Islands have always needed to defend themselves from invaders from the sea with castles and fortifications, and Lanzarote is no different. Now that the only invasions come from tourists, many of these impressive buildings have been opened up to the public.
Some have even been given a new lease of life as museums and galleries, making them all the more interesting to explore. Here is a backpacking guide to Lanzarote including castles and the sights and activities engaging tourists today.
Castillo de Santa Barbara
This handsome castle situated in Teguise is without a doubt the most impressive of such structures in the whole of the Canary Islands – and not just because it is the biggest. Built in the 16th century by Sancho de Herrera, it seems that he really knew what a proper castle should look like.
From its station at the top of Guanapay peak, the castle has fantastic views across the island and down into Teguise, the former capital of Lanzarote.
More than 1,000 of the island’s residents took sanctuary within the castle walls in 1586 when an attack was launched by Arraez. After the threat had passed, the engineer Leonardo Torriani instigated changes to make it even stronger. Those modifications are still in place today.
Having fallen into disuse and in need of restoration an extensive renovation project was carried out on the castle in 1989 and it was opened to the public. It now houses the Emigrants Museum, a small yet well put together look at the tradition of people from the Canaries emigrating to Spanish colonies in the Americas.
Castillo de San Gabriel
Much smaller is the Castillo de San Gabriel located on an islet out in the Atlantic Ocean, which is reached by two causeways. One is used by vehicles and the other pedestrians. The latter demographic has the thrill of walking over the Puente de las Bolas, or Ball Bridge, a diminutive drawbridge featuring two pillars crowned with cannon balls.
Its strategic position on the Islote de los Ingleses (Islet of the English) meant that the original wooden structure built on the site was burnt down by Berber pirates. Undeterred, the stone castle that remains today was constructed in the 16th century and proved much more use in defending the island.
Since 1972 it has been an official National Historic Monument and houses a little ethnographic museum. It is the views out to sea and back across to the island that are the most impressive feature however, making it well worth a visit.
Castillo de San Jose
It is easy to forget that Castillo de San Jose is a castle as many people visit it for the institutions now held inside. Since 1976 it has housed the island’s Museum of Contemporary Art and more recently a fine dining restaurant.
But when Cesar Manrique, the museum’s director, put forward plans to fill it with Picassos, Miros and Bacons it was the majesty of the building that attracted him. The fortress was originally built between 1776 and 1779 by King Carlos III and features some amazing stonework.
So when visiting the fine collection of art or one of the many temporary exhibitions held there, do not forget to notice the building itself. Alternatively, book a table for dinner and enjoy the views of the Naos port and docks of Marmoles.