Zonzamas, Lanzarote’s ancient towns

 Can you imagine visiting Lanzarote before the 13th Century? Let’s rewind and go back in time together!

The town of Zonzamas is an archaeological site of the pre-Hispanic culture of the Majos (the indigenous population of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura), located between the Caldera de Zonzamas and the mountain Montaña de Maneje, in the municipalities of Teguise, Arrecife and San Bartolomé. 

It is a national historical-artistic and archaeological monument since April 27, 1979 and BIC since September 7, 2000. 

The name Zonzamas or Sonsamas is applied to different geographical features in the area and corresponds to the king Majo of Lanzarote at the time when the Biscayan Ruiz de Avendaño visited the island around 1377, to whom the construction of this town is attributed so that the so-called "Cave or Palace of Zonzamas" would be his royal residence. The latter is documented in Le Canarien's chronicle and it is assumed that the last king of the island, Guadarfia, lived in this construction.

When the excavations of the site began in 1973, only the structure of the "Palacio de Zonzamas" was visible, while the rest of the buildings were clogged with sediments and ashes from the 1730 eruptions of the volcanoes of Timanfaya.

The chronological dates made up to now place its construction in the fifth century, being occupied until the eighth century, when it was abandoned. In the 12th century there is a reoccupation, which builds on what had been covered by sediments. At least until the 18th century there were non-buried constructions that were in use, it is assumed that their definitive abandonment occurred in 1731 after the great eruption that the island suffered from 1730 to 1736. However, there are testimonies that assure that it was inhabited until well into the 20th century.

Most of the constructions correspond to the type of house of the majos, the so-called deep houses because they are semi-subterranean. In the many remains of pottery have appeared by hand, as well as goat bones or limpet shells. One of the most interesting pieces found in the town is the idol of Zonzamas, a seated anthropomorphic figure, for some authors it may be an "imported" work, brought by Phoenician navigators, and which would come to represent the Egyptian goddess Teuris.

The most important buildings located in Zonzamas are:

Palacio de Zonzamas (The palace of Zonzamas)

The Palacio de Zonzamas, or Cueva del Majo, is a large cavity divided into smaller spaces by stone walls, to which tradition attributes having been the home of the last dignitary of the Island, Guadarfía (Wadarfi, ‘liberated’). The truth is that in the post-Conquest distributions, the documentary information brings us quite close to this possibility:

“The Saracen king of the island of Lanzarote appeared before him, who requested his true lord and king of the country, the lord of Béthencourt, to grant him // and give him the place where he resided and a certain amount of land to farm and to live. The lord of Béthencourt granted it to him, as it was his wish that he has a better house and property than any other canary on that island, as well as the necessary lands. But no one in the place would have a fortress. Said lord granted him a house that he asked for, located in the center of the island, as well as some three hundred acres, both of land and trees, around that house, with the obligation of the tribute that he had established, that is, the fifth of everything. The Canarian king was very satisfied, because he had never thought of having so much, and, to tell the truth, he received the best farmland on the island, since he knew very well the place he was asking for” [Le Canarien (d. 1494) 2003: 431 -432].

Cyclopean wall

The so-called Zonzamas Palace is surrounded by a cyclopean-looking wall since some of the stones weigh between 1,300 and 1,800 kg, surrounding a natural cave.

La Quesera de Zonzamas

The Quesera de Zonzamas is one of the most unique elements in the archeology of Lanzarote. Its name refers to the resemblance they have with a gigantic mold to make cheese, although it has nothing to do with such tasks. In fact, its usefulness and meaning remain an enigma today.

It is located near the town of Zonzamas, between the mountains of Zonzamas and Maneje, with views of Arrecife. Associated with it are engravings of standing silhouettes or podomorphs. It consists of five channels carved out of a porous basalt block. It reaches 3'90 meters in diameter, has five grooves 30 centimeters high and between 27 and 45 centimeters wide, with variable projections of between 30 and 50 centimeters. The canals are blind at both ends and face northwest.

La Piedra del Majo (The Majos’ Rock)

This is the name given to the rock engraving station located next to the Quesera de Zonzamas. It is made up of two sectors of one and five panels respectively, with a total of fourteen silhouettes of human feet (podomorphs). To the south of the rocks, there is an area with aboriginal archaeological material and some dry-stone structures with a quadrangular plan, although with rounded corners.

Near the Peña de Zonzamas (boulders of Zonzamas) there is a group of structures made up of tubular units and, on the other, of driven stones with a circular plan. Sebastián Jiménez Sánchez identifies this building with a tagoror. To the southeast of the tubular structures, there is a cave engraving station made up of a total of three panels of rectilinear geometric typology. Likewise, to the southwest of the Quesera de Zonzamas, there are three basaltic outcrops with geometric and staircase engravings.

Fast-forward to Today

Currently, Zonzamas is a large archaeological zone that extends through the municipalities of Arrecife, Teguise, and San Bartolomé and, as mentioned earlier, is declared a Site of Cultural Interest (BIC), and there is a project to convert the town of Zonzamas into an archaeological park that will have a museum located near the area.

Let us hope that this fundamental piece of Lanzarote's past is preserved, investigated, and made known, properly, for everyone to enjoy.

Remember, you can find all relevant information to the area surrounding Zonzamas on the Lanzarote App, it's 100% free to use (lanzaroteapp.es). 

So… have fun and explore!

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