San Cristóbal de La Laguna

San Cristóbal de La Laguna

San Cristóbal de La Laguna, in the Canary Islands, has two nuclei: the original, unplanned Upper Town; and the Lower Town, the first ideal 'city-territory' laid out according to philosophical principles. Its wide streets and open spaces have a number of fine churches and public and private buildings dating from the 16th to the 18th century.

San Cristóbal de la Laguna

San Cristóbal de la Laguna, dans les îles Canaries, possède deux centres, celui de la ville haute, non planifié, et celui de la ville basse, première « cité-territoire » idéale conçue selon des principes philosophiques. Ses larges rues et ses espaces ouverts sont bordés de belles églises et de beaux édifices publics et privés du XVIe au XVIIIe siècle.

سان كريستوبال دي لا لاغونا

يملك سان كريستوبال دي لا لاغونا في جزر الكاناري مركزين الأوّل في المدينة العليا غير المخططة والثاني في المدينة المنخفضة وهي مدينة الأرض المثاليّة الأولى المبنيّة على مبادئ فلسفية. فشوارعها الكبيرة ومساحاتها المفتوحة تحدّها الكنائس الجميلة والمباني العامة والخاصة الجميلة العائدة للقرنين السادس والثامن عشر.

source: UNESCO/ERI



source: UNESCO/ERI

Город Сан-Кристобаль-де-ла-Лагуна (Канарские острова)

Сан-Кристобаль-де-ла-Лагуна на Канарских островах имеет два ядра: более древний Верхний город, имеющий стихийно сложившуюся планировку; и Нижний город, первый идеальный «город-территория», организованный в соответствии с определенными научными концепциями. На его широких улицах и площадях расположено много прекрасных церквей, общественных и частных зданий, возведенных в XVI-XVIII вв.

source: UNESCO/ERI

San Cristóbal de La Laguna

Situado en las Islas Canarias, el sitio de San Cristóbal de La Laguna comprende dos núcleos. El primero lo forma la Ciudad Alta con su estructura urbana no planificada, y el segundo la Ciudad Baja, primera “ciudad-territorio” ideal trazada con arreglo a principios filosóficos. Sus amplias calles y espacios abiertos están flanqueadas de hermosas iglesias y edificaciones públicas y privadas que datan de los siglos XVI, XVII y XVIII.

source: UNESCO/ERI


source: NFUAJ

San Cristóbal de La Laguna

San Cristóbal de La Laguna werd in 1497 gesticht door Alonso Fernández de Lugo. De stad op de Canarische Eilanden bestaat uit de oorspronkelijke bovenstad en de (aangelegde) onderstad. Het was het eerste ‘ideale stadsgebied’ ingericht volgens filosofische principes. Zo is het stadsontwerp gebaseerd op navigatie en de wetenschap van die tijd. Verder is de stad het voorbeeld van een nieuwe vreedzame, maatschappelijke ordening, geïnspireerd door oude religieuze concepten. San Cristóbal de La Laguna was de eerste niet-versterkte Spaanse koloniale stad en het stedenbouwkundig ontwerp ervan stond model voor veel koloniale steden in Amerika.


  • English
  • French
  • Arabic
  • Chinese
  • Russian
  • Spanish
  • Japanese
  • Dutch
San Cristóbal de La Laguna © jv_sc
Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

San Cristóbal de La Laguna is located on the Island of Tenerife, part of the Autonomous Community of the Canary Islands in Spain. It was founded in the late 15th century on an inland plateau 550 m above sea level next to an insalubrious lagoon. The property includes two original town centres each belonging to a different time of history: the so-called Upper Town is the initial founding site next to the lagoon, and has an unplanned urban structure; and the Lower Town, one kilometre to the East, which is designed on a grid. It is the first ideal territory-town, being designed according to philosophical principles and Royal regulations, organized around a founding square known as Plaza del Adelantado.

Of the 1470 buildings at San Cristóbal de La Laguna, 627 public and private classified buildings are preserved. Of the set of the classified buildings, 361 were built between the 16th and 18th centuries and belong to the so-called Mudéjar architecture, 96 are from the 19th century, and 170 are from the first half of the 20th century. Currently, its heritage architecture represents significant instances of the Mudéjar, Neoclassical, Modernist, Rationalist, and Contemporary architecture that have remained alive and active until now. 

San Cristóbal de La Laguna is the first example of an unfortified town with a grid model that was the direct precursor of the settlements in the Americas under Spanish rule during colonial times. The Castilians founded 8 such grid-plan towns on the Canary Islands. They were founded "ex novo", i.e. on un-built ground, and the town was a political means for the colonization and appropriation of the territory. It is that very philosophy that was transferred to the Americas.

