By LANZAROTE GUIDEBOOK
Thanks to a six year long eruption which submerged around one third of the island beneath a sea of lava in the 1730′s, the small Canary Island of Lanzarote is home to a whole host of incredible volcanic attractions.
Amongst the most breathtaking of these is the incredible underground house and studio created by the island born artist and architect Cesar Manrique. The house is constructed out of five bubbles in the lava flow – a sight that never fails to blow visitors away.
Manrique was working in New York and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Andy Warhol as tourism first started to take off in Spain in the late 1960′s. Under the aegis of General Franco huge swathes of the southern Spanish coastline were surrendered to property developers and hotel chains. Manrique feared that his birthplace, blessed with beaches and year round sunshine, could soon face a similar fate.
As a result he returned to Lanzarote and began to campaign for the controlled evolution of tourism on the island. A brave, some would say visionary, stance given the times and the political climate. Manrique however had friends in high places – in the shape of the island governor Pepin Ramirez. Together they began to campaign against untrammelled development, successfully securing an island wide ban on high rise construction. Along with the eradication of all advertising hoardings.
Manrique was much more than just a conservationist alone though. He fully recognised the economic importance of tourism to this small island, located just eighty miles off the coast of West Africa. He planned to create a series of tourist attractions that would fuse art with nature – iluminating an alternative path to the characterless golf courses and water parks springing up in other Spanish sun spots.
Most of his fellow islanders thought he was crazy. Who was going to want to visit these old bits of rock and lava? But Manrique forged ahead – and having found five underground volcanic chambers in the middle of a lava flow implemented a project to unite these bubbles and transform them into a house and studio. So providing an example of what could be achieved with Lanzarote’s volcanic landscape.
Manrique’s project in fact won widespread international acclaim and many architectural plaudits when it was first completed in 1968. This helped to attract a number of VIP visitors – such as Peter Sellers and Omar Sharif – to this novel new holiday destination.
Indeed actor Sharif was so impressed that he commissioned Manrique to build him a similar home, which resulted in the construction of Lag Omar (Omars Lake) at nearby Nazaret. But the inveterate gambler wagered the property in a high stakes game of bridge soon after taking possession – and lost. Then left the island in a fit of pique, never to return. Today his former home houses some of Lanzarote’s most upmarket restaurants.
Manrique went on to build on the success of his first project (today preserved as the Cesar Manrique Foundation) creating a total of seven unique tourist sites across the island. Including the breathtaking Jameos del Agua – where he transformed a massive, collapsed lava tube into an incredible underground audotiurm.
As a result of Manrique’s efforts and the island’s unique volcanic landscape Lanzarote was declared a UNESCO protected biosphere in 1994. The first island in the world to enjoy such status.