lanzarote.

It is proven that the first inhabitants of the island, like those of the rest of the Canary Islands, came from North Africa, from a geographical space that extends, approximately, from Tunisia to the Atlantic coast, and from the Mediterranean to the southern limit of the Sahara desert, linked culturally and genetically with the Berber peoples of the current Maghreb.

Regarding the settlement dates, most theories point to a time close to the year 500 BC. C. to date the first human arrivals to the Canary Islands. The exact causes that motivated the displacement are unknown.

About the physical appearance of the aborigines of the island, little is known with certainty, due to the scarcity of anthropological studies. The limited bone pieces studied refer to a type of medium-tall stature and marked robustness, with North African Mediterranean characteristics. However, the Norman chronicle of the conquest (Le Canarien), points out that the conquerors were admired by the appearance physique, customs and virtues of the aborigines.

The way of life prior to the conquest revolved around grazing, although barley and wheat were also grown, from which, once roasted and ground, flour was obtained. gofio, an essential element of the aboriginal diet. They lived mainly in caves and sometimes built huts. A unique type of dwelling on the Island was the deep house, an underground grotto formed by volcanic action, low in height and which, in general, had one entrance and one exit. They also had buildings of public utility, such as the tagoror, with a circular and oval floor plan surrounded by a small dry stone wall, inside which the elders or councilors met to deliberate on political matters and impart justice. 

They wore furs, the land was common, and they were peaceful. They believed in a single god, they had laws and judges embalmed their dead. An aspect that highlights the sense of community among the aborigines of Lanzarote can be seen in fishing with nets and reeds, in which men and women participated, shoveling the water to drive the fish to the net, enclosing them. The catch was shared equally among all participants.

Polyandry was common, that is, the situation in which a woman has several husbands. This presupposes that women had reserved a very important social role through motherhood. The normal thing was that each woman had three men, each of whom acted as the main husband during a phase of the moon, while the remaining two became collaborators.

Conquest of Lanzarote

The conquest began with Lanzarote, in 1402, as a result of the Norman knight Jean de Bethencourt obtaining the rights of conquest by the Castilian King Enrique III, who sponsors the invasion. He had no major problem in conquering the island since Guadarfía only had 200 men to defend the entire island. Upon his arrival, Bethencourt settled in Playa de Las Coloradas, very close to the town of Playa Blanca, where the first Diocese of the Canary Islands was erected.

After a For a short period of time, from the center of power on the island in this place, it seems that the political, religious and administrative center moved to the old «Great Village» of los Majos, (Teguise). Possibly this occurs when possession of the island is obtained by the Count of Niebla, until 1445, when it is definitively taken over by the family of Hernán Peraza. 

This period at the internal level is characterized by a decimated aboriginal population, the introduction of new settlers, especially from the south of the peninsula, the arrival, albeit slowly, of new slave settlers from the neighboring coast to make up for the labor shortage, the abandonment of old population centers and of its areas of economic exploitation, the progressive centralization of economic, social, political and religious life in the Villa de Teguise already consolidated from the second third of the s. XV.

The conquest marked a leap from the stone age to modern European civilization. Various monocultures follow each other for long periods, such as sugar cane, wine and cochineal. This last name refers to the larvae of a parasitic insect of the prickly pears -nopales- from which, once dried and reduced to powder, a red coloring matter is extracted that bears the name of the insect, although it is better known as carmine.< /p>

Post Conquest until the 19th century

On September 28, 1454, it was granted to Diego de Herrera and Doña Inés Peraza the lordship of Lanzarote and the time of Castilian rule begins over the Island in the form of a lordship. During the following centuries the island will maintain a feudal power structure, until the abolition in 1812 by the courts of Cádiz of the union of land ownership and judicial power represented by the manors. 

During the these centuries the lordship of Lanzarote passes from hand to hand the descendants of Bethencourt to Andalusian nobles such as Count Niebla, Hernán de Peraza and Pedro Barba. But without a doubt there is that among its headlines Agustín de Herrera, Count of Lanzarote and first Marquis of the island, who carried out numerous razzias (14 between 1556 and 1560) in the African coasts with the purpose of capturing Moorish slaves, who would come to constitute 3/4 of the island's population.

These incursions were returned by the Barbary corsairs, which added to the actions of the English and French caused Lanzarote to suffer numerous attacks. In 1586 the corsair Barbary Amurat takes the island with five hundred men and captures the lord's family In 1618 Soliman invades and devastates the island. sir walter Raleigh, during his last expedition in search of El Dorado, attacks Arrecife in 1617 and devastates the city. The population takes refuge during the Attacks on Cueva de los Verdes.

The attacks, the existence of droughts and locust plagues, in addition to heavy seigniorial tributes, created a situation of frequent crisis on the island that led to emigration. This emigration, it is worth highlighting the founding of San Antonio de Texas in 1729. Likewise, the presence of Lanzaroteños in Uruguay was important, where some participated actively in public life. The emigration was combined with the captures of inhabitants carried out by the Berbers to maintain the Island with low population levels. Thus, at the end of the 16th century, Lanzarote only had about 600 inhabitants.

