Since 1999, San Cristobal de la Laguna, or simply La Laguna, has been the one of the Canary Island`s two World Heritage Sites, and the only one on Tenerife until inclusion of Las Canadas del Teide National Park in 2007. Nestling in the fertile Aguere Valley, between the mountains of Anaga and La Mersed, it was the capital of the island and its largest city between 1534 and 1821. Today it forms a conurbation with what was once its port and the current capital, Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Indeed, it shares the network of public transport and the light railway system that links the centre of both cities. The northern motorway or the TF-5 is another fast and easy way of travelling the 9 kilometres that separate them. The name comes from a nearby lagoon which was drained in 1837 to prevent disease and which once supplied the population with water. La Laguna boasts a pleasant, fresh and cool climate thanks to the influence of trade winds that make this an outstandingly fertile region.
Its rich and excellently-preserved heritage and its unusual unwalled layout combined to earn La Laguna its World Heritage Status. Indeed, its grid layout served as a prototype for many Latin American cities that would use a similar system of urban planning. Today, La Laguna is a university city and seat of the Diocese of Tenerife, as well as the third largest city in the Canary Islands.
On leaving Santa Cruz via the main road, known as La Cuesta or “The Slope”, we come to Vistabella viewpoint, which as the name indicates, commands stunning views of the capital. Just a short distance from here on the TF-5 is the Guajara University Campus, the main university complex and the site of several faculties.
As we enter the city we pass by the Museum of Science and the Cosmos, a highly entertaining way of learning about the principles that govern the Universe. This centre is sponsored by the neighbouring Canary Island Institute of Astrophysics (IAC). Children love this museum as it is designed to teach through play.
A stone cross marks the start of La Laguna`s historic district, presided over by the main University building set in spacious grounds. This is auditorium, whilst the university halls of San Fernando and Santa Maria are situated next door. The city`s university tradition dates back to the 18th century, when it was founded by the Augustinians in San Fernando. Today the university also runs summer courses.
La Laguna`s traditional architecture and layout dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Essentially, the city was laid out around three main squares: Adelantado, to the east, Catedral, in the centre, and Conepcion in the west. These are linked by the main thoroughfares and commercial street, such as Obsipo Rey Redono or La Carrera, Bencomo and its continuation, as well as San Augustin, undoubtedly the city`s most historical and monumental street. Several chapels are scattered around the city, dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries. They include San Benido Abad, in the west, close to the bus station painted in its eye-catching shade of green. San Juan Bautista in the south, San Diego in the north and the Shrine of the Santisimo Cristo de La Laguna, the site of intense celebrations on 14 September.
Our tour of the city can start from Plaza de la Conception, taking us as far as Plaza del Adelantado, or vice versa, as we make our way along the various streets. A day is quite sufficient to explore the city`s monuments. Visitors are also welcome to enter most the city`s churches and convents.
Visitors entering the city via the main road (La Cuesta) may start their tour of the city at the Chapel of La Cruz Verde and the Convent Church of Santo Domingo, with its pleasant square and lofty bell tower. The interior houses a magnificent collection of gold and silver work and statues. Just a short distance away is Plaza del Adelantado, lined with Indian Lauren fig trees and delightful fountain made from Carrara marble dating back to 1870. This square is dedicated ti the memory of the city`s founder, Alonso Fernandez de Lugo, who defeated the Guanches in what is today the neighbouring municipality of Los Realejos. A Guanche ruler from Gadar on the island of Gran Canaria who took part in the Castilian conquest is said to be buried in the nearby chapel. This monumental square is situated close to the site of former market and is surrounded by several buildings including the City Hall, the Chapel of San Miguel, the birthplace of missionary Father Anchiets (the founder of Sao Paulo), as well as the image of the city`s patron saint and whose cloistered nuns conserve the incorrupt body of a beatified nun. This church is noted for the main altarpiece and the square tower situated at one end topped with a mullioned window. Standing adjacent to the City Hall with its double façade, one of which corresponds to the 16th century Casa del Corregidor, is the House of Alvarado-Bracamonte, also known as the Casa de los Capitanes, which today houses the tourism office.
Nava Palace is another magnificent building standing at one end of square, noted for its elaborate Renaissance and Baroque elements. During the Age of Enlightenment, this palace witnessed many lively discussions and debates.
