Monumento Al Campesino
Landmark? House museum? Restaurant? The Museo del Campesino fulfils all of these functions and more. Located right in the heart of the island, the Museo is a celebration of Lanzarote's rural past. Providing visitors with an insight into Lanzarote's traditional arts and crafts as well as a great staging post for a bite to eat at the excellent on site restaurant.
Monumento al Campesino
The location of the Monumento is clearly signposted by the towering 15 metre sculpture of 'Fecundidad' or 'Fertility', constructed in 1968 from old water tanks following a design of César Manrique's, executed by Jésus Soto. The island born artist and architect's key collaborator on his larger scale spatial works and installations. And is strategically located in the centre of Lanzarote at a point where the island's main agricultural methods such as jable (sandy soil), and enarenados (dry cultivation) meet and overlap.
This structure sits on a mound called La Peña de Tajaste - a rocky outcrop that was left untouched by the volcanic activity which transformed the surrounding countryside. Figuratively it represents a local farmer astride his beast of burden. At the foot of the monument is a small plot of land covered in the black volcanic picon that is used as a mulch for the vines that are grown locally. The picon in this field has been swept into carefully maintained furrows as if ready for planting – and has something of the appearance of a Japanese Zen garden as a result.
Exploring the House Museum
From the Monumento, the carefully laid path of planed volcanic slabs leads into the house museum, the Casa-Museo. This is a life-size reconstruction of a typical farm of the past, replicating how former inhabitants would have lived.
The buildings were normally constructed around a courtyard, to create an external workspace that was out of the wind. There are two examples here, one to the left and the other to the right of the circular threshing floor at the top of the staircase. The courtyard on the right hand side is home to several pieces of original machinery used to process the crops grown on the island.
There are also examples of the English chair, seating specifically designed to carry two people on a camel's back. The overwhelming use of white paint on the floor and wall surfaces make sunglasses essential in this part of the museum, to reduce the dazzling effect as much as possible.
At the bottom of the staircase of white flooring and volcanic stone is the restaurant. Or rather its top half. As at ground floor level, there is an excellent tapas bar which offers reasonably priced tapas at €4 a plate.
Typical dishes include white anchovies (boquerones), octopus (pulpo), goat's cheese (queso de cabra), tuna (atun) and green olives (aceitunas). The interior space is decorated with examples of the furnishings that were once used in Canarian homes, such as the oil lamps adorning the walls.
To the right of the tapas bar is a double doorway that leads visitors to the main restaurant area, below ground. Again, agricultural equipment has been used for decorative purposes, with threshing boards hung on the walls. The staircase descends into an enormous dining space, divided into two overlapping circles. Which often provides the backdrop for local wedding parties and other large scale functions.
The whole area - which was developed after Manrique's death – is lit by two large openings in the ceiling that are covered by retractable sailcloth awnings. The further wall of the restaurant almost appears to have been hewn out of the rock, as it consists of several continuous layers of quarried stone. The interior is adorned with numerous plant species that tolerate low light, with ferns, monstera deliciosa and palms used in groups, both behind the bar and in the picon garden in the centre of the larger dining area.
The menu for the main restaurant is extensive and covers many traditional Canarian dishes, such as goat, rabbit and less unusual fare such as steak, chicken and fish.
As with all of Manrique's architectural designs, there is an unexpected and playful element to the layout, which culminates in a waterfall. The cascade emerges from the rocky outcrop that continues along the whole of the far wall of the restaurant and behind the stage where folklore groups perform traditional Canarian music. The water flows down the rocks on either side of the entrance way to a volcanic tunnel that leads to the Centro de Artesania (Handicraft Centre).
Shelves showcasing the handmade ceramics line the tunnel's walls, which are constructed from planed volcanic stone. The underground passage emerges into a sunken well garden, complete with another water feature and a spiral staircase to take visitors back up to ground floor level. The fountain area is beautifully planted, again using plenty of monstera deliciosa, ferns and papyrus.
The top of the staircase opens out into the courtyard of the Centro de Artesania. Where once again the traditional architecture predominates, with green painted wooden doors and windows and white walls. Canarian folklore music is usually playing in the background as well. Numerous workshops are housed within these buildings, where local craftsmen and women make baskets (cesteria), pottery (ceramica), leather goods (artesania de cuero) and woven fabrics (del telar - from the loom).
There is also an outlet for locally produced wines, products such as bags made from palm leaves (palma palmitos) and a small souvenir shop, which also houses a cashpoint. Upstairs in the Centre there are several rooms with permanent exhibits, displaying models of all the local churches and dedicated to past activities such as communal milling.
Using the main exit of the Centro de Artesania, there is a pathway to the left which goes all the way back round to the tapas bar, passing the more formal entrance to the subterranean restaurant. Planted along this pathway are lemon trees and numerous vines, illustrating the methods adopted by farmers on Lanzarote to protect their crops from the prevailing wind. These semi-circular rock walls, called zocos, can be seen in greater abundance just a few kilometres further up the road, in La Geria.
Plots And Plans
Stray inland away from the coastal resorts and it is readily evident that many locals still maintain and cultivate plots and fields all over the island. Even those with limited land are adept at growing a large variety of vegetables and tropical fruits.
These agricultural skills were partly passed on by necessity, as the island has experienced many serious periods of hunger in the past. Domestic cultivation was therefore a sort of edible insurance policy.
Today, staples such as tomatoes, potatoes and spinach are still cultivated in abundance and little Lanzarote even manages to produce an eye-watering one-third of Spain's annual onion quota.
None of this would be particularly big potatoes though were it not for the fact that Lanzarote has less rainfall than the nearby Sahara desert, some 100km to the west, where the only things that ever grow are the sand dunes.
So how is it possible to cultivate anything in such arid conditions?
Ingeniously, local farmers managed to turn the island's worst ever natural disaster on its head. After the major six year cycle of volcanic eruptions devastated Lanzarote in the 1730's one third of the most fertile farming land was buried beneath fields of lava and rock.
Ironically, the very substance that had done so much to destroy agriculture also provided its salvation as island fields are now instead covered in small black grains of chipped volcanic rock called picon.
The picon basically serves as porous mulch, drawing moisture from the air, releasing it into the ground and preventing evaporation, so enabling a method of dry cultivation known as 'enarenado'.
This ingenious agricultural system is entirely unique to Lanzarote and can be seen to best effect in the wine region of La Geria and the agricultural environs of San Bartolome such as La Florida.
Open: Daily 10.00 - 18.00
Restaurant Open: 10.00 - 16.30