San Bartolomé can often be overlooked by tourists. Its many attractions are not that visible from the main road that passes through the town and are often bypassed altogether as visitors head for bigger draws, such as the nearby Monumento al Campesino in Mozaga.
But scratch the surface a little and San Bartolomé soon reveals its hidden treasures. As the town is home to some of the most historic buildings on the island, pretty squares, attractive avenues, a fascinating museum and Lanzarote´s last remaining working windmill.
The best way to enjoy San Bartolomé is on foot. As there’s plenty of parking in and around the town – all free of charge – and all of the main attractions here are within walking distance of each other.
San Bartolomé was originally known as Aldea de Ajei by the pre-Hispanic indigenous island inhabitants the Guanche, which translates as ´small town´ and there has been a settlement on this site since at least the 1300´s.
It is the most centrally located conurbation on Lanzarote – and as such became a bolt hole for frightened islanders during the period of pirate raids in the 16th and 17th centuries. As raiders from Algeria and Europe repeatedly sacked the island.
Many islanders ended up fleeing in later years – and émigrés from the nearby village of La Florida founded the state of the same name in what later became the United States of America.
Over the centuries the town became synonymous with farming and is regarded as the agricultural heart of the island. Thanks in part to the rich, sandy ‘jable’ soil that is present in the many fields to the east of the town – providing a perfect environment for the cultivation of crops such as sweet potato (giving the towns inhabitants the nickname of the batateros – sweet potatoes). And the volcanic vine yards to the north – home to local bodegas such as El Grifo.
Monument to Farming
Fittingly, the island born artist and architect César Manrique chose to pay homage to this pastoral past by locating his homage to Lanzarote´s hard working and resourceful farmers – the Monumento al Campesino – close to the town.
San Bartolomé was traditionally regarded as the island's second capital after Teguise. And today the town is the seat of one of Lanzarote's seven local councils – or Ayuntamientos. With a centre that is dominated by two main municipal buildings – the town hall and the theatre, the latter of which is often used as an exhibition space. Alongside which sits the equally impressive structure of the town church – which was built in 1789 and which also boasts some beautiful features such as intricate woodcarvings within.
Right next to these buildings is the pretty main square of the town – which features some great planting against a traditional whitewashed backdrop.
Just over the road, past the Museo del Tanit, sits the Parque Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente – which is more paved square than park. And which is the focal point of most festivals in San Bartolomé – especially the town’s main fiesta every year on August 24th.
Museo del Tanit
The Museo del Tanit is well worth a visit as this eclectic ethnographic museum has great displays of every day items from the last 200 years. All lovingly collated and curated by the museum's founders, José Ferrer Perdomo and his wife Remedios Quintana Reyes.
The museum is housed in the basement of an old bodega dating back to the 18th century and also boasts a delightful small garden. Admission is just €3 per person and the Museo del Tanit is open from 10.00 to 17.00 Monday to Friday and 10.00 to 15.00 on Saturdays.
Tucked away in the town itself there’s a thriving but less well-known cultural centre, Casa Ajei. This beautifully restored old Canarian manor house plays host to a small agricultural museum as well as providing a base for local folk groups and artists.
Casa Mayor Guerra
Just outside the town to the west is the impressive Casa Mayor Guerra, the 18th century home of the former military Governor of Lanzarote.
The building is only really used occasionally for civic functions, so is not open to the public; which is a shame as it features some stunning original features. The house is undergoing some major improvements to the grounds and it is likely that it will soon be open to the public on a more permanent basis.