The city-municipality of Arrecife is located on the island of Lanzarote, of which it is the capital, belonging to the province of Las Palmas and the autonomous community of the Canary Islands. Although it is a municipality with little territorial extension, less than 25 square kilometres, it has more than 60,000 inhabitants.
Before it was conquered by the Spanish, on the island of Lanzarote, there was an aboriginal population whose social organization was very basic. This was due to the continuous maritime attacks from Africa and the low rainfall, which made it difficult to maintain fixed and organized settlements.
Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, Arrecife became the most important urban centre in Lanzarote. In fact, since ancient times, its original inhabitants have known it simply as “El Puerto” due to the enormous political, commercial and economic importance that it played early on. With an important fortified complex, it was tasked with protecting Arrecife from pirate attacks.
From the 18th century, Arrecife's trade was based mainly on its production of wines, spirits, barrilla and cochineal. The latter boosted the economy because the dye produced by this insect was particularly scarce, making it a very valuable article.
Thanks to the dye from the cochineal, Arrecife became the capital of the island in 1847, consolidating the immense economic and political power carved out during previous centuries. By 1852, the situation had improved even more after the publication of a decree that allowed Arrecife to trade in the main international markets.
This commercial development, together with the traditional fishing activity, turned Arrecife into the headquarters of the huge commercial fleet on the Canary Islands, which it maintained throughout the following decades.
However, Arrecife was not exempt from serious obstacles such as the economic crash of 1929 and the political turbulence unleashed by the Spanish Civil War in 1936. This seriously affected its socioeconomic performance.
In 1975, the situation worsened after the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara, which dealt a strong blow to its natural fishing market.
Despite these drawbacks, Arrecife has managed to position itself, since the 1970s, as an important tourist destination. After the return of democracy in the early 1980s, its economy diversified, becoming oriented towards the service sector and radically increasing its demographics.
At present, Arrecife is one of the most visited tourist destinations on the Canary Islands thanks to its high tourist development and incredible natural beauty.
Top 5 places to visit in Arrecife
Arrecife is one of the most beautiful cities on the Canary Islands, with a vast commercial and tourist development evidenced by the care of its heritage monuments, as well as the enormous natural wealth that surrounds it. Therefore, it is home to many interesting places. Among them, we highlight the following:
St. Gabriel's Castle
This castle is part of the huge defensive conglomerate that existed in Arrecife to protect it from attacks by pirates and the English fleet. Its origin dates back to the end of the 16th century. Later, in the 18th century, a drawbridge was built that communicated directly with Arrecife and the coast.
It is an architectural complex of enormous patrimonial importance that was declared an Asset of Cultural Interest in 1979. Since 1972, it has been the headquarters of the Arrecife History Museum, which exhibits valuable collections of archaeological remains that are several centuries old.
St. Joseph's Castle
Built between 1776 and 1779, the Castle of St. Joseph was part of the huge defensive complex that surrounded Arrecife to protect the city from pirate attacks. It also became an important source of work, especially during the difficult years of famine, widespread throughout the 18th century due to the continuous droughts and the eruption of the Timanfaya volcano.
Its strategic location on top of the cliff of Puerto de Naos, with a D-shaped construction using semicircular walls facing the sea, provided an effective defence.
Huge blocks of volcanic rock were used to build the castle, which made this fortification a perfect powder keg.
Currently, the Castle of St. Joseph serves as the headquarters of the important International Museum of Contemporary Art of Arrecife and is one of the most visited on the Canary Islands.
Church of St. Genesius Bishop
Its origin dates from 1574, when the original hermitage was built in honour of St. Peter the Apostle. By the year 1798, the simple hermitage had become a parish church built with whitewashed walls and black volcanic stone.
The architectural design of this temple presents three naves covered with dark wood in an unmistakable Mudejar style. In addition to religious representations from the late Baroque period of the Virgin of the Rosary and St. Genesius of Clermont, both from Havana, a symbolic painting by the artist Alberto Manrique of the fountain of life stands out. It is behind the baptismal font.
