It’s hard to overstate the effect that the artist César Manrique had on Lanzarote. I hadn’t heard too much about him before visiting the island, but his fingerprints are all over it – both in the way he shaped so many of its cultural attractions, and the manner in which his influence prevented Lanzarote from suffering the same fate as so many tourism-focussed destinations.
There’s only one high-rise building on Lanzarote (apparently built while Manrique was away), and no advertising hoardings at all; combined, this keeps the focus on the island’s subtle natural beauty. Manrique’s own installations pepper the island too, cleverly blending art, architecture and the natural environment to stunning effect.
Perhaps the most famous is the Jameos del Agua, a series of chambers built within a collapsed magma tube. On the surface there’s little to see, but as you descend there’s a series of spectacular spaces, including a spectacular pool by way of finale (reserved solely for the King of Spain, legend has it).
The vivid white dazzling against the black of Lanzarote’s long-cooled magma is a hallmark of Manrique’s architecture on Lanzarote. The same effect can be seen at his own pad, the César Manrique Foundation. This time the pool was very much for him and his friends; the lifestyle offered by this place must have been astounding. Nowadays it’s home to many of his artworks – which didn’t impress me in quite the same way as his architectural installations.
Of those installations, against all expectations it was the Jardin de Cactus that most impressed me. Built within a hollow, again there’s little to see from the road. Once you’ve entered though, it’s ingenious. The landscaping reveals hundreds of different species of cacti, with a series of views that get better and better as you twist and turn through the garden.