Being part of the list of World Heritage Cities is a privilege, and San Cristobal de La Laguna has the great honor of being part of it. The streets and houses that make up the city, are the example of innovative urban planning, consisting of unique historical buildings declared as Cultural Heritage.
Discover San Cristobal de La Laguna!
San Cristóbal de la Laguna was founded in 1497 by Alfonso Fernández de Lugo. The last city was established in the Canary Islands (Spain’s first overseas territory) and got its name from a shallow lake or swamp area (La laguna) drained in 1837.
The first settlers, most of them soldiers, did not receive any defined plot of land: the non-fortified urban area was considered as a public space where everyone could build.
Small houses were built around the Iglesia de la Concepción, in the biggest mess, without a general plan, in the upper city (Villa de Arriba). This situation was regularized in 1502 in a plan based on the plans that Leonardo Da Vinci had made for the city of Imole, and which was adapted by the ruler (Adelantado) for the area between his official residence and the Church. Long main streets (Calles Reales) linked open public spaces and formed a grid over which the smaller streets were inserted.
The lower town thus created (Villa de Abajo) spread rapidly, attracting the island’s ruling classes and by 1515 it already had over a thousand inhabitants. The monastic communities began to build the Church of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios (1511), the Hermitage of San Miguel (1506), the hospices of San Sebastián (1506) and Los Dolores (1515) in the 16th century.
The Municipal Council (Cabildo) brought water to the city with its resources in 1521 and the first public buildings were built in 1525.
The city sought an official statute from 1514 and was only granted one in 1531. In 1554 the Municipal Council ordered the destruction of all buildings in cane, in order to reduce the risk of fire, an important precaution, since at that time the city had six thousand inhabitants, making it the largest city in the Canary Islands.
San Cristóbal maintained this dominant political, religious and commercial position during the 17th and 18th centuries. The prosperity obtained is reflected in the buildings constructed during this period.
The economic and political centre was transferred at this time to Santa Cruz in the 18th century, causing the decline of San Cristóbal, which retained only a religious and cultural role. A political renovation was the cause of the installation in San Cristóbal of the seat of the Supreme Court (Junta Suprema) of the Canary Islands in 1808, which ended abruptly five years later, when this body had disagreements with the Provincial Parliament (Diputación Provincial) installed in Santa Cruz de Tenerife and was dissolved.
The 20th century has seen San Cristóbal notably recover some of its former role, thanks to the role of its University.
San Cristóbal is composed of two distinct parts: The Upper Town (Villa de Arriba) from 1497 and the Lower Town (Villa de Abajo) from 1502. The main street (Calle de la Carrera) forms the axis of the planned city, linking the first parish church with the Plaza del Adelantado. Parallel to this, San Agustín Street forms the geometric centre of the city, bordered by large houses built by the first merchants of the city.
Squares open up along the way, with regular shapes inspired by Mudejar models.
The first church dedicated to the Immaculate Conception was completely demolished and rebuilt in 1511. It was reorganized and enlarged in several phases during the following years. The mixture of styles and the asymmetrical structures, tower, baptistery, chapels etc. that characterize its present form, reflect its long history. Not far away, there are few things left of the Monastery of St. Augustine, founded at the beginning of the 16th century (it still has a beautiful two-level cloister).
The construction of the new parish church was a long process, since the governor was interested in the development of the Lower Town, where work began in 1515 with the construction of the Parish Church dedicated to the Remedies, a single-nave building, Mudejar style, with a tower attached in the seventeenth century, which later became the cathedral of the New Bishopric of Tenerife, established in 1813. The original facade collapsed and has been replaced by a neoclassical facade. Currently the central nave is bordered by side naves and several side chapels.
The Dominican convent of Santa Catalina de Siena was inaugurated in 1611. It acquired such importance that it encompassed several neighbouring buildings. The facades of the church and other buildings are simple and austere but the interiors are sumptuously decorated.
The small Ermita de San Miguel has declined rapidly after its foundation by the first governor and was used as a warehouse until 1970 when the council of the island of Tenerife restored it and turned it into a cultural centre. The remains of the Santa Clara Convent, which was very prosperous in the 16th century, were largely destroyed by fire in 1697, and it also served as a Cultural Centre.
