San Cristóbal de La Laguna, the former capital of Tenerife, is an historic Canary Islands city with a long university tradition. Its model colonial layout, awarded World Heritage status, contains several of the island’s major religious buildings, including the Cathedral, as well as a multitude of ancestral homes from the 17th and 18th centuries.
Its proximity to the coast enables the city to enjoy the vast Tenerife beaches and the numerous attractions of other cities such as Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Puerto de la Cruz and La Orotava.Yet another attraction is the opportunity to discover the island’s local delicacies and taste the wide variety of Tenerife wines protected by a Label Guarantee.
The city was founded more than five centuries ago, following Alonso Fernández de Lugo’s disembarkation in 1494 on the Tenerife shores and the subsequent incoporation of the island to the Crown of Castile. Three years later, in 1497, San Cristóbal was founded on the banks of an inland lake situated in the north of the island. It was at this point that the city became the main centre of political and military power in Tenerife.
It was also the main cultural centre, since it was here that several teaching institutions were established, including what was to be for a long period the only Canary Islands university, the University of San Fernando.At the beginning of the 18th century, La Laguna entered a period of decline as a result of the expansion of the neighbouring Santa Cruz de Tenerife, culminating a century later in the transfer of the island’s capital to the latter city. La Laguna has nevertheless preserved its status as the seat of the university and the Episcopal See.
The city The early urban centre (the so-called Villa de Arriba, or upper town), emerged around the church of La Concepción, although it was not until the 16th century that the historic quarter expanded (the Villa de Abajo, or lower town) and adopted its present-day grid appearance in accordance with the rationalist canons of the period. Thus it was that La Laguna became the first non-fortified colonial city, its disposition indeed serving as a model for other cities developed in Latin America. It was thanks to this and other factors that the city was awarded World Heritage status.On any of the streets and elegant avenues in the centre of the city it is possible to contemplate buildings of great historical and architectural merit.The church of La Concepción forms part of the early settlement. Awarded Historic-Artistic Heritage status, it was constructed in the 16th century, although successive alterations have left a mixture of Gothic, plateresque and Mudejar styles.La Laguna was a major ecclesiastical centre, which gave rise to the existence of several of the most important religious constructions in the Canary Islands. The most outstanding of them all is the Cathedral, situated on what was the 16th-century parish church of Los Remedios. Constructed in the Mudejar style, this comprised a single nave to which a tower was subsequently adjoined in the 17th century. The present-day cathedral, the result of a reconstruction during the 20th century, has a Neoclassical façade and an interior comprising a central nave with lateral aisles and several chapels.The Convent of Santa Catalina, dated 1611, is one of the most important buildings of the period. The external austerity of its church and annexed quarters contrasts with the lavishness of the ornate interior, the main features of which are two Baroque reredoses. Other noteworthy churches included the Iglesia del Cristo de La Laguna and the Hermitage of San Miguel, now converted into a cultural centre.A separate mention is merited by the numerous palaces and ancestral homes that emerge at every turn through the old streets. One of the best preserved is the so-called Palacio de Salazar, now the seat of the Tenerife diocese. Constructed in 1682, it has a lavish Baroque-style portal with several Neoclassical and Mannerist elements. Other examples of stately architecture include the 16th-century Casa de Lercaro, which now houses the History Museum and has a Mannerist-style façade; the so-called Casa del Corregidor (the City Hall), a former private residence with a red stone façade dated 1545; and the Palacio de la Nava (16th-17th centuries).With regard to 20th-century architecture, one of the major exponents of this period is the Teatro Leal, constructed in the Modernist style.Gastronomy and the outskirtsSituated a few kilometres away from San Cristóbal de La Laguna is Santa Cruz de Tenerife, a beautiful port city with wide avenues, squares and exotic green spaces, as well as important monuments. The capital of Tenerife is famous for its Carnival, one of the brightest and most colourful in the whole of Spain. This festivity, declared to be of tourist interest, is characterised by its lavish costumes and the entertainment provided by a variety of bands of street musicians.The whole of the island boasts a wide range of hotel accommodation, although it is advisable to book in advance for visits to the carnival.La Laguna may be used as a base for touring the more picturesque spots in the north of the island. Puerto de la Cruz has functioned as a tourist centre for over a hundred years. In addition to a beautiful promenade, it also boasts Lago Martiánez, a complex of salt-water swimming pools designed by the Canary Islands architect César Manrique. La Orotava, situated in the valley of the same name, has abundant examples of ancestral homes designed in the Canary Islands style of architecture and has been awarded Historic-Artistic Heritage status. At Icod de los Vinos it is possible to admire a beautiful complex of traditional architecture and images as famous at that of the thousand-year-old “drago” tree, an indigenous species. Finally, Garachico was once a major port and still preserves buildings of great historical merit, such as the 16th-century castle of San Miguel and the church of Santa Ana, as well as the palace of the Counts of La Gomera.With regard to its natural surroundings, Tenerife is an island of great contrasts. The long beaches in the south of the island give way in the north to lush vegetation. And right at the geographical centre of the island, rises the Teide, at 3,718 metres the highest mountain in Spain. This volcanic peak is situated inside the boundaries of the Teide National Park, a protected space inhabited by abundant species of wildlife and flora endemic to the Canary Islands.
An excellent option for an overnight stay in the Park is the Parador de las Cañadas del Teide.In San Cristóbal de La Laguna it is possible to sample the island’s typical dishes, such as “ranchos” (a typical casserole), the famous potato dish “papas arrugadas”and the various “mojos” (sauces). The sea supplies a variety of fish such as “chicharro” (a local type), “vieja sancochada” (a typical dish based on boiled local fish), sardines, mackerel and grouper, as well as different types of seafood. The best-known desserts include “pastel de cabello de ángel” (a pastry with a sweet pumpkin filling), “frangollo con miel” (a typical corn-based dessert served with honey) and “truchas de batatas con almendras” (sweet potato trouts with almonds).These dishes can be accompanied by any of the five Label Guarantee wines produced in Tenerife: Abona, Tacoronte-Acentejo, Valle de Güimar, Valle de la Orotava and Ycoden-Daute-Isora.