The History Of Lanzarote

lanzaroteLanzarote is the easternmost among the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean. Estimated to have been created about 35 million years back in time, the earliest settlers were known to inhabit the volcanic Lanzarote Island even in the year 1100 B.C. Studies of this period, prior to the European conquest, reveals that Lanzarote had a reasonable vegetative cover when the first people arrived in the island. The islands are located about 125 km from the coast of Africa.

The first known inhabitants of Lanzarote were supposed to be the Berbers from Africa. This is well supported by genetic studies and language fragments of the people dwelling there. However, they were not seafaring people. Whether they arrived there on their own accord or were brought by force is a question that still remains unanswered. However, another set of people believe that the natives were descendants of the last people of the lost city of Atlantis. This legendary city is believed to have got lost somewhere close to these islands. 

The aboriginal people of Canary Islands were the Guanches. Majos specifically referenced the aboriginals belonging to Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. In the native tongue, Lanzarote was called Titerro(y)gatra, which meant the ‘red mountains’. The Majos led rudimentary lives, had no knowledge of metals and lived in caves. They had very limited agriculture.

The Genoese navigator, Lancelotto Malocello, was supposed to have discovered the Canary Islands in 1312. Soon it appeared in the map with the name, Ínsula de Lançarote Mallucellus, which later took on the name Lanzarote. Late in the 14th century there were more European expeditions to the island aimed at capturing slaves or collecting lichen by name Orchilla to prepare dye. The Spanish and the Portuguese plundered the islands many times. Cueva de los Verdes, the large cave in the northern part of Lanzarote, was purportedly where the Guanches took refuge during the raids.

Jean de Béthencourt, a member of the nobility from Normandy, brought Lanzarote and Fuerteventura under the Spanish Rule in the early part of the 15th century. The control of the islands was long disputed between the Portuguese and the Spanish till the control was given to Spain in 1479. The Spanish nobility brought in slaves from North Africa; this however, angered Moorish pirates and they attacked Lanzarote in the 16th century to take slaves of their own. The locals also suffered attacks from English pirates and private expeditions. Englishmen such as Sir Walter Raleigh and John Hawkins also plundered the islands. The number of islanders was drastically reduced by the middle of the 17th century.

Perhaps the single-most important event in the history of Lanzarote was the series of volcanic eruptions that took place starting in the year 1730. Lasting for more than 2000 days, and up to the year 1736, these eruptions devastated the entire southern part of the island. There were more than 32 new volcanoes that were created, about 11 villages were completely destroyed, and a quarter of the surface of the island was covered with lava. They were the longest volcanic eruptions ever experienced. Fertile land comprising of vineyards and agricultural fields are now just dead rocks and dried lava.

Tourism arrived in Lanzarote about forty years ago. Though the island receives very little rainfall, the black volcanic rock helps to conserve moisture. Farmers used camels to plough the land. In the early 1900s salt was the main industry. This is no longer true. The main exports from the island to mainland Spain are onions, spinach, pineapples and cochineal or a red-coloured dye.

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