The founding neighbourhood of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria offers history, culture, cuisine and the odd enigma.
A stroll around the district of Vegueta begins at a very distinct point, back to a time over five centuries ago. At the foot of Guiniguada Ravine, gigantic palm trees rose up and served as a beacon to guide boats bringing in Spanish troops deployed at this point since 1478. The roots of those first historic palm trees that stood tall in what we now call Vegueta are also the roots to the name of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
Therefore, a stroll around Vegueta is like taking a journey back through time, especially when we consider that the founding area of Vegueta was the forerunner to the very first Castilian city in the Atlantic, prior the conquest of America even, an episode that had its historical prelude right on the water’s edge here. So, in a way, we might say the dawn of the so called New World started in Vegueta, and by definition in Gran Canaria.
Vegueta was called on to go down in history, above all at key moments of the discovery of the American continent. In his first voyage in 1492, Christopher Columbus had to stop off at Gran Canaria due to a damaged rudder on his boat La Pinta, one of the three historical caravels he commanded. The Admiral is thought to have rested at the governer’s house, the very site for today’s Columbus House Museum. It is well worth visiting, as it recreates echos from the past.
Columbus was not the only one to leave a deep mark on this stately district of Vegueta. The finest and wealthiest families in Gran Canaria also settled here. This allows visitors today to marvel at some truly aristocratic buildings, providing a feast for the eyes, with a whole mixture of gothic, rennaissance, neoclassic and even Mudejar styles. The stone in Vegueta acts as poetry for the senses.
This primitive and historical side to Vegueta means that, within its borders, some of the most emblematic buildings in Gran Canaria and in the Canaries can be found, as is the case of the Cathedral of Santa Ana, the neoclassic fountain at the Plaza del Espíritu Santo, the Church of Santo Domingo de Guzmán and the temple of San Agustín.
In front of the Cathedral of Santa Ana there is a group of dogs sitting around that have never barked. And they never will, because they are made of forged iron. The exact origin of these dogs, set at their current location since 1895, is still the subject of some controversy, but there exists a photo taken in the 1970s in London that depicts some men with bowler hats walking past two sculptures identical to the ones here, situated right in front of St. George’s Church. It is the strange case of the twin dogs, that might well have been the title of a novel by Agatha Christie.
Yet Vegueta combines the weight of its historical past with the mysteries of its present day vibrant spirit to perfection. Contributing to this undoubtedly are the attractive museums there, such as the Atlantic Modern Art Centre (CAAM in Spanish), the Canary Museum, and the Arte Sacro Museum, but also the wide range of daytime and night time activities going on.
In Vegueta visitors can treat themselves to some superb papas potatoes with spicy mojo sauce, or a grilled octopus that has recently arrived from the nearby fishing neighbourhood of San Cristóbal. But there are also large numbers of bars and restaurants that offer menus with dishes inspired by modern cuisine in refined surroundings. Vegueta Market, which opened around the middle of the 19th century, offers a range of fruits, vegetables, cheese, wine and honey, brought in from all corners of Gran Canaria. It is the spot where aromas from the present and the past mingle most freely.
It is not hard to let our imagination flow and think just how Columbus would have enjoyed a snack at one of the stalls in Vegueta Market, while contemplating what a wonderful spot this place was, where he just happened to drop anchor to mend his boat.