César Manrique: The visionary artist who transformed Lanzarote

César Manrique left an indelible mark on Lanzarote, blending art, nature, and community. Explore his life, works like Jameos del Agua and Mirador del Río, and his enduring legacy.

Designed by César Manrique, windows and openings can be found throughout the construction of Mirador del Río, connecting it seamlessly with its surroundings.

NOTHING ABOUT César Manrique (1919–1992) is conventional. He was a multifaceted creator but always described himself as an artist who used the best tools for each occasion — be it architecture, painting, or sculpture, among others.

More surprisingly, his most important creation is not a particular artwork or building. Instead, it is his native Canary Island of Lanzarote, in which he united art, nature and the essence of its people to turn it into something unique.

César Manrique Foundation on Lanzarote
A brilliant green door in the César Manrique Foundation on Lanzarote.
César Manrique Foundation on Lanzarote
Volcanic rock, lime white walls and water, three characteristic elements of Lanzarote.
César Manrique Foundation on Lanzarote
The nature is always present in César Manrique's works.

A multidisciplinary artist and activist

César Manrique spent his childhood summers with his family in La Caleta de Famara, a place that would heavily inspire his work not only as artist but also as an activist. Since an early age, he showed interest in drawing and professed his admiration for Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Georges Braque. He started studying Technical Architecture but quit after two years and moved to Madrid to graduate as an art professor.

Perhaps his most decisive trip was when he moved to New York in 1964 thanks to a scholarship. Living there, Manrique missed the windy island and decided, in his own words, to turn the island into one of the most beautiful places in the world. He stayed true to his word and returned to Lanzarote.

César Manrique protected Lanzarote’s natural and cultural wealth.

During the years he was on Lanzarote, Manrique transformed the island and changed the perception of what can be achieved through architecture and landscape architecture but also through activism. He was very involved in the political and social life of the island and fought to have a positive influence in the community — condemning overdevelopment and protecting Lanzarote’s natural and cultural wealth.

Museo Lagomar on Lanzarote.
The Museo Lagomar was built inside an old quarry.
Museo Lagomar on Lanzarote.
The stairs integrate endemic vegetation, natural materials and practicality.
Museo Lagomar on Lanzarote.
One of the white tunnels in Museo Lagomar that protect from the harsh weather.

Reclaiming traditional architecture

In 1966, after Manrique came back from New York with the idea to metamorphose the island, he started his campaign to make the people of Lanzarote respect their own architectonic style. He encouraged them to fix the houses that were in bad shape instead of building new ones. Additionally, he promoted the following of the traditional architectural guidelines, which help constructions make the most of the climate instead of fighting against it, and also give the island a very recognizable aesthetic.

Manrique aimed to encourage the people of Lanzarote to respect their own architectural style.

Wood and volcanic rock are used because they are materials that can be found on the island. Buildings have thick walls for insulation, protecting them from the summer heat but also from the cold in winter. To help keep houses protected from the sun rays, exterior walls are covered in lime, which gives them their characteristic white color. Houses are usually one story high with an interior patio or rooftop, both used to collect water from the rain. Manrique was inspired by these traditions himself, as can be seen in his Casa Museo del Campesino.

 Casa Museo del Campesino on Lanzarote.
The Casa Museo del Campesino is located in the center of Lanzarote.
Jardín de Cactus on Lanzarote.
A cozy indoor corner in the Jardín de Cactus, the last work of César Manrique in Lanzarote.
Jardín de Cactus on Lanzarote.
Jardín de Cactus houses about 4,500 specimens of cactus. A sculpture makes this staircase even more magical.

Manrique also urged the local government to remove anything (such as billboards) that could obstruct the island’s fabulous landscapes. Everything that he did was with the idea to highlight Lanzarote’s natural beauty and help people see his beloved haven through his eyes.

With this goal in mind, all his works blend with their surroundings and respect the nature around them. We can see this integration in Jameos del Agua, Mirador del Río, or Jardín de Cactus — all well worth a visit when in Lanzarote.

Two iconic works of César Manrique

Jameos del Agua on Lanzarote.
Everything in Jameos del Agua was built with local materials, such as volcanic rock.

Jameos del Agua

Built in 1968, Jameos del Agua is perhaps Manrique’s most spectacular work. It is the perfect example of how he made nature and art peacefully coexist. He used a volcanic tunnel to create an auditorium, a lake, a restaurant, and a garden, highlighting the preexisting beauty of the magical cave.

A bar in Jameos del Agua on Lanzarote.
A bar by César Manrique in the Jameos del Agua.
Jameos del Agua on Lanzarote.
Seating follows the natural structure of the cave.

The space is divided in three overtures or jameos — Jameo Chico, through which the space can be accessed and where the restaurant is found; Jameo Grande, where the pool is located; and Jameo de la Cazuela, placed behind the auditorium’s stage.

The natural auditorium can host over 500 people and is built with basaltic rock, which offers extraordinary acoustics. The stage is located inside a section of the volcanic tunnel, and seatings are placed following the organic shape of the space.

Mirador del Río on Lanzarote.
The magnificent helicoidal staircase in Mirador del Río.

Mirador del Río

Mirador del Río was built in the 1970s and is placed in a 500-meter-high cliff. Manrique designed the lookout so it could be used to watch the Atlantic Ocean, the Chinijo archipelago and the strait separating Lanzarote from its neighboring island, la Graciosa.

Mirador del Río on Lanzarote.
The restaurant offers unparalleled panoramic views to the surrounding landscape.
Mirador del Río on Lanzarote.
Organic shapes inside Mirador del Río.
Mirador del Río on Lanzarote
Artisanal objects showcase Lanzarote’s traditions.

In order to camouflage the construction in its surroundings, volcanic rock was used, the restaurant was integrated with the mountain, and soil was put over the building so grass would grow on its roof.

The construction is formed by different lookouts, terraces, and big windows to admire the scenery. In its entrance, one can find another artistic expression of Manrique, a sculpture of a bird and a fish, representing the two main elements of the island — wind and water.

A portrait of César Manrigue
Image: César Manrique Foundation

Who: César Manrique (1919–1992)

  • César Manrique Cabrera was born in Arrecife, Lanzarote, in 1919.
  • He was a Spanish artist, sculptor, and nature activist known for blending art, architecture, and nature seamlessly. Pioneered in sustainable architecture using local materials.
  • Fought for Lanzarote’s preservation against overdevelopment, including a ban on high-rise hotels.
  • Left an enduring legacy of art, culture, and environmental stewardship.
  • Died in a car accident in 1992 at the age of 73.

See also:

All architecture books at Finnish Design Shop >

Text: Irene de Mas Castanyer Images: Pol Viladoms

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