San Cristobal de La Laguna

From the World Heritage inscription for San Cristóbal de La Laguna:

The historic ensemble of San Cristóbal de La Laguna has outstanding universal value is an urban design that represents the concept of the ‘town-territory’ as the first example of an unfortified town laid out and built according to a complete plan based on navigation, the science of the time, and as the organized space of a new peaceful social order inspired by the millenary religious concepts of the year 1500. As the first non-fortified Spanish colonial town, its layout was the model for many colonial towns in the Americas.

San Cristóbal was founded in 1497 by Alonso Fernández de Lugo. The last town to be established in the Canary Islands takes its name from a shallow lake or marshy area (La Laguna), drained in 1837. The original settlers, almost all soldiers, were not allocated building plots; the defined non-fortified urban area was considered to be a public space where anyone could build. As a result, small houses were erected haphazardly around the church of La Concepción, without any overall plan. In 1502, a regular town plan based on Leonardo da Vinci’s model for Imola was drawn up by the Captain General (Adelantado) for the area. Wide major streets linked the public open spaces and formed the grid on which smaller streets were superimposed. The resulting Lower Town expanded rapidly, attracting the island’s ruling classes and monastic communities began building. A piped water supply was installed at the expense of the Town Council in 1521, and the first public buildings were constructed. However, the political, religious and economic center was progressively transferred to Santa Cruz, and San Cristóbal declined.

La Laguna is an important city for several reasons. First, it was one of the launching points for Spanish expeditions to the Americas. Second, it was one of the first cities built without walls. Its protection came from the sea and its distance from the shore. Finally, it was an archetype for many Spanish colonials cities which were founded in the New World in terms of layout and architecture.


San Cristóbal de La Laguna

San Cristobal de La Laguna, or simply known as La Laguna, is a city in the province of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. It is located in Tenerife, which is one of the Canary Islands, a territory of Spain. The city of San Cristobal de la Laguna is the third in the archipelago in terms of population. In 1999, the historical center of this city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The city of San Cristobal de la Laguna served as the ancient capital of Canary Islands. It is located to the right of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, and these two cities are linked via tram. Hence, the two cities are mostly considered as one.

History of San Cristobal de la Laguna

San Cristobal de la Laguna was once overlooked by tourists passing from north or south of the island. From the outside, it looks like an ugly urban sprawl. But if you care to look closer, you will discover a cultural gem that is filled with history.

San Cristóbal de La Laguna

The layout of the city is one of its most distinctive feature and part of the reasons why San Cristobal de la Laguna was named as a UNESCO site. This layout, along with the streets and the environment, is typical for colonial cities such as Cuba’s Old Havana, Colombia’s Cartagena de Indias, Puerto Rico’s San Juan, and Peru’s Lima. However, only a few know that La Laguna is actually the model for these Latin American cities.

By the 18th century, there was a decline in the population and economy of San Cristobal de la Laguna. This was during this time (around 1723) when Santa Cruz de Tenerife was named as the new capital for Tenerife. Ever since then, Santa Cruz has been the capital of this island.

Many of the streets that were known for their historical significance had been closed off from traffic. Aside from these streets, there are also several churches, convents, historic buildings, and old towns in the city that has earned the nickname of “Florence of the Canary Islands”. Meanwhile, there are also tunnels and underground passages that were discovered. This has led the researchers to conclude that the current city of La Laguna has been raised since the ground level is no longer the same from the time of its founding.

Things to See in La Laguna

San Cristóbal de La Laguna

San Cristobal de la Laguna is best known as the home of the University of La Laguna. This university has over 30,000 students. However, this university is not the only main attraction in this city. Here are some other notable attractions to visit and explore while in San Cristobal de la Laguna:

  • Cathedral of La Laguna
  • Plaza del Adelantado
  • Iglesia de la Concepcion
  • Calle San Agustin
  • Old City
  • Real Sanctuario del Santisimo Cristo de la Laguna

View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Spain.

Gary Arndt
Gary Arndt

Gary began traveling the world in 2007. His travels have taken him to over 200 countries and territories and 400 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

He is a 3x Lowell Thomas Award winner and a 3x North American Travel Photographer of the Year.