On the trail of the Pre-Hispanic people
Travelling to the other Canary islands from Tenerife is easy enough, and none more so than to the island of Gran Canaria. You can fly from the South or the North airport, and the flight only takes you a little over thirty minutes.
The other way to get there is by ferry. My husband and I decided to travel this way, it took roughly one hour and twenty minutes, on the Fred Olsen Express, from the port at Santa Cruz. Travelling this way meant that we could take our car, although you can travel over as a foot passenger.
We booked our tickets online and decided to go on the early morning, 8.30am, ferry. The sea can get a little choppy later on in the day.
The purpose of our trip was a journey into the islands past. The Pre-Hispanic times are well documented in Gran Canaria, and there are various places of interest, which are a feast for history lovers.
We decided to stay over in Santa Cruz the night before our early morning ferry trip – leaving us plenty of time to start our journey into the islands past, right here in Tenerife.
If archaeology and history interests you, then I suggest you pay a visit to the Museo de la Naturaleza el Hombre, Museum of Man and Nature, in Santa Cruz.
This is a well placed museum in amongst some of the quaintest and authentically cosmopolitan streets in the city, filled with cafés and bars – selling wonderful food and enthusing with character.
Within the museum there are the mummified remains of some of the pre-Hispanic people, showing their knowledge of preserving bodies in almost the same way as the ancient Egyptians. It may seem a bit ghoulish but I find it is a very interesting part of the history of these people. It allows as a fascinating insight into their height, their weight, the type of cloth they made and the food they ate.
The next day we arrive in Gran Canaria…top tip, don’t arrive on a Monday, as all the archaeological places of interest are closed. They are mainly based in and around the Agaete area, which is where the ferry arrives.
We were booked into a lovely hotel at the far end of Playa del Ingles, almost in the resort of Maspalomas, we were after all wanting some beach time and a little pampering in the hotel, as well as touring around after the past. You can virtually stay anywhere in Gran Canaria, from small pensions to luxury hotels, rural or coastal…there is lots of choice.
Our first stop on the pre-Hispanic history trail was the Museo y Parque Arqueologico Cueva Pintada, Museum and Archaeological Park of the Painted Cave, situated in the wonderful town of Galdar.
Firstly I need to describe this town, Galdar is just fantastic, full of life and atmosphere and it has a huge connection to its past, the symbols used by the natives are everywhere in the form of tourist wares, to banners hanging onto the fronts of buildings. There is a wonderful artistic flair to this town, and above your head you see such art, in the form of wire sculptures of people, who appear to fly across the town. I just loved it here.
The museum is so easy to find as the signposts in the town are excellent. Once there I realised that this was a serious museum…it had lots of investment in creating a wonderful experience for the attendees. We had purchased our tickets online and had booked for the English speaking tour but you can book at the desk, if tours are not your thing then you can go around on your own. We found the tour guide amazing, she was so knowledgeable and it enhanced our experience.
The tour consisted of explaining the hundreds of artefacts that had been dug up when excavating this site – from needles made from bone to pots and seeds. Then came the short films, one of which explained the tumultuous times when the Spanish invaded the island, through the eyes of a little native girl, it was very touching. Then we were lead through to the massive excavated site where a whole village had been unearthed, an area of farmed land, left uncovered by buildings and soon to be discovered by a farmer. It is said that he was digging when a hole appeared in the roof, in what is now known as the Painted Cave, it was under the farmed land. Nothing was done about it at that time but some years later archaeologists took it on, and made it what it is today. The walkways allow you to get a great view of the site and you can enter the houses, although these are only replicas it gives a great insight. The rest of the site is authentic and student archaeologists were still looking for new finds while we were visiting. Finally we arrived at the Painted Cave, it was so well done, they had created the correct temperature in the cave to preserve the delicate earth paints and had built a glass viewing pod where we could see all the markings on the wall. Moisture is their enemy and so they are hopefully now able to preserve it better keeping it at the correct temperature.
It had lots of the symbols on the wall and is said to be the meeting place of the main tribe leaders, it seemed like a plan for planting, not unlike our Planting by the Moon that some gardeners do again today.
There was also a giant grinding wheel, and you could see the other half was under the modern day homes. The whole site is covered in a grid like metal roof to protect it, it is definitely a great museum.
Our next stop was the Cenobio de Valeron, Granary of Valeron. This is a massive grain store, in the side of a mountain, like a series of little caves, chiselled out to make individual stores for the different grains, wheat, barley, corn. Then they would be sealed up to preserve them. It was really interesting and there were plenty of information signs explaining the use and the way it was created.
This was a lovely road to travel on, showing all the inland greenery.
Finally we went to visit the Canada de Los Gatos, which is another town and cemetery that was discovered quite recently and it was only opened to the public in the last couple of years. It is situated in the Puerto de Mogan area, which was the nearest to our resort. This was again fascinating but what was lacking was information, the signs had succumbed to sun damage and were virtually unreadable. It was a great walk and there was a café, with views across the marina and to the caves on the opposite mountain that were also said to be of significant interest. The only downside to this site was that it lead straight into a hotel car park and entrance, which meant people from the hotel were walking up and down the paths, maybe and not always interested in protecting this site.
The port of Mogan was lovely, with its canal like water tracks running through it and arched bridges over it, the feel of Venice. We didn’t like it enough to stay for lunch, it felt too commercial and a little false.
Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit the Necropolis Arteara, which is a cemetery, and houses an amazing stone structure that is aligned to the equinoxes, showing again, the interest in nature that these native people had, there survival depended on nature and so they worshipped it.
La Palma, the capital of Gran Canaria is a typical Spanish city, the architecture is ornate and smacks you in the face. It is just so Spanish which is wonderful, but we were on a trail of older history, so we didn’t visit it on this trip, but it is great if you need the city buzz.
Archaeology is just one reason to visit Gran Canaria, but there are many. It has wonderful beaches, beautiful sand dunes and protected nature sites for bird watching. You can walk the many trails, including pilgrim walks. There is night-life, family fun and many golf courses. The roads are great, well signposted and the locals are friendly and welcoming.
So if you feel like a break from Tenerife, it really is different and only next door.
By Margaret Tully