San Cristóbal de La Laguna is a living example of the exchange of influences between the European culture and the American culture, with which it has been maintaining constant links. In the late 15th century and the first years of 16th century, the Canary Islands, and specifically San Cristóbal de La Laguna, became a laboratory of cultural experimentation and the first "Americas". The Canary Islands were a forerunner of America, playing the role of a giver and receiver, and being a melting pot of cultures, which resulted in an indubitable fusion of the contribution of the pre-conquest indigenous people (in ethnographic features and traditional culture) and those from Portuguese, Castilian, and Mudéjar architecture and town-planning. Moreover, inside that religious architecture, a furnishing heritage (sculptures, paintings, gold and silver articles, textiles, sumptuary objects, and furniture) is preserved, which also testifies to a cultural interchange with the Hispanic, Portuguese, North-European (especially Flemish), Italian, and American spheres. 

Criterion (ii): San Cristóbal de La Laguna exhibits the signs of an interchange of influences between the European and Hispano-Portuguese and American cultures, with which a constant link on the human, cultural, and socio-economic levels has been maintained. Ibero-America is ever-present at San Cristóbal de La Laguna, not only in its grid plan and Plaza del Adelantado (the founding square), but also in its churches, cloisters, and the civil architecture, which are the siblings of American ones. 

Criterion (iv): San Cristóbal de La Laguna was the first non-fortified Spanish colonial town, and its layout provided the model for many colonial towns in the Americas. It is outstanding in its planning as a territory-town, and is the first instance of an unfortified Hispanic town designed and built in a complete project as a space for the organization of a new social order. Since its founding, it has remained a living urban area, in which all the trends, tastes, and styles of each historical period have been expressed, illustrating the first transit point of the Hispanic culture towards the Americas in a two-way cultural interchange that continues until today. 


The property’s surface area is 60.38 ha with a buffer zone of 229.77 ha; its original plan and layout, dating back to the 15th century has remained intact since its creation. The property is a living historic town, corresponding to the historical centre of the old town, which is now included inside the modern town. San Cristóbal de La Laguna exhibits a very well preserved, extraordinarily homogeneous town structure, in which the religious, institutional, and residential buildings coexist on the original map design in perfect harmony.A great number of architectural instances representative of its traditional town structure stand out, and its furniture heritage shows the kind of relations it has maintained throughout its history. Furthermore, the original layout still exhibits a relationship between the colonial town layout that is typical of the concept of a territory-town and the architecture of Mudéjar and other types, of which more than 600 instances are classified and preserved: religious buildings (churches, hermitages, cloisters) and civil buildings. 


With its history of more than five centuries, San Cristóbal de La Laguna is the result of a type of town dynamics that contain a continuous process of superimposition of historical trends. The town has been evolving since its founding more than 500 years ago and has retained conditions of authenticity in its street pattern, its open spaces, and its monuments, which still preserve a visible time continuity. The authenticity of its urban structure can be demonstrated through a comparative analysis of the current cartography against its historical equivalent. In terms of detail, the authenticity is high. Original facades survive in large numbers, providing an authentic historic streetscape, which demonstrates the diverse origins of the town’s architecture. Its “transmitted architecture,” combining Islamic and European elements, is original and authentic. It also played a very significant role in the development of architecture in the Spanish New World.

Finally, San Cristobal de La Laguna retains much of its traditional trade, which has been adapted to current needs without losing its authenticity. Furthermore, the immaterial heritage in San Cristóbal de La Laguna is intimately linked to the heritage produced through the customs and religious ceremonies. 

Protection and management requirements

The inscribed property is part of the larger 83 ha area classified as Property of Cultural Interest (BIC, Bien de Interés Cultural), under the Historical Ensemble category. The Historical Ensemble of San Cristóbal de La Laguna benefits from a Special Protection Plan in accordance with the 1999 Canarian Laws on Historical Heritage and the Spanish legal regulations, and requires consensus of all the political parties of the Town Council. The Special Protection Plan was devised as a Strategic Management Plan that ensures the protection as a result of urban revitalisation processes. Its four strategic lines of action state that the Historical Ensemble must be a high-quality inhabited and, accessible area with economic opportunities. The Management Office, which is a "one-stop shop”, is the main agency through which the inhabitants address procedures within the Historical Ensemble. Moreover, the Historical Ensemble Management Office devotes two days per week to citizens’ consultation. Each of the 627 classified buildings benefits from an individually written Specific Ordinance of Preservation that details all the elements that must be conserved during interventions. A large number of minor and major planning permissions, commercial licenses and implementation orders are treated in order to address the problem of ruins and bad conservation. Furthermore, measures are taken to attract more residents to the Historical Ensemble.

The Town Council will continue with the implementation of the Special Protection Plan through its Management Office. Management and conservation actions will be focused on policies to increase and consolidate the number of permanent residents in the property, on extending town quality to surrounding areas through the regeneration of public spaces and restoration of buildings, and on ordinances for civic co-existence in order to reconcile inhabitants’ needs with commercial and leisure activities.


Long Description

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 centre was progressively transferred to Santa Cruz, and San Cristóbal declined.

