History

Lanzarote's first inhabitants, the Majos, are thought to have arrived on the island from North Africa in around 1000 BC. Lanzarote was the first of the Canaries to fall to Jean de Béthencourt in 1402 and was subsequently made the unneighbourly base for conquering the rest of the archipelago. Many Majos were sold into slavery and those remaining had to endure waves of marauding pirates from the northwest African coast. Today’s popular Cueva de los Verdes tourist site was a refuge for those unable to flee to Gran Canaria, but of course it couldn’t protect their homes from large-scale looting. British buccaneers, such as Sir Walter Raleigh, also got in on the plundering act and, by the mid-17th century, the population here had dwindled to a mere 300.

Just as the human assault seemed to be abating, nature elbowed in – big time. During the 1730s, massive volcanic eruptions destroyed at least a dozen towns and some of the island’s most fertile land. But, as the islanders discovered, the volcanic soil proved a highly fertile bedrock for farming (particularly wine grapes), which brought relative prosperity to the island. Much of Lanzarote's archaeological remains were lost beneath the lava and, later, under 19th-century sandstorms.

In 1852 the capital was moved from Teguise to Arrecife. Today, with tourism flourishing alongside the healthy, if small, agricultural sector, the island's population of 148,470 can more than double with all the holiday blow-ins. Thankfully, the legacy of super-star 20th-century artist César Manrique has ensured that development is, to a certain extent, sensibly controlled.