There are beautiful old residences in San Cristobal de La Laguna. The oldest, the Casa del Corregidor, in which the carved red stone facade is original, dates from 1545. It is currently occupied by the municipal offices.
Similarly, the Casa Lercaro, from the sixteenth century, with a remarkable Mannerist style facade, is now the Museum of History of Tenerife.
The house of Alvarado Bracamonte, also called the House of the Governors, was built between 1624 and 1631 and was used by successive governors as a residence and workplace until the 19th century. It has a red stone portal, in pilasters, a wrought iron balcony and a split pediment. At present it houses the city’s Artistic and Historical Heritage services.
The 17th century Salazar house is very well preserved. Built in 1682, it has an elegant portal in an eclectic style, mainly Baroque but with Mannerist and Neoclassical styles. It now belongs to the Bishopric of Tenerife. The Osuna house, contemporary to the Casa Salazar, has as its most striking feature the balcony on the first floor of its main façade; it now houses the enormous collection of archives of San Cristóbal.
Among the most beautiful buildings of the 17th century are the elegant Casa de Montañés, first a private residence and now the headquarters of the Advisory Council of the Canary Islands Autonomous Government, and the L-shaped house of the Jesuits, occupied by the Society of Jesus, until its expulsion from the Canary Islands in 1767, when it was given to the Royal Society of Friends of the Country of Tenerife, who still occupy the offices. The Alhóndiga house was built at the beginning of the 18th century to serve as a corn market; at the beginning of the 19th century it was used as barracks for the French military and the District Court. It is currently occupied by municipal offices; its doorway is particularly interesting.
San Cristóbal also has some beautiful examples of 20th century architecture such as the Palacio de Rodríguez de Azero (currently the Casino) and the Teatro Leal, both in an eclectic style.
A living city has a dynamic that contains a continuous process of modifications that are proof of its authenticity. This is well illustrated in San Cristobal de la Laguna, a city that has evolved continuously since its foundation 500 years ago, a fact that can be “read” in the layout of the streets, open spaces and monuments that retain a visible continuity.
Paradoxically, it is the economic backwardness of the last two centuries that has saved the city from the savage destruction of much of its structure and urban fabric. From this point of view, the city retains an irrefutable authenticity.
In detail, the authenticity is immense: original facades that have survived and that offer an authentic historical urban landscape that illustrates the different architectural origins of the city; this original architecture associates European and Islamic elements and has played a very important role in the development of Architecture in the New Spanish World.
Finally, San Cristóbal de La Laguna has preserved in an unusual way, the authenticity in function of some of its traditional neighborhoods so that craftsmen and guilds (blacksmiths, shoemakers, barbers and boilermakers) occupy them from the beginning of its foundation.
The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), which visited the city in 1999, made a report on the proposal of inscription where it introduces this “declaration of meaning”, justifying the election of San Cristobal de La Laguna as a World Heritage Site.
-A city from the time of the Catholic Kings (Los Reyes Católicos), 1500.
-The city of one man, the governor Alfonso Fernández de Lugo.
-A colonial city representative of the mission of the settlers of a city-republic in a new land.
-An administrative city that illustrates a conception of the city, where the decisions of the public authorities and the municipal council (cabildo) are taken into account in the process of building the city.
-The first city of “peace”. Non-fortified city. First example of city-territory, precedent of the American cities.
-The city as a project.
-Two cities and two periods of formation: the upper city and the lower city.
-Form derived from navigation: a sphere and a board arrangement arranged according to axes.
-A city completely controlled by regulatory measures.
-The layout of the streets is made in the image of the social structure: distribution.
-Culminating point of the millennium in the year 1500; the reform of the clergy is reflected in the urban fabric.
-Dimensions as symbols: the resurrection and the end of time.
-A religious axis links the parish churches.
-The meaning of San Cristóbal and La Laguna.
-The image of the city: the constellation of points on a navigation chart and the constellations of the sky.
The report of the ICOMOS expedition suggests slight modifications to the boundaries of the property, proposed for inscription, which were accepted by the competent authorities. Other suggestions which were also accepted concerned the creation of an integrated system for the treatment of infrastructure services (e.g. electric cables), the transformation of certain main streets into pedestrian areas (accompanied by parking areas) and the search for the old pavements now covered, with a view to restoring them.