César Manrique – the most famous of all Canarian artists – was more than just a local artist, he was also an architect, an environmentalist and a visionary. His work and influence can be seen throughout Lanzarote, and although he lived abroad for many years, mingling with the likes of Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock, he spent both his formative years and his most creatively powerful period, back home.
Take a look at our video guide to see his work and influence throughout the island.
In fact, César Manrique was almost a one-man protest group who fought to preserve and improve the natural beauty of his homeland. He helped devise, design and develop the island’s approach to the expansion and development of tourism. He helped organise the strict planning restrictions still in force on the island today. So powerful was his voice (he died in 1992) that high rise development is still restricted across the island, billboards are still banned, and telephone cables remain buried underground. He even prescribed the colours of the island’s front doors: Those on all inland houses had to be painted green, those on coastal homes facing the sea, painted blue. He fought, cajoled, persuaded and demanded in an effort to guarantee the conservation of what he believed in – somewhere between an eco-warrior and a real pain in the proverbial. Yet it worked, which is why he is so revered today.
His life and art met in a creative explosion of colour which became a celebration of the history and culture of the island. And his influence can be seen throughout Lanzarote.
Why go there? Fantastic lava tunnels transformed by Manrique’s artistic vision
Jameos del Aqua is like nowhere else on earth. A fantasy land of lava rocks, tunnels and tubes conjured out of the landscape by volcanic eruptions, and transformed by the wild imaginings of Manrique. It is a series of lava tunnels, which run in, around and under the area – even extending for six kilometres under the sea! These tubes then open on to great outdoor spaces sheltered by palm trees and decorated with flowers, plants and Manrique artefacts. It’s a near perfect example of nature and art merging. Manrique called it “the most beautiful nightclub in the world”, and when the stars are out, and there’s a party or concert in full swing, that’s truly what it is. A jameo is a tunnel created by lava, and here the two main ones lead first to Jameo Chico – a restaurant, café, club and bar – and then on to Jameo Grande – a fantastic pool and garden. Go, eat, drink, and play … it’s a memorable experience whatever you choose to do.
Why go there? Manrique-designed garden, largest cacti collection in the world
Another of Manrique’s achievements, this garden is located in a disused quarry which the artist designed like a botanical amphitheatre. He landscaped the entire garden using the natural materials around him, making walls, paths, bridges and arches while highlighting the red rocks, black volcanic soil and cool natural pools. Once that was done, all Manrique had to do was fill the garden with plants and succulents – thousands of them. Cacti may be currently enjoying a moment when they are recognised as the hippest plants for your home, but César had always been a fan. This collection now exceeds 4,500 – in fact, it’s the largest cacti collection in the world. Other rare and indigenous plants were added throughout the twenty years it took him to finish the work, and of course no César Manrique project is ever complete without a great bar and café. And you’ll surely welcome some refreshment after a visit to this grand garden of spikes.
Why visit? Manrique museum showcasing his life and work
This is where the artist lived and worked, and is now both a museum and foundation. You’ll find it in the north of the island, in Haria – possibly the prettiest village in Lanzarote – and set in what is known as the “valley of one thousand palms”, where it’s a village tradition that a new tree is planted every time a baby is born. Haria also has a terrific market on Saturday mornings, which is also well worth a visit. A show-stopper of a house, known as Taro de Tahiche, it began life as five volcanic bubbles which Manrique turned into five great rooms linked by lava tunnels. This is the ground floor of the house, which contains everything from a swimming pool to a small dance floor, an open oven and barbecue – this boy, apparently, really liked to party.
The comfortable upper story is more sedate and traditional, with large rooms and great views. It is furnished with all things local, from furniture, to fabrics and crafts. The artist’s studio was in an adjacent building and can be seen exactly as he left it: with paint brushes, easels and unfinished drawings and canvases. But nature is present wherever you go, with flowers everywhere, climbing plants, and a fig tree growing through the centre of one room. Never one to leave anything to chance, César Manrique even oversaw the conversion of his house into a museum just two months before he died.
All of Manrique’s gems are open to the public every day. But wherever you go you are never far from his influence, because the island is dotted with giant mobiles known as “Juguete del Vente” (wind toys), which he created to remind him of the windmill toys he played with as a child. His legacy seems to be that he turned the island into his own giant playground, which the rest of us are now privileged to share.