San Cristóbal consists of the Upper Town (Villa de Arriba) of 1497 and the Lower Town (Villa de Abajo) of 1502. The main street (Calle de la Carrera) forms the axis of the planned town, linking the first parish church with the Plaza del Adelantado. Parallel with it runs the Calle de San Agustín, the geometric centre of the town, lined with large houses built by the early merchants. A number of squares open out of it in the regular form derived from Mudejar models. The first church, dedicated to the Conception, was demolished and rebuilt, in 1511. Its present form reflects that long history in its mixture of styles and uncoordinated structures - tower, baptistry, nave with two side-aisles, chapels, etc. Nearby is what remains of the Monastery of San Agustín, founded at the beginning of the 16th century with a fine two-storey cloister. The Captain General was concentrating on the development of the Lower Town, where work began in 1515 on building its parish church, dedicated to Los Remedios. A single-aisled building in Mudejar style, with a tower added in the 17th century, it later became the cathedral of the new bishopric of Tenerife, established in 1813. Extensive remodelling took place in the early 20th century, with three aisles and side chapels.

The Dominican Convent of Santa Catalina de Siena, inaugurated in 1611, became so influential that it absorbed a number of adjoining buildings. The exteriors are plain and severe, but the internal decoration is sumptuous. The small Ermita de San Miguel declined sadly after its foundation, but was restored for use as a cultural centre. What remains of the Convent of Santa Clara, destroyed by fire in 1697, is used for a similar purpose. There is a number of fine former private residences: the oldest is the Casa del Corregidor (although only the facade in dressed red stone is original). The Casa de Lercaro, with a fine Mannerist facade, is now the Tenerife Historical Museum. The Casa de Alvarado Bracamonte (1624-31) was used by successive governors as an office and residence until the 19th century. It has a red stone portal with pilasters, a wrought-iron balcony, and a broken pediment. It now houses the municipal historical and artistic heritage section. The Casa de Salazár, built in 1682, has a handsome portal in eclectic style, principally Baroque but with some Mannerist and neoclassical elements. The Casa de Ossuna has the long balcony on the first floor of the facade: it is used for the enormous archival collection of San Cristóbal.

Among the fine 18th century buildings are the elegant Casa de Montañés, a private residence now the seat of the Consultative Council of the Autonomous Government of the Canaries, and the L-plan Casa de los Jesuitas, occupied by the Society of Jesus until its expulsion from the Canaries in 1767. The Casa de la Alhóndiga was built at the beginning of the 18th century as a corn market. In the early 19th century it was a French military barracks and it became a district court. The city also has some good 20th century architecture - examples of eclecticism, such as the Palace of Rodriguez de Azero and the Leal Theatre.

Historical Description

San Cristóbal de la Laguna was founded in 1497 by Alonso Fernandez de Lugo. The last town to be established in the Canary Islands (which was the first Spanish overseas territory) takes its name from a shallow lake or marshy area (La Laguna), which was not drained until 1837.

The original settlers, who were almost all soldiers, were not allocated building plots; the non-fortified urban area that was defined was considered to be a public space where anyone could build. As a result small houses were erected around the church of La Concepción in a haphazard fashion, without any overall plan, in the Upper Town (Villa de Arriba). However, this situation was regularized in 1502, when a regular town plan based on Leonardo da Vinci's model for Imola was drawn up by the Captain General (Adelantado) for the area between his official residence and the church. Wide major streets (calles reales) linked the public open spaces and formed the grid on which smaller streets were superimposed.

The resulting Lower Town (Villa de Abajo) expanded rapidly, attracting the island's ruling classes, and by 1515 had more than a thousand inhabitants. Monastic communities began building early in the 16th century - the Church of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios (1511), the Hermitage of San Miguel (1506), and the Hospitals of San Sebastián (1506) and Los Dolores (1515).

A piped water supply was installed at the expense of the Town Council (Cabildo) in 1521, and the first public buildings were constructed in 1525. The town began to seek official urban status as early as 1514, but this was not granted until 1531. In 1554 the Town Council ordained that any buildings in straw were to be demolished, to lessen the risk of fire, an important precaution, because by that time the population had risen to six thousand, making it the largest town in the Canaries.

San Cristóbal retained this pre-eminent position as the main political, religious, and commercial centre throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, and the prosperity that this brought is to be seen in the buildings from that period. However, the political and economic centre was progressively transferred to Santa Cruz during the 18th century, and as a result San Cristóbal declined, only retaining a significant role in religious and cultural life. A brief political revival following the establishment of the Supreme Council (Junta Suprema) of the Canary Islands with its seat in San Cristóbal in 1808 came to an abrupt end when that body fell foul of the Provincial Council (Diputación Provincial) based in Santa Cruz de Tenerife five years later and was disbanded.

The 20th century has seen San Cristóbal recovering something of its former role, thanks notably to the prestige of its university.

Source: Advisory Body Evaluation