Several noble houses such as that of the Alvrado-Bracamonte family line the curved street known locally as La Carrera and which leads to Plaza de la Catedral, a small square presided over by the Neo-Gothic temple completed in 1913 and boasting a Neo-Classical façade topped by two bell towers and magnificent dome. Behind the main altar is the tomb of the famous conqueror Fernandez de Lugo. The elegant Neo-Gothic rib vaults rise up over superb altar-pieces such as the Baroque Virgen de los Remedios, with its Flemish panels, as well as the striking pulpit. This square is one of the liveliest spots in the city, packed with bars, stores and several excellent restaurants.
The lively Calle La Carrera takes us as far as Plaza de la Concepcion, past the Modernist Leal Theatre and Casa Aguere, a magnificent example of stately 18th century architecture and which today houses a small and elegant hotel. Behind this hotel we find another superb example of civil architecture: Casa Mustelier. The large Plaza de la Concepcion, situated in Villa de Arriba, is also lined with bars and street terraces. Several fine examples of popular Canary Island architecture, characterised by its simplicity, can be seen behind the 16th century Church of La Conception, next to the small Plaza del Doctor Olivera. The landmark seven-storey black stone tower with its octagonal top stands out against the skyline and can be seen from much of the city. This is the oldest parish church on Tenerife. Access is via two doors, leading onto three naves with a coffered ceiling. There are around ten altarpieces and several chapels, as well as stone choir stalls. Especially worthy of note is the main chapel, the pulpit the Chapel of El Santisimo and the baptismal font. It is said that this font was used to baptise all the Guanches on the island. From this square visitors should make their way along the magnificent Calle San Augustin, a graceful street of elegant palaces and churches that blend harmoniously together. One of the first to catch our eye is the Cabrera Pinto School, the forerunner of the University of La Laguna and which is housed in part of the former Convent of San Agustin. The façade of the convent church lines one side of the square, although the actual building was destroyed by fire in 1964. This 16th century monastery boasts a two storey cloister set amid superb gardens. Calle Juan Vera, which crosses this street, is the site of Casa Ossuna, another magnificent traditional Canary Island mansion. The Bishop`s Place (Diocese of Tenerife), which was severely damaged during a fire in 2006, has now been fully restored. Known as Casa Salazar, this Baroque building features a courtyard surrounded by wooden colonnades and houses an interesting collection of paintings. Further on we come to the façade of the Renaissance Lercaro de Leon Palace, that today houses Tenerife`s History Museum. The central courtyard and galleries lead onto a series of rooms that provide an insight into the island`s historical, social and economic evolution following the conquest and up until the 20th century.
Practically opposite this museum is the Casa de los Jesuites, the former seat of the University of San Fernando and today home to the Historical Archives.
Making our way along the street we come to Casa Montanes, seat of Canary Islands` Advisory Council. At the end of street, at the junction with Calle Nava y Grinon, stands The Casino. This elegant early 20th century building has an atmospheric inner courtyard which has undoubtedly been the setting for numerous political and cultural debates. Calle Nava y Grinon boasts a wealth of religious art treasures, such as Convent Church of Clara de Asis, and at the far end, the monumental Plaza del Santuario del Santisismo Cristo de La Laguna or San Francisco, site of the magnificent 16 th century Convent Church of San Miguel de las Victorias, which houses a black Gothic figure of Christ, the object of great devotion throughout the Canary Islands.
La Laguna and its university attract students from all over the Canary Islands. Most of the city`s pubs, bars and clubs are situated in area known as “El Cuadrilatero” (around Calle Heraclio Sanchez, in the southeast of the city). Several moths each year are dedicated to gastronomic and routs featuring such famous eateries as El Guachiche del Gary (formerly La Sacistia), Punto Criollo, Casa Neke, La Posada de los Mosqueteros, el Herrero, etc.
The vast municipality of La Laguna Takes in coast, country and mountain. The more rural areas include the agricultural Guerra Valley, Guamasa and Tejina, although it also extends to part of the Anaga Massif and districts such as Chinamaga, Los Batanas and Mount Las Mercedes. On the coast, Bajamar and Hidalgo Point mark the of the Anaga route.