Size = 60km by 21km. Population = 80,000 (half of the population live in the capital, Arrecife).
The Canary Islands are volcanic in origin and estimated to be 30 million years old, Lanzarote being the first of the islands to emerge from the ocean. The last eruptions took place on Lanzarote in the 19th century.
The original inhabitants of the Canary Islands were the "Guanches". Carbon dating has placed the earliest settlement at around 200 BC. The Guanches origin, to this day, remains a mystery. Some historians believe them to be from Egyptian origins due to their methods of mummifying corpses. A few wonder if they were the decendents from the last survivors of the lost city of Atlantis, believed to be lost close to the islands. Others say the Vikings as a typical Guanche would have had tanned skin and been tall with fair hair and blue eyes. The Guanches were pastoral and worked the land. Their way of life was very basic - almost 'stoneage' - and the tools which they used were primitive. Wheels were unknown to them. The clay pots which they used were moulded by hand. Most were cave dwellers although a few of them did lay stones, one on top of the other, to form rudimentary houses.
The story goes that Lanzarote got her name from a Genoese sailor called Lancelotto, who landed here in 1312. The inhabitants - the Guanches - welcomed the new visitors which led to further explorations to the islands by the Portuguese, Spanish and Italians around this time. It was the expedition of 1312 that first verified the existence of all 13 Canary Islands (7 major and 6 smaller islands, the smaller islands being Lobos, Roque del Oeste, La Graciosa, Montana Clara and Alegranza.
The lovely Spanish and Portuguese nations returned to the islands numerous times but now, they were here as pirates - robbing the islands and searching for riches and glory. The huge cave - Cueva de los Verdes - in the north of Lanzarote is where the Guanches took refuge whilst the attacks took place.
In 1404, the island was conquered by Juan Bethencourt of Spain. In 1408 he went on to conquer the neighbouring island of Fuerteventura but it took almost another century before Spain could conquer the remaining islands. They have remained under Spanish rule ever since.
The most notorious event on the island was also one of the world's most devastating and longest volcanic eruptions which lasted from September 1730 until April 1736. Within just 8 square kilometres, 25 volcanos erupted. The area where the eruptions took place is now Timanfaya National Park. Prior to the eruptions, the south of Lanzarote was a fertile place of vineyards, agriculture, cattle farming and many, peaceful villages. Now it's a dead area of black rock and dried lava. The priest of one of the nearby villages, Yaiza, wrote an account of this event - part can be read here
Farming has always been hard on the island, it is said that Lanzarote receives less rain per year than parts of the Sahara Desert, just 14cm. This in addition to the gusty winds made agricultural farming very hard all year round. The erruptions through the 18th and 19th centuries covered the island in lava and rock. The volcanic "picon" (small black rock) did however help agriculture. By night, Picon soaks up moisture from the air thus eliminating the need to water crops planted in it so often. Until the 70s, farmers used camels to plough this land as tractors would flatten and squash the rocks, preventing the moisture from soaking down to the soil. Many of the camels' decendents (brought over from nearby Mauritania) remain on the island as a tourist attraction, taking visitors for rides through Timanfaya National Park.
The moisture-absorbing properties of Picon are ideal for the cultivation of grape vines. La Geria is the region most popular for the production of wine on the island. Small semi-circles of stones are built around each group of vines to protect them from the wind.
In the early 1900s salt was a booming industry on the island, exported all over the world. This has since collapsed, though salt planes still remain on the island, perhaps the most impressive at Matagorda or Janubio.
The main produce of the island today is Onions, 3/4 being exported to mainland Spain. Other produce includes red and white potatoes (known locally as "boniatos"), spinach and something new in the north of the island is the cultivation of pineapples. A more strange produce and export is "cochineal" (a red dye - used in the drink Campari) which is extracted from an insect found all over the island, the cochineal beetle. (Bet you think twice before having another Campari!?).
And today ....... despite the ever increasing number of tourists visiting the Canary Islands, Lanzarote's local authorities have strict control on the development the island. Houses must be painted white, other than wooden window and door frames or wooden shutters which can be any one of two shades of green. There's no billboard advertising, no highrise buildings (other than Arrecife's Grand Hotel which has since been closed down and remains unused, having broken construction rules).
As part of Spain, the islands are part of the EEC but are not included in the "Common Agricultural Policy" so remain free from VAT and customs tariffs.. Only exports are subjected to customs tax.
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