On the outside is a formidable quadrangular tower built in 1842 and topped by a beautiful white dome. Its inspiration was the existing bell tower in the Mother Church Parish of the Conception, located in Santa Cruz de Tenerife.
The Segarra Building, with eclectic style architectural features, of which only the original façade remains intact, is one of the most important heritage treasures of the city. It is the only vestige remaining of the old shopping centre that originated at the beginning of the 19th century and that repowered all the city's subsequent development.
This old commercial centre was overflowing with markets, houses, wineries, warehouses, tahonas, distilleries, mills, maretas, cisterns and granaries.
The Segarra Building is so important that it was declared an Asset of Cultural Interest in 2005.
Charco de San Ginés
“Charco de San Ginés” is what the historic centre of Arrecife is popularly known as. It is characterized by its peculiar urban shape, formed by a sea tongue that enters the centre of the city and is surrounded by the old Hermitage of St. Genesius (which was later converted into a church) and the small houses of the fishermen.
This series of buildings around the waterway formed what was later baptized as “La Puntilla”, the fishermen's neighbourhood, the area with the greatest seafaring flavour in the city.
Over the years, it has positioned itself as a very important tourist location, ideal for taking pictures due to the spectacular views it offers.
In addition to its obvious appeal, the Charco de San Ginés is a very quiet and peaceful place full of recreational areas perfect for enjoying with the family and where important sporting events take place.
What to do in Arrecife
The great attraction of Arrecife lies in its spectacular beaches and its festivals and traditional celebrations, which attract thousands of tourists every year.
Small and nice beaches
Thanks to its enviable geographical situation and its topography and climate, the city enjoys small beaches, but with fine golden sand bathed by crystal clear waters, shallow and with little waves. Surrounded by an environment of immense beauty, these beaches are perfect for sharing with the whole family.
Among the most popular and visited beaches are Reducto Beach, ideal for bathers and families thanks to its small but pleasant space; Castillo Beach, located near the Castle of St. Gabriel; El Cable Beach, with moderate waves and a length of one just over 300 meters, which makes it ideal for athletes; and La Concha Beach, located on the promenade.
All these beaches are surrounded by hotel complexes, shops, bars and restaurants, so tourists and visitors can enjoy all the possible comforts.
Picturesque festivals with a great tradition
The culture and idiosyncrasy of Arrecife is eminently marine and is deeply linked to its coast and the Atlantic.
Many of its festivals and celebrations involve the popular folkloric groups known as “Parrandas Marineras”, especially during the picturesque and lavish carnivals in which the “Parrandas de los Buches” take place.
The “Buches” are traditional games in which these musical groups face each other in fun combat using stuffed bladders as weapons. Other diversions are the famous “jolateros”, small boats made with tin drums, and regattas on the coast.
Other very popular festivals are the Corpus Christi Festival, whose origin dates back to the 1930s during Corpus Christi and which is characterized by lavish processions through the streets, adorned with spectacular carpets made with dyes and salt, carried out by cultural and liturgical associations.
Accommodation in Arrecife
Gastronomy in Arrecife
One of the greatest prides of Arrecife is its exquisite gastronomy, in which fish and seafood are the key and ingredients. They form part of an infinity of great-tasting dishes that have crossed borders.
Thanks to its prosperous port and intense commercial exchange, the culinary art of Arrecife was nourished by ingredients native to America, such as potatoes and corn. These quickly became part of Lanzarote's agriculture along with pumpkin, millet, sweet potatoes and lentils.
Although the preparation of its cuisine could be classified as simple, its seasoning is rich in strong and spicy flavours combined with sweet and mild flavours. This elevates the taste of its preparations based on cheeses, meats and fruits.
Arrecife has an important goat industry that translates into a wide variety of cheeses and goat's milk by-products that are added to its preparations.
Among its many dishes, the popular stew known as “vieja” stands out. Of course, the star dish of both Arrecife and all the Canary Islands is wrinkled potatoes, usually served with “mojos”.
It is important to note that the Canary Islands is the only place in Spain where potatoes are called "papas", an original name from America.