César Manrique, the island’s most famous son and internationally renowned artist, designer and architect, had a passionate vision for the island and its people. Part of this passion involved harmoniously blending the natural and manmade together. His extraordinary Centres of Art, Culture and Tourism around the island combine landscape and architecture in a unique way. Set in outstanding locations the Centres reflect the artist’s passion for the beauty of his island, and his concern that its natural beauty and traditions should be preserved. In the north, opened to the public in 1973, the Mirador del Rio viewpoint was created in the site of an old coastal defence battery. The spectacular lookout, which is practically invisible from outside, is set into the top of the high cliffs of Famara, and from its curving terraces there are breathtaking views over the narrow strait of El Rio to the island of La Graciosa and the Chinijo archipelago. The cliffs here drop sheer for 500 metres down to the sea, and the contoured viewing points seem to overhang the empty void.
On the north eastern coast, the Cueva de Los Verdes, set in an ancient lava tube formed by molten lava flowing down to the sea, is a 1 kilometre long walk through the extraordinary convoluted passageways formed by the molten magma. The artist Jesús Soto lit the natural corridors, some of which are more than fifty metres high, so that the wide and vivid colour range of the rock forms are brilliantly illuminated. Above, on the vaulted roof, the smooth surface is covered with what looks like mini stalactites but which are in fact solidified splashes of lava thrown up as the molten boiling rock surged through the tunnel. The curving walk follows two sections of the tunnel which run one above the other, with hidden pools and still small lakes. Used as a place of refuge in the past when the island was frequently raided by slavers, parts of the tube today are used by scientists to monitor the volcanic activity of the area.
Just south of the Cueva de los Verdes, The Jameos del Agua was the first centre of Art, Culture and Tourism created by César Manrique, in 1977. Set in a continuation of the same lava tube, the centre is an extraordinary blend of the manmade and natural with two chambers connected by an intact section of tunnel. The entrances are through two Jameos – the natural openings caused when the lava tube tunnel roof collapsed – and lead into a huge covered space, where a clear pool of water is home to the endemic blind albino crab, barely a centimetre long, which is unique to the island. Beyond, a pool of azure blue water and exuberant garden of cacti, fig and palm trees and flowers, lies open to the sky under the next Jameo. This leads again into the flowing contours of the lava tube, where a large natural auditorium, which can seat 600 hundred spectators, is a regular venue for concerts and theatre performances. There is a bar, a restaurant, and even a dance floor within the centre. As well as this, during dinner time, a folklore group plays traditional music from Lanzarote.
Towards the centre of the island the Jardín de Cactus has a spectacular collection of cacti set in an old quarry of black volcanic rock which, like all Manrique’s creations, seems to blend seamlessly into the natural landscape. Here more than 1,700 species of cacti are planted in terraces which follow the contours of the hill. In a touch which is typical of Manrique, every turn offers new views, vistas and surprises, and inside the café, an elegant spiral staircase climbs around a glass sculpture formed of glass balls and steel branches which replicate the towering cacti outside.
The International Contemporary Art Museum (MIAC) is set in the old fortress of San José overlooking the port in Arrecife. The 18th century building was carefully adapted by César Manrique and forms an unusual art gallery, the vaulted chambers and gun ports overlooking the harbour making a remarkably effective exhibition space. Both figurative and abstract paintings and sculptures by international artists as well as those from the Canaries are on display, including works by Manrique himself. The centre has an excellent restaurant, overlooking the harbour which serves both Canarian and international cuisine. In the centre of the island the Casa-Museo El Campesino sits at an important crossroad in the town of Mozaga where major roads to the four quarters of the island intersect.
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