If you want to catch a more modern and metropolitan side of Lanzarote then visit Arrecife, the island's capital. Here you will find a lively port city, shaped both by its seafaring past and its current, rapid regeneration.
Lanzarote´s Cosmpolitan Capital
Arrecife is home to around half the island’s inhabitants, with a population of some 45,000 and boasts shopping galore, beaches, parks, promenades, nightlife and all of the attendant urban hustle and bustle.
The city was once, rather optimistically, described as ‘The Venice of the Atlantic’. This flatters to deceive though, as Arrecife offers little in terms of classic colonial architecture, never mind gondoliers or waterways. In fact in parts, the city is still a little down at heel.
However Arrecife does have a very picturesque hub, which is concentrated around El Charco (the puddle) and the main seafront promenades and parks and can also boast an interesting historical heritage.
For centuries, Arrecife (or Puerto de Arrecife as it was originally known) was the main port gateway to the island due to its proximity to ancient capital Teguise and its natural deep water harbour at Los Marmoles — now home to the city’s ferry and container ports.
Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries the ports of the Canary Islands in general and Lanzarote in particular were plagued by pirate attacks and Arrecife was raided regularly.
Teguise — Ancient Capital
Teguise, some 10km from the coast was strategically better placed to deal with this threat and carried the title of capital city of the island for some 450 years.
It was only in 1852, as the importance of maritime trade grew, that this title was somewhat reluctantly handed on to Arrecife.
Biggest Fleet in the Canaries
Today, the port houses the biggest fishing fleet in the Canaries and the legacy of these pirate raids can still be seen in the two impressive castles that stand guard over Arrecife’s natural harbour.
Castillo San Gabriel
The most readily visible of these is the Castillo San Gabriel, dating from 1590 and now home to a museum dedicated to the history of Arrecife.
Castillo San Jose
At the outer fringes of Arrecife by Puerto Marmoles lies the Castillo San Jose, which was originally built to repel pirates and alleviate poverty on the island in the wake of the major volcanic eruptions of the 1730’s. As a result it became known locally as the Fortress of Hunger.
Museum of International Contemporary Art
Ironically, The Castillo is still filling stomachs today, as it now houses a stylish restaurant, designed by Cesar Manrique as well as the islands small but prestigious Museum of International and Contemporary Art.
Arrecife Gran Hotel
Arrecife’s current regeneration is symbolized by the Gran Hotel, which opened its doors for business five years ago and is one of only 6 5 star hotels in Lanzarote.
For 30 years this building was just an incomplete shell, scarring the otherwise picturesque seafront around the city’s beach, Playa El Reducto.
Cesar Manrique’s Influence
Developers sneaked this building up in the 1960’s whilst Cesar Manrique was away studying in New York. On his return, construction was bought to a halt — but wrangles over the demolition or future use of the building carried on for decades.
The building is now serving its original purpose — as a five star hotel — and is set in landscaped gardens that now make it possible to enjoy a pleasing promenade along the entire seafront of the city.