Santa Cruz de La Palma
This municipality is situated to the east of the island between the sea and the mountain and, with a total surface area of 43.47 sq. km, it extends over 6.12 % of the island. Santa Cruz de La Palma borders with neighbouring Puntallana to the north at Barranco Seco and with Breña Alta to the south at Barranco de Juan Mayor. The ocean lies to the east and to the west lie the summits of Cumbre Nueva and the Caldera de Taburiente crater with its island’s highest point, Pico de La Nieve (2,247m).
The entire area is flanked with deep ravines formed by a lengthy process of erosion that slowly modified the landscape. The only prominent volcanic cone is Mount Tagoja at 1,097 m.
The earliest human settlements found in the ancient fief of Tedote date back to the first half of the first millennium BC when waves of people began to make their way across from the north of Africa. Evidence of their presence can be seen at symbolic sites such as the Morro de Las Nieves cave settlement with its rock carvings, channels and vessels or at La Erita in the mountain peaks of the municipality with its complex of cave paintings displaying more than 300 motifs.
The city of Santa Cruz de La Palma was founded in 1493 and thus the Spanish conquest of the island was complete. The city was soon to become a forerunner in the socio-political and economic development of the island and a new society formed with a mix of native, Spanish and European blood giving rise to the proud Palmero islander of today with his excessive passion for the home territory.
The history of Santa Cruz de La Palma has pre and post 1553 eras. It was on July 21st of this same year that the island inhabitants were taken by surprise by an invasion of 700 French corsairs who seized the city for nine days, destroying it before eventually being expelled. This incident led to the development of a new urban centre which is of great historical and artistic interest today. The introduction of the first Court of the Indies in 1558 gave rise to a prodigious development of trade links (at this time the port at Santa Cruz de La Palma was the third most important in the world) and the city became an important trade centre. This activity in turn led to a bout of boat construction in the island’s capital which was of great importance and prestige. The silk industry, too, was very significant and the island’s produce was renowned far and wide.
A key event in the history of Santa Cruz de La Palma was the struggle against the abuse of power typical of the perpetual governors in the city council. This eventually led to the introduction of elections in 1773 when the people of the municipality democratically elected political representatives. It was the first area in all the Spanish Empire to introduce a democracy, occurring even before the Americans achieved independence and drew up their first constitution.
As industrial and technological development introduced the city to electric light, the telegraph and the telephone in the second half of the XIX century, the Enlightenment converted it into a centre for new disciplines with Masonic lodges, publishing houses, museums, municipal hospital, foundling hospital, new political ideologies, cultural associations, arts, music, theatre and cinema.
Baile de Los Enanos – Baja de La Virgen
The festive and Christian traditions are closely linked through the many celebrations that take place throughout the year.
The most important of all celebrations is the Bajada de La Virgen de Las Nieves, which celebrates the glorious descent of the virgin of the snows from her mountain sanctuary to the city. This feast day has been celebrated since the XVII century and arose from the numerous miracles attributed by the island people to this virgin as droughts came to an end, epidemics ended and great fires and volcanoes were extinguished.
The Bajada was declared a festival of national interest in 1965 and during this period of more than a month many religious and traditional festivities take place, some of the more important ones being Danza de Los Enanos (dance of the dwarves), the Minué (minuet), Carro Alegórico (allegorical stage play), the dialogue between the castle and the boat, the Loa (a playlet)…
The Festival of the Cross on May 3rd is a local holiday where local people decorate their crosses with flowers and jewels. It is customary to bring out mayos – figures made from old rags – to decorate the area.
Christmas has a special air to it as the nights are livened up by the gentle happy melodies of the minstrels known as Los Divinos who stroll the streets of the city.
Finally, the Día de Los Indianos (islanders returning from America) is an original and unique carnival, where participants wander Calle Real lost in a cloud of talcum powder and dressed in white.
There are numerous walking routes between the sea and the mountain. Here we suggest two itineraries – these can take the form of a short stroll to the sanctuary at Las Nieves, climbing up Barranco de Las Nieves, or walks which take a few hours, such as the route that crosses from the capital to the Pino shrine in El Paso.
From Calcinas in the capital take the old La Estrella trackway to the Cistercian monastery in Breña Alta. The trails, which are perfectly marked, lead to the small village of Botazo and from there cross the ravine to the narrow stone path that runs along the dense laurel forest leading up to the top of the mountain. From the top you can walk back down through the pinewood to the Pino shrine.
Another long walk takes you from sea level to the summit at Pico de La Nieve or vice versa. This route passes through Mirca, Mount Tagoja, Fuente Olén and leads through various layers of vegetation, reaching a final altitude of 2,235 m.
PLACES OF INTEREST
La Calle Real
The Calle Real runs parallel to the coast from the port to La Alameda (O’Daly and Pérez de Brito streets). Its polished cobblestones tell the intense history of this, the island’s capital, city. This street is the main artery of the city and a meeting point for the people of La Palma. Many wealthy families (Spanish, Portuguese, Flemish, Genoese…) chose to build their residences here between the XVI and XVIII centuries. Trade was so important at that time that the city rapidly became a social and cultural centre forming part of the legacy that was to become the island’s heritage.
The buildings most representative of civil and religious power can all be found on this street of open hallways, attractive doorknockers and large windows.
