As I spend the week traversing volcanic paths and soaking up some sun at Los Zocos Resort, on the island of Lanzarote, fellow travel author Nick Ball has offered to share some background on Lanzarote’s entangled past. Nick is proud to call Lanzarote home and is the author of Lanzarote Guidebook, a free pocket-sized guidebook packed with tons of useful information.
Contrast Between its Present and Past
Lanzarote is the most easterly of the seven specks of Spain that comprise the Canarian archipelago. A group of volcanic islands that were once thought to be the remnants of the lost city of Atlantis, located around eighty miles off the coast of West Africa, the Canaries has a past that is unheard by many.
Today the islands are one of the most popular holiday destinations in Spain. They attract over millions of tourists annually, the majority from the UK and Germany, thanks to a clem nt year round climate that marks the Canaries out as Europe´s only genuine winter sun destination.
But in centuries past the islands played an altogether different role. As the Canaries provided the launching pad for the discovery of the Americas by Columbus, it served as a vital strategic trading post for the nascent Spanish empire.
Its Geographical Location
The islands were first conquered for the Spanish crown by a Norman nobleman called Jean de Bethencourt in the early 1400s. They rapidly evolved to assume enormous strategic importance in the age of sail power, thanks to the fact that Spanish galleons could navigate south along the coast of Africa to the islands with ease. As a result of their position in the path of the Trade Winds, they propelled Spanish mariners in the direction of their new colonies in the Americas.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, the islands were used as a staging post by the Spanish ships that criss-crossed the Atlantic. Transporting slaves from Africa to the New World, they also brought Inca silver and gold back to the Old. The trade route soon caught the attention of Europe’s leading privateers – such as Drake and Raleigh – who are still regarded as little better than pirates in Spanish history books, while enjoying hero status in England.
This Inca silver and gold fired the Spanish economy – enabling the crown to literally make their own money, but other European and African rivals sought to undermine this source of riches at every turn. This led to repeated attacks and raids on islands such as Lanzarote.
Struck by A Different Attack
Just as these power struggles began to recede during the early 18th Century, Lanzarote was subjected to an altogether different type of attack. As the island drowned in one of the modern world’s largest and longest volcanic eruptions (lasted for over six years from 1730), development and growth came to a halt.
This cataclysmic event wiped out most of the best farmland on the island, carpeting it in a sea of solid lava. Forcing many Lanzaroteños to leave the island and abandon their homes, many chose to start new lives in Latin America and the Caribbean (with Cuba in particular a popular destination – many brought their tobacco-growing expertise to good use).
Today, the volcanoes are in fact one of Lanzarote´s greatest assets. With the surreal lavascapes of the Timanfaya Volcano Park attracting close to one million visitors every year, the ash-laiden area pulls in the island’s main source of income. Whilst the island remains an important port of call for sailors from Europe heading across the Atlantic, it is now more of a port of call for travellers in the region.
Migratory patterns have also been reversed and Lanzarote is now home to a sizeable population of immigrants from across Latin America. Many of whom can claim descendancy from the islanders who were forced to flee back in the 1730s.
Nick’s Lanzarote Guidebook can be found in most tourist information centers and tourism offices island wide. Besides restaurant and hotel reviews, it includes essential attractions (Top 5 Things to see in Lanzarote) as well as local hangouts. Check out his website for more updates on life on the island of Lanzarote.
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