César Manrique, Lanzarote
César Manrique was born on April 24th, 1919 in Arrecife into a comfortably well-off middle class family. When he was a young boy his father bought a house in Caleta de Famara and the summer vacations were spent beside this beautiful beach in what is still one of the most unspoilt parts of the island cast an indelible spell on the young César.
During the Civil War he volunteered to fight for the fascists in Franco’s army but found the experience deeply disturbing. When Manrique returned in 1939 to Lanzarote he climbed to the flat roof of the family house, stripped off his uniform and burnt it on the spot, never to talk of the war again. Following a period of study at the Academia de Bellas Artes in Madrid, Manrique stayed on as a teacher and during the 1950s held major exhibitions which showed the strong influences of Picasso and Matisse on his work.
In 1964 he was invited to New York, where he stayed for several years, exhibiting with success in the Guggenheim Museum. But his heart was always in his native Lanzarote and he returned in the late 60s determined to preserve and protect the natural beauty of the island from the destruction caused by mass tourism developments which he had seen on the southern Mediterranean coastline of France and Spain.
César campaigned ceaselessly to preserve the buildings and architecture of Lanzarote, insisting that wherever possible the traditional colours of the white walls and green painted windows and doors of the island should be retained.
He argued that tourist development could take place without destruction, that both old and new could exist harmoniously side by side. In the late 60s Manrique began work on the Centres of Art, Culture and Tourism, which today are the most well visited sites on the island and which are still remarkable for the foresightedness of their creator. Designed to have minimal impact on the natural landscape, each of the Centres combines both manmade and natural elements in a complementary way.
The Jameos or natural openings in collapsed lava tubes were incorporated to form large chambers open to the sky, whilst subterranean spaces caused by the massive gas bubbles of ancient volcanic eruptions were connected by convoluted curving corridors, as in his own house at the Manrique Foundation, to form lovely sunken rooms.
Alfredo Diaz, spokesman for the César Manrique foundation
"Manrique’s great gift was that he could read this ancient landscape and translate it into a modern language"
Many think that Manrique treated the stunning landscape of Lanzarote as a canvas in its own right, adorning roundabouts with his gracefully mobile sculptures which turn slowly in the north east trade winds, and preventing ugly buildings and advertising hoardings violating the delicate beauty of his island. This determination to prevent unsightly development effectively put a brake on the spread of large resorts along Lanzarote’s coast and preserved much of island’s delicate environment for future generations.
He died tragically in his Jaguar at a road intersection just outside his new house in 1992, but the spirit he engendered lives on. Although large tourist resorts have been built since his death, particularly in the south of the island, building controls are more rigorously enforced in Lanzarote than in other islands of the Canaries.
Today the village houses with whitewashed walls, green doors and the distinctive onion shaped chimney pots adorning their flat roofs, are emblematic of Manrique and his determination that the old styles and traditional designs had their own beauty and should not be destroyed.
Find out more about the Centres of Art, Culture and Tourism
Responsible Travel would like to thank the Lanzarote tourist board for their sponsorship of this guide