Teguise, or Villa de Teguise, to give it its full name, was the original capital of Lanzarote. It is full of whitewashed buildings and narrow cobbled streets. As well as an impressive church and two historic convents there are many other historic buildings. Retaining much of its charm it is probably the most attractive Spanish Colonial town in Lanzarote.
Founded in the 15th Century, it was the Conquistadors capital until 1852, when its former port, Arrecife, became the new capital.
In the 1980s a campaign to rejuvenate Teguise launched. As a result, the town was declared a Historic Architectural site by the Spanish Government (Conjunto Arquitectónico Histórico-Artístico). This acknowledges Teguise as one of the oldest towns in the Canaries.
History of Teguise
In 1418 Maciot de Béthencourt, the French explorer, demarcated the village. He named it after his wife, the Guanche Princess, Teguise, who was the daughter of the old King Guardafía.
Geographically, Teguise has a central position and is built on high ground (220m above sea level). Its commanding views gave it a tactical and defensive advantage over the coastal towns. So it remained Lanzarote’s capital for 450 years.
Of all the Canary Islands, Lanzarote is closest to North Africa. Pirates from that continent plagued the town’s early history. In 1618 an armada of 5,000 Algerian buccaneers overran the town. A violent massacre ensued and the streets ran with blood. Calle La Sangre, a small street just beside the main church, the Nuestro Senora de Guadaloupe, today serves as a memorial to this event.
Palacio del Marques
Dating from 1455, the oldest building in Teguise is the Palacio del Marques on Calle Herrera y Rojas. Today it houses the Patio del Vino garden bar and cafe, which offers tapas and a wide selection of wines from around the world.
There are two historic convents in Teguise, the oldest is the Convento de San Francisco, located in the south-east of the town. Built in the 16th-Century by Franciscan missionaries, this beautiful building is filled with interesting artworks and a museum.
At the south-western end of the town is the Convento de Santo Domingo which now houses the Centro de Arte, where you’ll find a selection of temporary art exhibitions. The convent was founded in the 18th-century on the foundations of a 17th-century church.
This beautiful 18th-Century renaissance mansion is in the Plaza de San Miguel which is also called Plaza de Leones by locals. This is because of the two large lion statues that stand guard opposite the entrance to the Palace. This was built between 1730 and 1780. It took 50 years to build the mansion as work was interrupted by volcanic eruptions. The Palacio has a chapel, patio and an attractive well. A visit will give you some idea of how the wealthy citizens of the capital enjoyed life in the 18th-Century. The Spinolas, a wealthy merchant family, acquired the house in 1895.
A restoration project in the 1970s, overseen by César Manrique, helped restore the building to its former glory. Today it is one of the most important monuments in Teguise.
The Palacio is home to the Museo del Timple which tells the history, development and creation of the small, typically Canarian guitar (Timple).
Nearby is the rustic stone Caja de Canarias bank, built in 1680. La Cilla, as it was originally called, used to be a place for storing tithes. These are a kind of tax paid to the clergy.
Many of the old colonial houses have been restored. These are now home to top-quality restaurants and shops. Teguise is only small and doesn’t have much traffic on its narrow streets. This makes it an ideal place to explore on foot.
If you would prefer to see the tranquil side of Teguise then visit any day except Sunday – Market Day and Monday – traditionally a day off for many.
Few of the organised coach trips stop here, so during the week, the town is very quiet. It has a tranquil air and the streets are mostly deserted allowing you to fully appreciate its history. If you visit the town on a Sunday market day, and also during the week you’d think it was two different places.
Teguise has some interesting shops. As it is fairly close to Famara there is a selection of surf shops, some interesting furniture places, lots of local arts and crafts with galleries, as well as handmade clothes and jewellery shops.
In many ways, Teguise was a blueprint for César Manrique‘s vision of Lanzarote, a town of pristine, bright white low rise buildings surrounded by a surreal, volcanic landscape.
Teguise Sunday Market
For 6 days a week, the town is quite a sleepy place. However, on Sunday, thousands of visitors flock to its tourist market which completely takes over the centre of the town. Folklore dancers and musicians perform in the Plaza Miguel beside the handsome Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe.
The market has around 400 stalls selling local products, handicrafts, art, decorations, curiosities, food and clothing. all at reasonable prices. It’s the perfect place to buy any gifts and souvenirs.
No need to worry about car parking as the approach roads have lots of available parking. Enterprising locals turn every spare bit of land into a pop-up car park. If you don’t have a car there are special buses running to the market from all over the island on a Sunday.
Castillo de Santa Barbara
Overlooking the town is the 16th Century Castillo de Santa Barbara. This is built right on the lip of the extinct volcano, Volcan de Guanapay. This position gives it some amazing views. Well worth a visit just to see the view of Teguise below.
The castle was built as a refuge for the townspeople. People would flee here to avoid the frequent pirate raids. Those left in the town were often savagely slaughtered. The fort houses the Museo de la Pirateria where you can learn more about the towns turbulent past.
It also houses the Museum of Emigration. This tells the story of the mass exodus of the inhabitants of Lanzarote over the years. People have left the Island because of volcanic eruptions and also general economic hardship.
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