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What´s In A Name? – A Brief History of Lanzarote


Map of Lanzarote, Canary Islands

Old Map of Lanzarote

How did Lanzarote get it´s name?  Plenty of theories have been extended over the years, with some claiming that the island’s title is in fact derived from the Latin for broken lance – Lanza-rote. 

Italian Adventurers

However the truth is in fact much simpler, as the name is really derived from the discoverer of Lanzarote, a Genovese explorer called Lancelotto Malocello, who set sail from his home town in 1312 to search for two other native adventurers, Vandino and Ugolino Vivaldi – who had been trying to find a naval route to the spice islands and India.  Lanzarote first appeared on a ‘modern day´ map of Europe created by Angelino Dulcert in 1339 as the Insula de Lanzarotus Marocelus, or island of Lancelotto Malocello.

Birth Of The Slave Trade

Initially repulsed Malocello returned again from Lisbon in 1336 and this time he created a stronger foothold on behalf of the Spanish crown by overseeing construction of a small fort on Mount Gaunapay, the hill which sits above the former island capital of Teguise, now home to the Castillo de Santa Barbara.  This set the scene for further expeditions from Castille, which resulted in the creation of the slave trade in the islands.

Extinction of the Majo

Prior to this incursion the island was home to a native Stone Age race called the Majo, who were thought to be descended from African berbers, as at one stage Lanzarote was part of the African mainland.  There is also evidence to suggest that they were predated by the Phoenicians and Romans.

They were soon to become all but wiped out by further slaving expeditions, such as the one led by Jean de Bethencourt in 1402, who initially landed in the south of the island before establishing a base in Teguise, the first Spanish settlement in the Canaries which was also named after the last princess of the Majo race.  Bethencourt´s French buccaneers seized many Majo and in 1404 the Castilians arrived to finish off the job, eradicating what was left of these aboriginal inhabitants.

Pirates and Privateers

Lanzarote then became the base for the conquest of the other islands in the Canarian archipelago, falling under the control of Spanish nobility such as the Herrera family.  Who began importing more slaves from North Africa to their now almost entirely depopulated conquest.  This trade in turn ignited an enduring conflict with Moorish pirates who sought to control the North West African coastline, resulting in a series of bloody conflicts.  Whilst English privateers such as Raleigh and Drake also took a growing interest in the galleons shipping slaves and Inca silver and gold between the New World and the Old.

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