Wandering around the historical streets of Teguise, also known as ‘La Villa’ is like going back 600 years in time. Cars parked outside the houses are the only clue that we are in the 21st century. The town was, in fact, declared a village of historic and artistic heritage in the 1908’s, by the Spanish government.
The town is one of the most beautiful, and perhaps one of most important in Canarian history. Cobbled streets, whitewashed houses decorated with wood and stone, narrow alleyways and historic squares give you a glimpse into its traditions, and its struggles.
Lanzarote’s old capital
Teguise was Lanzarote’s capital until 1847. It was established in 1418 by Maciot de Béthancourt, who named it after his wife, Princess Teguise, who was also daughter of the aboriginal King Guardafía.
A lookout for pirates
Its geographical position made it the perfect lookout over much of the island’s coastline. Lanzarote was the subject of many treacherous pirate attacks over the centuries, from northern Africa, Portugal, Spain and England, which include Sir Francis Drake, nicknamed ‘the Dragon’ by the islanders.
In order to help protect the residents from such attacks, King Felipe II commissioned a castle to be built on the top of Mount Guanapay: Castillo de Santa Bárbara.
A fortified medieval castle
In times of peril, the villagers would escape from the town up to the castle through a secret tunnel, as well as hiding in Cueva de los Verdes, in the north. It was restored in 1989 and is open to the public, currently as a Pirate Museum, and is always a winner with the kids. It’s well worth a look, with its spectacular views over the island, its fortified walls, turrets and drawbridges.
Landmarks steeped in history
The sight of an unmistakable church tower dominates the skyline as you approach Teguise. Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe is a beautiful church that stands on the main square, Plaza de la Constituición, also known as Plaza de Leon, because of the two lion statues standing guard. It was ransacked and burnt on numerous occasions, having been restored several times. Even though today, it’s quite different to the original, the interior is staggeringly beautiful.
Most of the noble houses were also situated on this main square. Palacio Spinola is one of the finest and most well-preserved examples. Originally known as the Inquisitors House, it then became home the the Feo Peraza family, and later, the Spinola family.
Now a museum, the Casa del Timple, which showcases a collection of these traditional small Canarian guitars, is a cultural space developed to preserve Canarian cultural traditions. Visitors can see how these instruments are made, learn about this tradition through exhibits and audiovisual media, as well as appreciate the building’s fine architecture.
Callejón de la Sangre (Blood Alley) is just behind the Iglesia Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe: a natural path for runoff water from the Barranco de Miraflores, the waters turned to blood during a violent battle with North African pirates in the 15th century. Whilst the villagers did actually overcome the pirates on this occasion, the alley gained its new name as a reminder of that horrific day.
Palacio del Marqués took 35 years to build, due to interference from volcanic activity, and was completed in 1455. It’s a beautiful building with a lovely central courtyard and was the Canarian government’s headquarters for 270 years. Legend has it is the site of the secret meeting hall and a passage that villagers used to escape to the castle. Today, the central patio is a bar that offers tapas and wines from around the world.
The Convento de Santo Domingo, situated next to the town council,is perhaps one of the island’s best examples of colonial architecture.It currently hosts an art exhibition dedicated to the Lanzarote’s artists, and those who made it their home, such as Manrique, Aguilar, Lezcano and Rufina.
Art, culture and eccentricity
Historical roots have blended with contemporary culture to make Teguise a centre for art, food and music. Apart from regular live music in its various bars and eateries, the town also hosts a number of concerts and festivals throughout the year: Noche Blanca (White Night), a cultural and music festival takes place in July each year, and is a must if you’re lucky enough to be here during that time.
Intriguing shops and original gifts
If you’re looking for something different, whether for yourself or for your friends and family, then this is the place. Teguise has so many interesting shops and galleries offering a myriad of beautiful and original products, such as jewellery, stones and crystals, clothing, art, furniture, traditional Canarian earthenware and figurines.
Emporium is based inside the town’s old retro cinema building, and has a wonderful range of imported oriental goods on display, from precious stones, statuettes, jewellery, carpets, furniture and even yurts.
If you do want to enjoy Teguise at a relaxing pace, absorb its history and wander around its interesting shops, then go anytime from Tuesday to Saturday. Most places of historic interest and open during the mornings, until at least 14:00h.
The Sunday Market
On Sundays, Teguise’s cobbled streets and quaint squares are filled with the hustle and bustle of the Sunday market. It’s Lanzarote largest market, with a buzzing atmosphere that reunites buskers, artists and market stalls.
You’ll find all of the usual market items on offer, but with a special twist of local arts, cheese and wine, sea salt, crafts and colourful artisan clothes and accessories.
Food, drink and entertainment
There is an excellent choice of eateries and bars in Teguise, each with their own style and unique atmosphere, from street cafes, to inner wine courtyards and traditional restaurants.
La Cantina is definitely one of the coolest, with excellent food and a great atmosphere. It is set in a beautiful old Canarian building, making use of the different interior rooms, the central patio and the ‘Secret Garden,’ where local UK residents and musicians, Emmiel, are a regular fixture, attracting thirsty market-goers on Sunday lunchtimes.
British owners, Benn and Zoe, work hard to source locally-grown food and prepare flavoursome, honest, though beautifully presented dishes. Always innovating and experimenting with their menu, they had recently introduced a new vegan sharing board, something I was eager to try.
Tasty and nutritious, whilst also incorporating local ingredients, this was a winning choice. We chose a delicious blend of hummus, Padrón peppers, sweet potato crisps, Canarian mojos, marinated tomatoes, tapenade, vegan cheese, a mini Gazpacho and a side salad to set if off.
No visit to Lanzarote is complete without a day in Teguise, to gain an insight into 600 years of islanders’ struggles. Take a day off from the beach and immerse yourself in history, do a little shopping and enjoy a bite to eat.