César Manrique’s distinctive work is hard to quantify into any particular genre. Born on the island of Lanzarote, he expressed himself through sculpture, architecture, painting and even interior designing. He lived and worked abroad for several years, honing his artistic philosophies, but everything he did, he did for the love of his beloved Canary Islands. He once proclaimed that if everyone could see the region through his eyes, they’d believe it to be the most beautiful place on earth, just as he did.
Culture in the Canaries: Following the Footsteps of César Manrique
The Canary Islands provide an outstanding depth of culture for a destination more often renowned for the astounding beauty of its natural surrounds. Come for the sun, sea and sand, most certainly, but culture lovers will be entranced by the legacy of one of the region’s most famous sons. Acclaimed artist César Manrique’s unique and enduring signature can be found everywhere.
Follow in the Footsteps of Manrique
Through my many visits to The Canaries, I’ve discovered that Manrique was more than simply an artist with a love of the natural landscape – although he was indeed that too. This was a man who was a true pioneer and a champion of his birthplace, finding myriad ways in which creativity and the environment could come together to produce works that are not just aesthetically beautiful, but entirely unique in their ethical concepts.
The César Manrique Foundation
First stop on a Manrique tour of discovery should most definitely be the house created for and by the artist himself, designed to serve as an inspiration for the ecologically-friendly and restrained approach to development on his beloved island of Lanzarote. He returned from the US at a time when the tourism industry was taking off in the Canaries, and his far-sighted vision was born from a desire to save the region from becoming a ‘concrete jungle’ landscape, a fate that had befallen many other destinations.
To demonstrate that progress and art could be achieved in harmony with the environment, Manrique built this astounding house embedded right into the volcanic landscape. The results are nothing short of ingenious, with the layout encompassing five volcanic ‘bubbles’ which he interconnected to form one dwelling. Demonstrating his exquisite ability to marry aesthetics and architecture within the bounds of the natural environment, the house is a tangible reference of his most deeply held principles.
Castillo de San Jose
The striking fortress known as Castillo de San Jose owes its preservation directly to Manrique. He was able to convince local authorities that his ideals of natural development were the perfect fit for the restoration project of the Castillo, which had been long abandoned, despite a vital strategic role dating back to its construction in 1774.
Under the guidance of the artist, the Castillo’s historic legacy was restored in his inimitable style and, today, serves as an important museum and one of Lanzarote’s cultural centrepieces. The museum’s extensive collection includes Modernist works from some of the world’s most renowned artists, curated within the dramatic setting of this impenetrable stone fortress.
Jameos del Agua
Feted by celebrities and proclaimed by Manrique himself as “the most beautiful nightclub in the world” (few, I suspect, would disagree), Jameos del Agua is probably the highest-profile example of the artist’s work on Lanzarote. He used the natural framework of the landscape to create a site that’s both jaw-droppingly beautiful and an incredible feat of architecture and engineering. ‘Jameos’ is the name for the multiple large openings of found in a lava tube, and these openings form the basis of the complex, which has become one of the Canary Island’s most visited attractions.
The first opening, Jameo Chico, is accessed by descending a stone staircase, which leads to the spectacular centrepiece bar overlooking a natural lake. The tunnel complex branches out to include an open-air tropical cave with a natural pool surrounded by palm trees, a concert auditorium, and the Casa de los Volcanos, which houses a scientific volcano information centre.
Playa Jardin is my personal favourite Manrique creation; to me, this magnificent coastal garden perfectly encapsulates the artist’s guiding principles in a place where nature, art and function come together in joyful profusion. Located on Tenerife, on the outskirts of Puerto de la Cruz, Playa Jardin translates to ‘Garden Beach’, and that’s exactly what it is.
The elegant sweep of black volcanic sand is embraced by lush gardens planted with palms trees and brightly coloured flowering shrubs. The gardens are interspersed with waterfalls and pools harbouring marine life, all set against a dramatic backdrop of Mount Teide. With an ambience of tranquillity and community, the artist created this lovely area for locals and tourists to enjoy the natural attractions of Tenerife in an inclusive and ecologically friendly way.
A legend in his own lifetime, Manrique was able to utilise his incredible talents to ensure the preservation of his beloved homeland, in a timeless and enduring way that can be enjoyed by everyone.