Santa Catalina Royal Castle
The Santa Catalina fort is located in the environs of La Alameda close to the avenue. Thick stone walls surround this national historical monument that formed part of the defensive belt that once protected the city.
Spain’s Charles V authorised the Italian engineer, Leonardo Torriani, to draw up plans for the castle (1585) and it successfully withstood many attacks from pirates and corsairs that laid siege to the archipelago.
The sculpture of the trade winds by the Canarian artist, Chirino, is located in the castle gardens.
Avenue of Balconies
Santa Cruz de La Palma has moulded itself along the natural slopes of the surrounding landscape adopting a layered urban layout with small windy streets leading to the many hidden corners of this charming city that overlooks the sea.
The ancient Avenida Marítima passes alongside the ocean where the water gently sprays visitors taking photographs of the row of balconies set along the avenue. In the past these were relegated to the back of important stately homes on Calle Real, however nowadays they are beautiful and privileged viewing points, carved out of wood, painted green, and closed with discreet slatted shutters or glazed.
It is good to take a slow stroll through the numerous plazas or squares where footpaths widen in the shadow of a shrine or fountain. Plaza de España is the city’s nerve centre and it is here that you will find the town hall and the parish church of El Salvador, which form the most important architectural complex of the Renaissance era in the archipelago. Well-worn steps lead up to the neighbourhood of San Sebastián, the Santo Domingo convent and the small shrine of San Telmo.
The fine cobble of Calle Real invites us to visit Plaza de Lo Divino, the babbling fountain of Placeta Borrero and the refreshing Alameda. They are not poplars but Indian laurels that shade the beloved sculpture of the dancing dwarf, enano danzarín. From here we continue on to San Francisco church from the XVI century with the island museum (Museo Insular) located in its cloister. The school of music (Escuela de Música) and the San Francisco craft centre (Centro Artesano de San Francisco) are also located here.
Churches and Chapels
500 years ago the Franciscan and Dominican monks arrived to the shores of the island of La Palma where they built their modest monasteries which multiplied in number as the centuries passed by. These small one-roomed sanctuaries are preserved faithful to their era in honour of Saint Joseph, Saint Sebastian and Saint Telmo.
Churches grew in size and the different artistic styles can be seen in the façades and in the beautiful altarpieces. Thick white walls and grey basalt choir stalls are characteristic features of traditional Canarian architecture.
The churches of San Francisco, El Salvador, Santo Domingo, Encarnación, the hospital of Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, the Santuario de las Nieves… hold a vast heritage of paintings and gothic imagery – pure Renaissance style. Bartering of sugar and wine for Flemish works of art was commonplace in the XVI century. In the XVII century artists of La Palma used a baroque technique with their own unique style greatly influenced by the Portuguese, Flemish, Andalusian, Mudéjar and American styles.
The roofs of the naves and chapels of these religious buildings can only be described as complex and exquisite. The geometric figures are skilfully carved from pine heartwood in Mudéjar style.
The Boat of the Virgin
The masts of the Santa María stand above the trees of the Alameda. This is a replica of Colombus’ ship which unfolds its sails every five years during the Bajada de la Virgen de Las Nieves and comes to life to speak to the castle at Encarnación on the other side of the ravine.
The bronze statue of the dwarf standing in the plaza witnesses the pretend argument between the ship and the castle. Their cannons are fired every five years bringing a special festive air to the area. The naval museum (Museo Naval) is located in its interior.
Sanctuary of the Virgin of the Snows
This sanctuary situated in the outskirts of the city can be reached by the old Plantón road passing the Castillo de La Virgen and the first church in the municipality, the Encarnación church.
The most precious jewel in this Marian building is the polychrome terracotta gothic statue which, according to tradition, owes its name to the fact that it put out a volcano with snow. It is said that the aborigines worshipped today’s patron saint of the island even before the conquest. This piece from the XIV century, which is hardly half a meter in height, is venerated by the people of La Palma and descends in its canopy every five years from the sanctuary to the church of El Salvador.
There is a sacred museum (Museo Sacro) located in the interior of the sanctuary.
Fuente Olén recreational area
The Fuente Olén recreational area is located in the mountains of the municipality. This area is located in the middle of a pinewood and is an ideal spot to sit back, relax and enjoy nature. There are various tables, barbecues and water fonts covered with roofed structures for visitors’ use.
Higher up the pinewood becomes laburnum territory, where the bush doubles over in its attempt to protect itself from the cold mountain air. The chilliest area in the locality is Pico de La Nieve, and at 2,235 m this spot sometimes receives winter snowfall.
La Erita is the most important archaeological site with its magical stones carved by the Awaras.
Las Nieves Nature Park
Once again the orography of the island holds us in absolute awe as we pay a visit to this area of natural beauty barely touched by the hand of mankind. The spectacular geo-morphology hosts unique ecosystems of fauna and flora of great ecological value. The ravines of Quintero, El Río, La Madera and Dorador belonging to Santa Cruz form part of the Nature Park of Las Nieves which extends over an area of 5,090 hectares.
Man has learnt how to make use of the water that feeds this paradisical garden, and has created a network of water channels, bridges, galleries, water-mills and El Electrón (first hydroelectric centre of the Canary Islands). Indeed, it could be said that an entire culture has formed around this liquid element and thus we have included the picture of the windmills of Molinos de Bellido, which are located in this protected area.
Copyright. Asociación para el Desarrollo Rural de la Isla de La Palma (ADER-La Palma).