25 March 2014: Arecife, Lanzarote in the Canary Islands

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

We’re on the first day of a voyage that will visit some of the more intriguing remnants of the great Colonial empires of modern times.

Here where the Mediterranean narrows to meet the Atlantic, nearly every island or port got caught up in war, intrigue, religion, and politics: an unfortunate quartet that often travel together.[whohit]-25MAR2014 ARECIFE CANARY ISLANDS-[/whohit]

Silversea Map 2408

Our scheduled itinerary from Las Palmas to Barcelona

Among the more interesting places on our schedule are a pair of political thumbs-in-the-eye established by and held on to former colonial powers: Gibraltar, a tiny finger of land on the mainland of Spain stubbornly held by Great Britain, and across the strait in Africa, Melilla one of two tiny exclaves of Spain that sit on the coast of Morocco.

The Greek writers and philosophers Herodotus, Plato, and Plutarch described the garden of the Hesperides, a mythic orchard at the far West of the world; that might refer to the Canaries.

Pliny the Elder later wrote of an expedition to the Canary Islands, including reference to an island called Canaria.

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The Fire Mountains in Timanfaya Nationa Park on Lanzarote. Photo by Corey Sandler

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The bus driver’s view climbing the volcanoes of Timanfaya. Photo by Corey Sandler

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The taxi squad for guests seeking even more thrills in the mountains. Photo by Corey Sandler

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My friend Blanco, before we headed into the hills. Photos by Corey Sandler

In 2007, a team from the Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and a team from the Universidad de Zaragoza, Spain uncovered a prehistoric settlement at El Bebedero that included Roman pottery shards, some pieces of metal, and glass. The artifacts were dated between the first and 4th centuries.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Canary islands were ignored until 999 when Arab tribes came from Africa to an island they called al-Djezir al-Khalida. The Spanish took control of the Canaries in 1479, and very quickly it became a link in the chain from Europe to the New World settlements.

The modern city, with a population of about 142,000, gets its name from the black volcanic reefs near the port and beaches; Arrecife is Spanish for “reef.” Those reefs provided some shelter from rough seas, but equally important some hiding places from pirate attacks at the time the city was founded in the fifteenth century.

Perhaps the most notable Lanzarotean was artist and architect César Manrique, born in 1919 in Arrecife.

In addition to his sometimes playful and colorful modern art, Manrique also had a major influence on planning regulations in Lanzarote.

He worked to limit the size and especially the height of hotels on the island.

Manrique died in a car accident near his home in 1992. The César Manrique Foundation manages his home and raises funds for art on Lanzarote and promotes environmental and civic planning causes including ongoing efforts to block over-development of the island.

At the Manrique home is a collection of work by the artist as well as others, including original sketches by Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró. Manrique also designed a Cactus Garden on the island, integrating volcanic structures with plantings. The garden also includes an old whitewashed mill once used for the processing of “millo” flour, made from maize or wheat.