Lanzarote is the oldest of the seven Canary Islands, having been formed approximately 180 million years ago as a result of a series of volcanic eruptions from underwater active volcanoes.

Flag of Lanzarote


It was probably the first Canary Island to be settled. Some believe that Phoenicians may have settled the island around 1100 BC, though no material evidence survives. The Greek writers and philosophers Herodotus, Plato and Plutarch described the garden of the Hesperides, a mythic orchard at the far West of the world, which some like to identify with the Canaries. For a long time before the discovery of America, the Canary island of El Hierro was considered to be the western most landmass in the world.

The first known records of the Canary Islands come from Pliny the Elder in the encyclopedia Naturalis Historia on an expedition to the Canary Islands. The names of five islands (then called Insulae Fortunatae, the “Fortunate Isles”) were recorded as Canaria (Gran Canaria), Ninguaria (Tenerife), Junonia Major (La Palma), Plivalia (El Hierro) and Capraria (La Gomera). Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, the two easternmost Canary Islands, were only mentioned as the archipelago of the “purple islands”. The Roman poet Lucan and the Egyptian astronomer and geographer Ptolemy gave their precise locations.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Canary Islands were largely ignored until 999 AD, when the Mahos, – Berber people, colonized the islands.

Ancient Mahos lived off of shepherding, coast shellfish captures, harvesting of fruits and had a very limited agriculture. They focused on the cultivation of Moorish wheat. They had no knowledge of metals and had lost the knowledge of oceanic navigation. They lived in caves or semi-buried huts of stone (deep houses), wore untanned goat hides and ate gofio (flour made from roasted grains), goat meat and fish. Almost all chronicles reflected their gentle and hospitable nature and their love of music and dance.

According to history, they were strong, tall and with beautiful features. They lived in the Neolithic age and their way of life was pastoral. They had a king named ‘Menecey’ or ‘Guanarteme’, they were pacific, and embalmed their dead. They worshipped only a single God. They had laws and, therefore, judges.

In 1336, a ship arrived on the island from Lisbon under the guidance of Lanzarote da Framqua, alias Lancelotto Malocello. A fort was later built in the area of Montaña de Guanapay near today’s Teguise. Castilian slaving expeditions in 1385 and 1393 seized hundreds of Guanches and sold them in Spain, initiating the slave trade in the islands.

Jean de Béthencourt arrived in 1402, heading a private expedition under Castilian auspices. Bethencourt first visited the south of Lanzarote at Playas de Papagayo, and within a matter of months the French overran the island, which lacked mountains and gorges to serve as retreats for the small remaining population of Guanches, so many of them were taken away as slaves; it was said that only 300 men remained. In 1404, the Castilians, with the support of the King of Castile, came and fought the local Guanches, who were further decimated. The islands of Fuerteventura and El Hierro were later similarly conquered. In 1477, a decision by the royal council of Castile confirmed a grant of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, with the smaller islands of Ferro and Gomera to the Castilian noble Herrera, who held their fief until the end of the 18th century.

In 1585, the Ottoman admiral Murat Reis temporarily seized Lanzarote. In the 17th century, pirates raided the island and took 1,000 inhabitants to slavery in Cueva de los Verdes. Lanzarote and Fuerteventura were especially affected by piracy, as the pirates generally came from continental Africa, which Lanzarote and Africa are closest to.

From 1730 to 1736, the island was hit by a series of volcanic eruptions, producing 32 new volcanoes in a stretch of 18 km. The minister of Yaiza, Don Andrés Lorenzo Curbelo, documented the eruption in detail until 1731. Lava covered a quarter of the island’s surface, including the most fertile soil and eleven villages. One hundred smaller volcanoes were located in the area called Montañas del Fuego, the “Mountains of Fire”.

In 1768, drought affected the deforested island, and winter rains did not fall. Much of the population was forced to emigrate to Cuba and the Americas. Another volcanic eruption occurred within the range of Tiagua in 1824.

Located in a strategic geographical position and incorporated into the vast Spanish empire at the time, the Canary Islands not only became the key to the incessant cultural and commercial traffic with the new lands of America, but increased its relationship with European countries like Portugal, England or France.

In 1927, Lanzarote, along with Fuerteventura, became part of the province of Las Palmas (which covers Gran Canaria in addition to the aforementioned two islands).

In 2007, a team from the Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and a team from the Universidad de Zaragoza, Spain uncovered the prehistoric settlement at El Bebedero yielding about 100 Roman potsherds, nine pieces of metal, and one piece of glass. The artifacts were found in strata dated between the first and fourth centuries AD. The finds show that Romans did trade with the Canaries, though there is no evidence of settlements.

The Canary Islands were one of the first communities to fall into Nationalist hands (they became Nationalist following Sanjurjo’s attempted coup d’état, which effectively divided Spain roughly in half; one side Nationalist, and the other Republican).

Following reforms in the 1960s, Spain as a whole experienced a large boom (dubbed the Spanish Miracle), which covered developing industries, and growing prosperity. Lanzarote experienced a large inflow of tourists, and immigrants, leading to its diversity today.

Historically, Lanzarote’s main industry has been agriculture, though from the mid-20th century or so, the tourism industry experienced a huge boom, and it now comprises approximately 80% of the island’s gross income.