Made by sand sculptors from around the world, Las Canteras’ Belén de Arena de las Canteras is a Christmas icon on Gran Canaria.
The Belén de Arena de Las Canteras does not emerge from the ocean by magic. On the contrary, it is the result of the expertise of some of Europe’s best sand sculptors, from Spain, France, Belgium, Italy and Russia. Its construction is an ode to diversity and the capacity of the human being to raise beautiful projects when it works in unison. This is not the Tower of Babel. Here, the only languages are of sand, illusion and friendship.
The fascination and smiles are aroused due to detailed planning. Dozens of people worked on this project. It came to fruition though the efforts and talents of Jonay Ruiz, who grew up on these sands, Belgium’s David Enguerrand, the Russians Aleksei Diakov and Alexey Shchitov, Italy’s Leonardo Ugolini and Frenchman Benoit Dutherage.
You can visit the Belén for free, although it is also possible to leave a charitable donation to charitable causes. After all, the heart is not made of sand. This year, the collection will go entirely to the Gran Canaria capital’s soup kitchens.
What else could be done with 10 hands and 2,000 tonnes of golden sand? They are the fundamental ingredients of Las Canteras’ Sand Bethelem, in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. This is one of the icons of Christmas in the Canarian archipelago and in Spain, because it is the only one which can be seen wearing a short-sleeve shirt or after having a swim on the beach.
The Star of Bethlehem is not the only leading light of this nativity display. The installation itself is a star, as can be seen by its impact on social networks. For example, the YouTube video which announced this year's edition has already been watched by more than 500,000 people.
But the best thing about Las Canteras’ Belén de Las Canteras is that, beyond its virtual success, it can be visited in person. Last year, more than 200,000 people made their way to see it, a demonstration of the success achieved by an initiative that has been repeated year after year since 2006. Hundreds of children also participate in modelling workshops. No one can forget what they’ve , because although sand sculptures can be ephemeral,they remain engraved in the retina, memory and, of course, social networks.
The artists create their Bethlehem over the course a week and some of their sculptures tower as high as four metres. Las Canteras’ Belén de Arena occupies 1,500 square meters at the La Puntilla end of the beach, where city meets shore and offers a sub-tropical take on Christmas. Although there have been no oficial sightings, one can almost imagine fish, crabs and starfish paying nocturnal visits to this sand nativity display.
Dates and times: Las Canteras’ El Belén de Arena opens on Friday 2nd December 2016 and closes on the 9th January 2017. You can visit every day from 9:00am until 10:00pm, apart from the 24th and 31st December and 5th January when the opening hours are from 9:00am until 8:00pm.
What can you see? This year, in the Belén’s 11th edition, there are seven scenes or elements: the Birth of Jesus, the journey of the Three Wise Men to Bethlehem, a large central fountain, the Castle, the shepherds, Mary and Joseph looking for an inn, and, finally, a uniquely Canarian landscape.
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Profiles of the sand sculptors:
Jonay Ruiz (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, born 1978)
A Bachelor of Fine Arts who graduated from the universities of Barcelona and La Laguna, this multidisciplinary artist works in both painting and sculpture. As a sand sculptor, he is one of Spain’s most highly regarded. He specializes in sculptures of more than 20 tonnes of sand in different international eventues, including Las Palmas de Gran Canaria’s Belén de Arena of which he has been artistic director in five editions.
Enguerrand David (Belgium, born 1976)
A specialist in the conservation of historic towns and cities, he began to sculpt in sand in 2001 as a hobby. This has since become his main occupation. He has participated in more than 75 international events, including the Harrison Hotsprings (Canada), the Virginia Beach International Championship (USA), the Haifa International Championship (Israel), the Scheveningen International Championship (Holland), the International Championship Of Valladolid (Spain, the International Championship of Zuchan (China), and the International Championship of Moscow (Russia).
Aleksei Diakov (Russia, born 1976)
He holds a degree in Applied Arts from the University of Moscow. A member of the International Federation of Artists and the Muscovite Federation of Artists, he sculptures in wood, stone, ceramics, bronze, ice and sand. He’s the winner of numerous prizes in the more than 50 competitions in which he has participated since 2000.
Leonardo Ugolini (Italy, born 1969)
A participant in more than 100 international arena events, he’s won the Harrison Hotsprings International Championship (Canada), the Sentosa International Championship (Singapore), the International Championship of Virginia Beach (USA), the International Championship of Quebec (Canada) and the Lulijang International Championship (China). He is the organizer of different Italian sand sculpture events.
Alexey Shchitov (Russia, born 1976)
Awarded a Bachelor of Applied Arts by the University of Moscow, he’s a prominent member of the Muscovite Federation of Artists. He works in stone, ice and sand sculpture, alternating his participation in numerous international events with time in his workshop.
Benoît Dutherage (France, born 1980)
He stumbled across sand sculpture almost by chance, whilst working as a chef in various restaurants around the globe. That moment changed his life and since 2002 he has dedicated himself to this type of art, as well as modelling works of ice all over the world: in France, Holland, Belgium, Germany, England, Israel, China, Australia etc. He is a winner of various sand-sculturing contests in Finland and Canada.