It’s best not to extol the virtues of Arrecife too loudly when exploring the cobbled streets and atmospheric squares of Teguise. You might just end up ruffling a local Canarian’s feathers.
Historic Island Capital
For here, they regard Lanzarote’s ‘new’ capital (it has in fact been the seat of island government for some 150 years!), as little more than a callow upstart.
They have a point though.
A Brief History of Teguise
Unlike it’s more modern coastal counterpart, Teguise (or La Villa as it is known by it’s residents) is steeped in history and can lay claim to being the oldest Spanish settlement in the whole of the Canaries, dating back to 1402.
Named after the last Princess of the native, pre-Spanish Guanche inhabitants, Teguise was the island’s top dog until 1852.
It’s central position, high ground and commanding views gave it a tactical and defensive advantage over coastal towns like Arrecife, so securing it’s status as Lanzarote’s capital for some 450 years.
Blood in the Streets
For many centuries these strategic considerations were of paramount importance as Lanzarote was subjected to wave after wave of invasion by plundering pirates.
This on-going pillage reached a violent crescendo in 1618 when an armada of 5,000 Algerian buccaneers overran the town.
A small street called La Sangre, which means blood in English, serves as a memorial to the violent massacre that ensued and can still be found beside Teguise’s main church, the Neustro Senora de Guadalupe, just off the central Plaza de la Constitucion.
Today Teguise is only ever invaded by shoppers — as the town plays host every Sunday to the island’s biggest street market.
Tourists and locals alike pack the streets throughout the morning, the hustle and bustle of bargain hunters providing an echo of Teguise’s more prosperous past.
For the rest of the week though Teguise is tumbleweed territory.
An absence of hotels in the town, combined with the fact that few organised coach tours bother to stop here, results in hushed, deserted streets and squares; where the past appears to be perfectly preserved — if not frozen in time.
This, of course, makes Teguise perfect for sight seeing and anyone looking to discover the real Lanzarote should head straight here, to see just why the town was declared a site of historic and architectural importance by the Spanish government back in the 1980’s.
But remember — just don’t mention Arrecife when you’re there!
Sightseeing in Teguise
In Teguise, flat fronted white houses hide inner courtyards and patios, pretty squares play host to a variety of bars and restaurants and there are loads of beautiful historic buildings to visit.
Teguise is certainly a great place for just strolling around and soaking up the atmosphere.
If you’re looking for things to do in Teguise and you don’t come on Sunday, which is Market Day, here’s three of the best:
Castillo Santa Barbara
Teguise’s defensive beacon and the oldest castle on the island, The Fortress of Santa Barbara, still stands guard over the town high up on the extinct volcano that forms Mount Guanapay.
It started life as a watchtower and was built at the end of the 15th century by the then Lord of Lanzarote, Sancho de Herrera.
As well as offering the most incredible views of the island, Santa Barbara today also houses the excellent Museum of Emigration; which details the patterns of mass exodus forced upon Lanzarote’s inhabitants over the years, by factors such as volcanic eruptions and general economic hardship.
Palacio de Marques
The Palacio de Marques is the oldest building on the island, dating back to 1455 when it was finally completed after a lengthy 32-year construction process.
For 270 years this was the HQ of the island’s government — but today it’s beautiful, plant bedecked central patio houses a German owned tapas bar and bodega.
During the more turbulent years of the 16th and 17th century the town’s inhabitants would converge upon the Palacio at the first sign of invasion, as from there they could access a tunnel which would enable them to flee, underground and uphill, to the safety of the Castillo Santa Barbara.
Although dating from a different architectural period to the Palacio Marques, the Palacio Spinola, which lies just off the central Plaza de Constitucion still exudes an historic, colonial air.
Originally built in the 1730’s the house was only acquired by wealthy merchant family the Spinolas in 1895.
A sympathetic restoration project, overseen by the ubiquitous César Manrique helped restore the building to its full glory back in the 1970’s and today it is one of Teguise’s most important monuments.