The old property stood neglected, abandoned, even before we ever came here on our first holiday, twenty years ago. Whilst carefully negotiating the treacherous bend that curves into a long, narrow dark tunnel on a steep decline, we would speculate on why the building had ever been built and why it been allowed to fall into such disrepair. Like Wordsworth’s Ruined Cottage or the home in Kate Wolf’s Lilac And The Apple Tree looking, heart-broken building prompted much comment and wonderment. Today, though, a couple of decades later we will follow .our art on the free shuttle. Join us at the bus stop from outside the library for a ride that will take us skirting turbines and windmills as we drive along sidetracks and detours beyond the old Tabayesco road that closed a couple of years since. Walk with us to see place a flower on Cesar’s grave, and later will try to count the heads the village barber has had the pleasure to have known and we’ll watch the people all come and go from the little artisan centre tiny hats are plaited and tobacco is rolled. This village, strangely beautiful and beautifully, where nothing and everything happens as one and time seems to stand still until all time is gone, reminds me of Potemkin, where nothing is ever quite what it seems.
In the north of the island, along the narrow and winding road, through the tunnels, that descends down to the village of Haría, a lookout point with the name Mirador Del Haria patiently waits, amid palm trees and dragon trees, to be discovered. Also known as the Mirador de Malpaso, in reference to the valley that it sits within, it gained prominence in 1966, when the Canarian artist Cesar Manrique was commissioned to design, at the top of the mountain range, a small house to serve as a resting place for hikers. Ever since it was opened, the building has been witness to the tourism boom experienced by the island over recent times.
However, according Barcelo Experiences, on their web site, the place later fell into decline due to a lack of maintenance from island authorities. For 20 years its rundown appearance has tarnished the scenery of an area that, nonetheless, boasts incredible panoramic views of the municipality of Haría, with its palm trees, its bucolic spirit in the form of cultivated terraces and its coastline in the background. Recently, the Town Council and the Island Council of Lanzarote joined forces to restore the building and to convert it into what will be the Haría Flora and Fauna Interpretation Centre, with a view to enhancing ecological tourism in the area.
In spite of the dilapidated condition that Manrique’s house was in for 20 years, the Mirador de Haría never stopped receiving visitors. This is due to the breath-taking landscape within which it is set., considered by many to be the most diverse area on the island in geological, agricultural and scenic terms. The municipality of Haría is one of the three territories—together with Villa de Teguise and Yaiza—that historically divide up the island. The eruptions of Timanfaya that occurred during the eighteenth century, combined with the humid clouds swept along by the westerly winds of the Atlantic, have ended up creating a microclimate that is unique within Lanzarote. This has enabled the emergence of the only concentration of trees—the Haría palm grove—on the island, as well as numerous endemic plants of high ecological value.
The new lookout point, having been spared from the proliferation of large-scale tourist developments in the seventies offers panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean, the imposing Corona Volcano, and the lovely village of Haría. It is in the latter where the forge of the Perdomo family honed the tools that would later be used to construct the LZ-10 road, which passes by the lookout point and descends into the valley.
The Mirador de Haría was one of the first artistic endeavours undertaken by César Manrique on the island.
Much like the nearby Jameos del Agua and the Green Cave, the lookout point’s design stayed true to the identifying characteristics of Lanzarote: whitewashed walls and volcanic rock flanked by lines of drago trees and, inside, furniture made from rustic burnt wood and glass inlaid in stone.
Newspaper records from the time note that the Mirador de Haría first came about in 1964 during one of the official visits of the then Minister of Information and Tourism, Manuel Fraga. Initially inspired by the opening of the Green Cave, the savvy mayor of Haría, Juan Pablo de León, took advantage of the Minister’s visit to propose financing for a lookout point with views of the Haría valley.
No more than a sad coincidence, the death of Cesar Manrique in 1992 coincided with the onset of the lookout point’s decline. Since it is located in a no-man’s land, no authoritative body took responsibility for the building’s maintenance for years. Theft and deterioration, as well as graffiti, gradually turned Manrique’s white building into a ghost, which had one day been a dream. Several promises to restore the building were made, but these never came to fruition. “Sorry for the inconvenience, the Island Council of Lanzarote is working for you”, said a poster that appeared on the door of the building in 2014, to which local people sarcastically responded by saying: “Sure, they actually went out for breakfast”.
Nevertheless, the poster was serious. It belonged to the Tourism Infrastructure Plan of the Government of the Canary Islands, whose scope the Mirador de Haría finally falls under. As set out many years before, restoration is now halfway through to convert the building into the region’s Haría Flora and Fauna Interpretation Centre, its opening coinciding with the forthcoming 100-year anniversary of César Manrique’s birth.
