Those who followed my latest stories tracking the magnificent oriental treasures around the Mediterranean, may recall my visit to the Sultan Ahmet district in Istanbul, or perhaps my stopovers in Spain, on the Arabian route through Andalucía. Such spectacular days evoked times of these long lost Kingdoms, whilst I discovered ancient architectural styles and the unique emergence of the prominent Mudéjar style, which developed in this part of southern Spain, as a result of the coexistence of two cultures; the Christians and the Muslims.
While on my ongoing route to the Canary Islands, I was very surprised to find that some of these distinctive architectural elements, extended also to these remote volcanic lands, off the West African coast in the Atlantic Ocean.
Claimed by the Spanish during the 15th century, the Islands feature an eclectic blend of architectural styles. Although most early churches and castles are a mélange of Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance styles with neoclassical touches, in general, the architecture around the main cities is contemporary. The mixture of the old and new may look incompatible at times, but if you venture inland, towards some remote towns, hidden in desert valleys, you may discover some very striking monuments.
I had the pleasure to expansively visit some of these islands. Despite the influence from southern Spain, (particularly Andalucía), the residents still preferred to keep the simple, whitewashed façades, combined with the handcrafted, Spanish-designed, dark, wooden exterior balconies. Eventually, I also realised that what seems as very simple on the outside structure with modest masonry stonework, may hide some striking decor on the inside. I am referring again to the Mudéjar style with the intricate, multiple-angled and panelled wooden coff ered ceilings, not to mention the baroque elements, such as the baroque reredos.
These details are reflected mostly in religious relics, as well as in some historical houses. They are easily accessible, and are open to the public all year round. When visiting these islands make sure not miss the Santa Maria Church in the historical town of Betancuria, Fuerteventura, and La Concepción Church in La Laguna, Tenerife.
While exploring these historical Canary towns, some of the treks eventually led me on to the discovery of some spectacular oases and natural reserves. In fact, apart from these architectural gems, these islands are also known for their exotic landscapes. In the midst of these desert mountains and valleys, it is common to find palm trees immersed deeply in the alternating volcanic rock landscape. These are natural retreats, where palm trees play an important role as they support the vegetation and the animal life around.
The vegetation in these parks and reserves showcases indigenous and tropical flora, not to mention the botanical gardens, having the largest cactus grounds in Europe. One very common plant is the Aloe vera, originating from the Arabian Peninsula, and is both cultivated for agricultural and medicinal uses. Another one is the Euphorbia regis-jubae, which is a flowering plant native to the eastern Canary Islands, Western Morocco and North-Western Western Sahara.
In the depths of these rocky gorges, silence prevails – you can only hear the echoing cawing sounds of the crows or the bleating of goats, as they make their way down to drink from the natural pools.
Along this route it is common to pass by the Casas Naturaleza, the charming historical restaurant houses, with central patios.I recall one courtyard which was full of exotic plants in terracotta pots, and dark, old wooden chairs and tables resting under the shade of long green leaves. Sangria flowed in large round wine glasses with huge pieces of local fruit. However, the biggest highlight is the restaurant, serving exquisite dishes while showcasing the essence of these islands’ gastronomy. Inside, one can also find an impressive audiovisual information centre recounting historical facts surrounding these villages. While in other Casas, amidst their paradisiacal gardens, one can also observe actual native artisans working on handicrafts.
The mix of the volcanic terrain, palm trees, heat, and the general exotic feel is what characterises some of these unique islands. It was a laborious task for various architects and designers to succeed in maintaining a balance with the natural surroundings while developing their structural designs. Thanks to them, most places can now truly demonstrate how nature and architecture can harmoniously combine.
© 2018 – VIDA Magazine – Mandy Farrugia