Another serious threat that the inhabitants of Lanzarote had to face was the volcanic, and in 1730-1736 there was a long cycle of eruptions that buried several towns and some of the best farmland on the island, which had allowed it to act as a granary for Tenerife and Gran Canaria, which caused a new exodus of inhabitants. However, the volcanic sand soon turned out to be beneficial for the island's agriculture, since new crops were established, highlighting among all the grapes in the landscape of La Geria to obtain the well-known malvasia wine, which began to be exported in the last quarter of the eighteenth century.

At the end of the s. In the 18th century a new export crop was introduced, the barrilla, from which soda or alkaline salt was obtained and exported to London and Venice. In the S. XIX will appear the cochineal, but like the barilla and before the orchilla in the s. XVI would also enter into crisis.

Another important productive activity was the production of salt, with the emergence of up to 26 salt pans that came to operate on the island, and which became so important that it led to the creation of a new type of salt pan. , the one with a compound pit and stone lining, and the presence of master salt workers from Lanzarote in the construction of salt flats in the rest of the Canary Islands.

Until 1852, the capital of the island was the Royal Villa de Teguise and from that moment and until the present day, Arrecife has that name. The reason is very simple. Arrecife had a port and with the appearance of large businesses and the port of Arrecife, it grew in size, need and importance. It was the gateway to and from the island.

First half of the 20th century

At the beginning of this period Lanzarote begins to maintain important commercial contacts abroad . There is a local bourgeoisie settled on the island that expands and beautifies the new capital in the heat of the growing boom in the port of Arrecife, which promotes important infrastructure works and causes significant changes in the socioeconomic and political reality of the island

But even so, it will continue with not a few elements inherited from the old regime, from the maintenance of a certain agricultural oligarchy, linked to pre-capitalist forms of exploitation, and with the maintenance and reproduction of ideological values anchored in a very remote past.< /p>

The expansion of new crops such as watermelon, tobacco, sweet potato, etc., will cause a significant boost in the countryside, especially with the development of artificial sandboxes, which are witnessed by numerous roferos scattered throughout the geography insular. On the other hand, the surface occupied by the vine continues to be very important and the importance of the areas dedicated to cereals begins to decrease. The crops on jable and on the areas covered by the ashes will represent very original forms of agricultural practices thanks to the ingenious and hard work of the island peasantry. These surprising guidelines for adaptation to the environment will serve as a claim for the tourist industry as an external image of the island.

Other of the great works of the inhabitants of the island, begun since time immemorial, has been the technology of harnessing water, with ingenious forms of collection and storage. In the first quarter of the s. Important infrastructure works related to hydraulic use were carried out in the 20th century, especially around Arrecife.

The economic autarchy experienced by the island during the dictatorship will encourage the development of agriculture for self-consumption, although it will not be able to overcome the enormous crisis experienced in the middle of the century, and which causes another massive emigration of islanders to the outside.

During the first three quarters of the century, the fishing industry came to represent more than 60% of the insular economy. It was a very dynamic and promising sector for the island, but its dismantling, accomplished due to various circumstances, including the decolonization of the Sahara and the Fisheries Agreements with Morocco, ruined the flourishing canning industry based on the island and from which several thousand workers lived directly or indirectly. It will be from then on when mass tourism, the new economy, "the new monoculture" will transform, and still does, the island and its population in an accelerated and exponential way.

Second half of the 20th century to the present

It will be the period between the sixties and the beginning of the seventies when tourism began as an activity economy on the island.

In 1966, the Lanzarote artist César Manrique returned from his stay in New York and settled permanently in Lanzarote, transforming the island into a tourist destination respectful of its landscape and cultural identity. During that time he gets conditioned and gets into exploitation of Jameos del Agua and Cueva de los Verdes and later the zone of the island where the eruptions of the 18th century, declaring a good part of that territory a National Park, with the name of Timanfaya.

Another fundamental point in the last decades of the 20th century was the rapid decline of the fishing sector which, in the early 1970s, was fundamental to the island's economy, passing in a short time to a secondary plane. Thus, since the mid-1970s, the gradual decline of the traditional primary sectors of the island economy can be seen, and the symptoms of a new way of exploiting tourism on the island with the occupation of important coastal areas, especially in the three main towns, Playa Blanca, Puerto del Carmen and Costa Teguise.

Despite the environmental awareness of the islanders, some aspects of the developmentalist and environmentally unsustainable model implemented in other tourist destinations began to be noticed in Lanzarote since late 1980s. Before his death in 1992, Manrique himself had been at the forefront of the protests against mass tourism and urban planning mistakes, becoming a symbol of the defense of the territory and nature of the Canary Islands.

The economy geared towards tourism and the construction sector, with workers often coming from the peninsula and temporarily staying on the island, has led Lanzarote from being an island that emigrated to being an island which is undergoing an enormous immigration as a result of which it has experienced a spectacular demographic increase. Currently, half of the population residing in Lanzarote was born outside the island, and a quarter of those registered are foreigners. In short, Lanzarote has experienced in recent decades the greatest socio-economic development in its history. However, we are currently witnessing a worrying contradiction. On the one hand, the international projection of the island as a example of sustainable tourism, even declaring the island as a Reserve of the Biosphere by UNESCO. And on the other hand, it continues and expands the developmental and speculative model, especially in recent years of unbridled growth, which are endangering not only the real image of Lanzarote, but coexistence and traditional culture of its people.