Part of the project’s contribution to the lookout point include two extensive viewing platforms, from which it will be possible to make out both the Haría and Temisa valleys. The building’s new look will also respect the original wishes of Manrique, and it will be endowed with great environmental importance by being energetically self-sufficient.
The lookout point is just a few kilometres away from craft market that is held down in the village of Haría every Saturday from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM where you can find fresh local produce, such as fruit and vegetables and cheese, as well as a whole host of crafts typical of the region, such as baskets made from palm leaves or reed.
Anyone who has seen the film Indian Jones And The Last Crusade will remember the wonderful cinematography that showed Indiana’s look of terror when urged take a leap of faith and step out into a seemingly bottomless chasm beneath him. In a scene that could surely have been inspired by something that can be seen in the green caves a mile or so away from the lookout point. Indie found the faith, stepped forward, and found a rocky bridge beneath his feet, rendered invisible by the shadows in the rocks.
The lookout point here at Mirador De Haria forces those of little faith to gird their loins if they want to see the spectacular views it affords. That the path of the point is made of glass to offer direct line of sight to the land way, way down below is hardly reassuring. However, it is worth putting your best foot forward in that same emphatic way that Indie did, that took him further along the road to recovery of the Holy Grail. The reward here, though, is a view all the way down to the resort of Arrieta, although from here at this distance the town look like a child’s Lego replica.
Of course the place is a fantastic photo-opportunity, and because there are no properly safe places to park a car, and pretty much everybody catches the shuttle bus, or walks what would be a week-long climb for me, there is plenty of time and space to take such photographs.
The two ladies who work in the ´visitor centre´ are really happy and helpful, the shuttle bus driver was happy to chat with with the ten passengers that are as many as he can carry at any one time. By the time he has returned to the village to pick up the next group waiting to be taken up to the summit, and brought them to the bridge we have enjoyed a full half hour of looking round and are now ready to return with him down the hill again to explore the village.
The term “Potemkin village” to which I referred earlier, is used to describe an impressive facade or show designed to hide an undesirable fact or condition. The image, the illusion, the façade and nothing behind it – all this has been synonymous for more than two centuries with the Potemkin village. These fake settlements were allegedly erected by the Russian Minister Grigory Potemkin to impress the Empress Catherine II during her visit to the Crimea in 1787. The truthfulness of this story has been the subject of much debate. Of course, the myth of “Potemkin villages” is a myth, and not a reliably established fact.
In 1786, Grigori Alexandrovich Potemkin, favorite of Catherine the Great, completed the conquest and pacification of the Crimea. In 1787 Empress Catherine II announced her intention to visit the Crimean Peninsula, which had been annexed from the Ottoman Empire four years earlier. According to “eyewitnesses,” this is where the events took place. Catherine’s journey brought her through the vast steppes located along the Dnieper River.
In 1787 Catherine the Great showed her new lands, Novorossiya and the Crimea, to the Austrian Emperor Joseph and some foreign ambassadors. They sailed to the Black See from Kaniv along the Dnieper, docking overnight. Considering Austria’s misfortunes with Turkey and the sad state of Poland (Russia’s nearest neighbour to the west), the visitors were amazed by Russia’s accomplishments and the scale of construction in Ekaterinoslav (conceived as a “third capital” of the Russian Empire).
Everyone knew that Novorossia had only recently been annexed to the empire of Catherine II; that it was a desolate steppe, without cities, roads, almost without a settled population. The aim of Potemkin was to demonstrate that this vast territory is already almost civilized.
According to the story, Potemkin, Prince of Tauris, in an effort to impress the Empress with the work he had done in the south of Russia (which for many years had been a desolate area ravaged by constant warfare), constructed fake villages along the route of the Empress and her foreign guests. He then ordered peasants to stand along the side of the road with happy smiles. To make his “villages” more authentic he even had herds of cattle move along the road. Each time Catherine saw the cows she did not realize they were the same ones she had seen the day before.
In fact, the contemporaries of the 1787 travel expressed a lot of harsh judgments about the “miracles” shown to the Empress. “The monarchy saw and did not see,” wrote Prince M. M. Scherbatov, “and the testimony and praise of its essence are vain, the very action of teaching monarchs not to praise what they themselves do not know themselves”.
Analysis of the sources leaves no doubt that the idea of “Potemkin villages” arose several months before Catherine II set foot on the newly acquired Russian lands. Potemkin, who took the lead in transforming Novorossiya and the Crimea, was envied and opposed by many in Petersburg. Beginning in the 1770s they spread rumours that all of Potemkin’s reports on his activities in the south were a con.
