I have just returned from a break with my family in Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands. Some of you may know it as a popular holiday destination for the British and Germans alike because of its consistent climate being near the equator. It’s a volcanic island, a barren moonscape; quite different from the lush Devon countryside I am used to. A most unlikely place to get any form of inspiration, you would think and so did I.
We based ourselves in a quiet little village called Arietta north of the capital city of Arrecife, which has a lovely café right on the beautiful beach where you can sit and watch the waves crash, but I digress as this is not about my holiday. I personally wanted to have a relaxing time beach time, but as we had hired a car for the 9 days of our stay we thought we would explore the little island too.
Our first expedition was to a place called Jameos del Agua, a popular tourist destination with coach loads of German, British and Spanish tourists. With this in mind my prejudiced barrier had dropped down. We got to the entrance paid our fee and walked into what can be only described as a hole in the ground. Before I describe in more detail what I saw it would only be fair to give you the background to this hole in the ground or should I say volcanic bubble. The bubble was created when the main volcano Monte Corona erupted 3000 years ago.
Before its transformation, this hole was used as a dumping ground or landfill site for rubbish. One man saw this hole and many others around Lanzarote as a beautiful possibility. César Manrique was a local artist brought up in Lanzarote although he studied in Madrid and the USA. When he returned in 1966 to an island on the brink of transition through tourism he saw how the other Canary Islands including Tenerife and Gran Canaria had given planning to creating huge high rise developments for hotels and apartment blocks. Manrique became a major influence within planning the future of Lanzarote and he encouraged sympathetic development of tourism.
But back to the holes in the ground… from the café, which is built into a volcanic bubble, you descend the spiraling lava steps through some architectural plants until you reach a clear pond inside a cave. In this pond are millions of white dots, which turned out to be a rare species of albino crab! The cave has a natural vent in the ceiling made by the molten lava. You walk along the side of the lake until you reach an area made for entertainment such as theatre or recitals. You ascend the steps and are out into the garden with aqua pool and many beautiful sculptures and plants (see photo). You take a detour through an inconspicuous side door and you enter a great hall (bubble cave) which has theatre seating carved into the rock and a stage with light well at the end. I was lucky enough to return to see a flamenco guitarist from Madrid play in this hall and the acoustics and ambience were truly memorable.
Manrique didn’t stop there however, he built his own home out of volcanic bubbles creating a truly majestic space. He also carved high in to the top of a volcano creating a café with a view like nothing you would have seen have seen before at Mirador del Rio. He used the materials he had available such as the natural landscape, reused unwanted junk for works of art and thought at all times out of the box.
César Manrique was a visionary and an early environmentalist. He used his intelligence to make sure his beloved Lanzarote was not ripped apart by corruption and greed following the new tourism trend and he made sure it remained traditionally beautiful. He has left many pure drops of genius around the island in the things he created.
I benefited from his legacy when sitting around our bungalow pool. I was able to see the volcanic shores of Lanzarote without the obligatory 4 storey tourist complex blocking my view thanks to Manrique.
Now back at home, I am looking at things in a completely different light having seen the ability of one man’s vision to make the most of his environment and resources. A dark shadowed hole in the corner of our garden will be developed into a wonderful shrine to Manrique. Maybe you could walk around your community and see a wasteland or square of unused grass, you could draw up and idea to make it beautiful and approach the council (or just be a guerilla gardener) - either way BE INSPIRED to see things how they could be and not just how they are!