Apr 13

Bite Size Histories of Lanzarote Chapter 1

‘Bite Size’ Histories of Lanzarote

Chapter One

‘That which wasn’t lost was found!’


The first in a series of short, factual but quirky, bite size histories of Lanzarote.

South coast of the island of Lanzarote. Los Hervideros

South coast of the island of Lanzarote. Los Hervideros

The island of Lanzarote gets its name from, and was discovered by, Lancelotto Malocello, a Genoese explorer, of the 14th century, or at least he gets the credit!

He found the island and ‘put it on the map,’ literally when it was recorded in the Dulcert Atlas in 1339 as ‘the island found by Lancelotto Malocello.’
Of course, when we say ‘found,’ we should remember that it was not ‘lost,’ or unknown to humankind before this event. (It’s just that Europeans tended to have this habit of only considering what they knew to be known!)
The locals knew it was there, (They called it Tyterogaka) and unfortunately for them so did the pirates who raided the island for slaves and orchilla, a plant used in dyeing.

At the time when Lancelotto and his crew arrived Zonzamos was the king. He must have been a forbearing sort of chap. Given that all the other visitors tended to make off with his subjects, and the only other saleable product on the island, he might have been excused if he had given them short shrift as they came ashore! But, apparently he didn’t and the sailors settled in for a bit of R and R and island hospitality, before nipping back to report their find.

King Zonzamas (Statues can be seen at El Museo del Monumento del Campesino

King Zonzamas (Statues can be seen at El Museo del Monumento del Campesino

Now, Zonzamas had a lady wife, as you would expect. Being king he must have had all the girls on the island to choose from, so she was probably beautiful. Nine months after the visit of Lancelotto and his mob, Queen Fayna gave birth to a baby girl with distinctly European features and colouring. There are two reported explanations for this:
One is that the Majos had a custom of sharing their wives with honoured guests, like the Eskimos. But, this is debated by historians and probably not the case. The other is that Queen Fayna was raped by one of the Europeans. But by this time, being wise to the fact that the Majos would be no match for the superior weapons of the foreigners should her husband call them out, and that there were possible advantages for the islanders in ongoing friendly relations, she kept quiet about it.
I prefer the second explanation. Firstly, it presents Queen Fayna as a very sensible, (in the circumstances) unselfish and strong woman, ideal qualities in a queen. Secondly, if it was the custom, and perfectly honourable, to lend your wife to a guest, how come the daughter, Princess Ico was forced to undergo a trial by ordeal? It appears that no one noticed her unusual colouring till after Zonzamos was dead. Then suddenly, up comes someone saying that she didn’t resemble her dad much, and that that fact cast doubt on the family honour and the fitness of her brother to be king. (Sounds like the work of some troublemaker with aspirations to the throne to me!) But, that’s another story, I digress!

In 1402 Juan de Bethancourt arrived on Lanzarote. He and Gadifer de la Salle were the leaders of a Spanish expedition, despite the fact that, as his name suggests, he was French. The thing was, your average explorer was not the type to work evenings and weekends saving up for their trips. They seemed to think that somebody else should pay. Juan apparently asked the king of France who said, ‘Get lost, but not on my money,’ or something similar. So, Juan tried his luck with the king of Spain and got his sponsorship.
Of course he had to promise first dibs at anything interesting or valuable that he might find, (normal procedure, regardless of who might have owned it before you came along).
By this time Princess Ico’s son, Guadarfia was king and getting pretty fed up with the pirate raids. He gave Juan and Co. a friendly welcome and permission to build a castle, Castillo Rubicon, in return for a promise of protection from the pirates, and things seemed to be going well.

The expedition brought with it priests and a saint, or rather a statue of one, Saint Marcial. The first Christian Church on Lanzarote was built at Femes, on the site of the present Church of Saint Marcial, who became the patron saint of the island.

Church of San Marcial, on the site of the very first Christian church at Femes.

Church of San Marcial, on the site of the very first Christian church at Femes.

So we now have an island,

  • still ruled by a Majo king, as far as the locals know,
  • named after an Italian,
  • taken, by a Frenchman,
  • in the name of Spain
  • and with a French Patron saint.

Lanzarote has a long history of accommodating a multicultural blend it seems.

But, of course, nothing is that simple. Juan de Bethancourt went off, back to Spain to report to the King (and ask for more money!) and there were all sort of dirty doings before he was granted the title ‘King of the Canary Islands,’ by Pope Innocent VII.
But that’s another story.

(Click here for Part 2: Dirty Doings)

Written by Sue Almond

Photographs by Sue Almond.

Category: Lanzarote, Journalism. Tags: Lanzarote, Travel, Story telling, Reporting


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    • Harry Dunn on April 13, 2014 at 10:20 am
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    With a name as wonderful as Lancelotto Malocello you just have to read on! A great slice of history written in such a witty and interesting way by Sue Almond. Shenanigans abounded in the 14th century and Lanzarote seems to have had more than its fair share of skulduggery. I await the next chapter with keen anticipation. I mean, things can only get better, can’t they? Thank you Sue for making my history lesson so entertaining.

  1. Get better? Hmm…not sure you could say that exactly. But you’ll have to wait and see! Thanks for the lovely comment Harry. Regards Sue

    • Brian on April 14, 2014 at 10:10 pm
    • Reply

    very interesting! Need more!!

    1. Coming up. ‘Watch this space’ as they say. Chapter 2 out soon. Thanks a lot for commenting. Sue

    • John Brindley on April 15, 2014 at 1:45 pm
    • Reply

    Hi Sue, where does the church built at Playa del Pozo at Papagayo fit in? The sign there says it was the site of the first Canarian bishopric in 1404 if I remember aright. Nice article, by the way.

  2. Thank you so much for the positive comments.
    The church is never backward at coming forward to expand its influence, a fact that the natives had reason to be grateful for when mass conversion to Christianity saved them from a bit of ethic cleansing!
    The Bishop of ‘Rubicon’, the area where the Colonists came ashore, is mentioned in Part 2 when Juan de Béthancourt’s nephew, Maciot fell foul of him, but that’s another story ….which you will also find mentioned .
    (Part 2 is scheduled for 20 April 2014.) Regards Sue.

  1. […] FIND PART ONE  here […]

  2. […] See Part 1 here […]


  4. […] To read the series from Part 1 click here […]

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