Another interesting part of this story can be found in the “revelations” of some travellers accompanying the Empress that were published 20 years after Potemkin’s death. The Swedish nobleman Johan Erenstrom recalled not only the scene of the fake villages but also cited that peasants tried to sell things to the traveling party. However, Erenstrom’s recollections are not proof for researchers, as this Swedish nobleman was known to switch sides between the Russian and Swedish imperial courts. So his “act of unfolding the truth” could have been perpetrated for political purposes. There are also memoirs of other participants of the trip that describe the legend about the villages as “a fake.”
Modern historians are divided on the degree of truth in the story behind Potemkin’s villages. Most consider the myth about fake settlements to be an exaggeration. They claim that the allegations are based on malicious rumors spread by Potemkin’s opponents.
Potemkin really decorated cities and villages, but he never concealed that it was scenery. Dozens of descriptions of the journey through Novorossia and Tauris have survived. In none of these descriptions, made hot on the heels of the events, there is not a hint of “Potemkin villages” although the decoration is mentioned repeatedly.
The French delegate, Count Segur wrote : “Cities, villages, homesteads, and sometimes simple huts were so decorated with flowers, painted decorations and triumphal gates, that their appearance was deceiving the eyes, and they seemed to be some kind of marvellous cities, magical created castles, magnificent gardens”.
Austrian Emperor Joseph II, incognito with the party, and the envoys of the European powers perfectly understood the purpose for which they took the journey with Catherine. Their skepticism was more of a mask, behind which was a fear that Russia would be able to implement these grandiose plans.
In the USSR, organizers of tours for foreign citizens carefully selected the sites to be visited. The best schools, factories and hotels were portrayed as typical and the routes were impossible to change due to strict limits for foreign travelers.
In May 1944, US Vice President Henry Wallace visited Kolyma and was extremely pleased with what he had seen. In fact, he was shown Potemkin villages. The organization of the visit was a special operation of the NKVD. The question whether Wallace understood anything during the trip remains open. In 1952, after the publication of Elinor Lipper’s “Camps” book about the Kolyma camps, Wallace publicly admitted to the press that he had no idea that Magadan was actually the capital of camps that contained political and criminal prisoners.
In the 1970s and 1980s – when regional Communist Party leaders hosted their “bosses” from Moscow – they showed them huge amounts of cattle inside modern facilities in an attempt to demonstrate rapid developments in agriculture. But in many cases pigs and cows were specially brought in for the occasion from other places in order to impress the “people in high places.”
This can still occur today in Russia when lower-ranking officials try to impress their bosses. Some far-sighted regional leaders see this as a big problem. “We don’t need Potemkin villages,” said the governor of one Siberian region. “We need real action to improve the infrastructure in the region.”
Many observers and political analysts often use the term “Potemkin villages” when somebody does something to try and change the mindset of the “bosses” at various levels – and this holds true in Russia as well as many other countries around the world.
The concept of the fake villages is widely used in many other circumstances – especially when someone tries to surprise people with things that do not really exist. As modern history shows “Potemkin villages” have become an international phenomenon.
I’m not suggesting there is any kind of conspiracy going on in Haria but one wonders why the artisans are working there: For whom are they making their wares. Who buys the pots and pans, the straw hats, and who smokes the cigars, and if it simply tourists passing through, to where are they passing through. Haria is way up North in the island: in many ways there is nowhere left to go.
Of course, the town’s cemetery contains the grave of the island’s favourite son, Cesar Manrique, and although it is well kept and attracts a few tourists, it is still heart-rending to see Margaret place a lay a single rose at the headstone. My wife and I and Iain and Margaret are enthralled still by Manrique as an indigenous islander and I think we all find it somewhat reassuring that his grave has not been made to stand out among others and that he has been allowed to rest in peace on the island he loved, and shaped.
There is a street along to the church in the town centre that is in December a little piece of heaven in a world that feels like its going to hell in a hand-cart. The trees are tastefully draped in single colour lighting and the church is floodlit. Either side of dusk there are two or three welcoming restaurants, street markets stalls serving mulled wine and such, and couple and families, tourists and locals taking a gentle evening stroll.
Today, though, is a clear blue sky, warm February day so Margaret and Iain take us down to look at the barber shop, but Friday must be closing day because it was all locked up. Nevertheless there was an open panel in the wooden door that allowed us to gaze in on the old-fashioned, bulky barber’s chair, the leather strops on the wall white tablecloths ready to be tightened round a neck.
We moved on to the cigar-maker and questioned him in English and he replied in Spanish and we didn’t understand a word of each other, but I think we ascertained he was working with three different kinds of leaves; dry, wet and medium, and they were all delivered to him in big sacks. I mimed to him that my wife won’t allow me to smoke cigars and he nodded back and tapped the side of his nose, knowingly,
We spent around four hours in Haria, not doing much, saying very little and while nothing and everything happened as one, it was a good day.
One of the best.