History of Arucas

The origins of what used to be Arehuc or Arehucas go back to the pre-Hispanic age. In fact, the name comes from the native term Arehucas or a similar word. The settlement was destroyed in the first raid by conqueror Juan Rejón in 1479. Two years later, the famous chief Doramas lost his life in the famed "Battle of Arucas", at the hands of Pedro de Vera, Juan Rejó [Coches de hora en la Plaza de San Sebastián] n’s successor. After the conquest, the place was populated, largely at the beginning of the 16th century, by a large number of knights who obtained land and water when the islands were distributed. It appears that Arucas had already been founded by 1503. The town started to grow from a small settlement around St. John’s chapel, on the site now occupied by the Church of the same name. The development of Arucas stemmed from two different settlements, leading to the “upper” and the “lower” town.

1503, The foundation of Arucas

The road, largely used for processions, joining St. John’s Church to St. Peter’s Chapel – in La Goleta -, and passing St. Sebastian’s Chapel on the way, became the main artery on which the urban structure of Arucas is based; the town was then an assortment of cave-dwellings, earthen houses, larger houses and estates built with no regard to planning, the layout of which is now evident in the series of land rights, alleyways and roads modelling the town’s urban perspectives. In the second half of the 19th century, Arucas flourished and grew, largely as a result of the wealth produced by breeding cochineal bugs. In 1868, during the September revolution, St. Sebastian’s and St. Peter’s chapel was destroyed, leaving an empty site where the Town Hall, the Market and the new civic square would later be built between 1875 and 1882. In the last ten years of that century, the main street, or Calle Real, was realigned (this project coincided with Arucas being awarded the category of a municipality), and many of its one or two-storey dwellings were replaced with large stone houses. The street was enlarged to form what is now Calle Francisco Gourié, in the only known town planning project in the 19th century. The beautiful large buildings that we can now see along both these streets were built over a very short period of time, with the wealth derived from the sugar trade, which, as we have seen, lasted until 1910. This is when Arucas became more or less like it is today, and it is because of these buildings that it was declared to be a Historic Artistic Centre on December 10, 1976. [Paisaje de plataneras]

This was also a time of growth in the northern districts, basically Bañaderos and Cardones. The former, known as early as the mid-19th century as a bathing place next to the “Fuente Agria” (Sour Spring), boomed after completion of St. Peter’s Church (1878) – to where worship moved from Arucas – which generated an urban centre around the square, with some two-storey buildings with patios, built at the beginning of the century, and a few others along the road to the towns in the north-west. In Cardones, on the south face of the hill – and also on the old road from Tenoya to Cruz de Pineda and on to the north -, St. Isidore’s Church, re-built early in this century, was the final touch to a series of south-north roads which are now dotted with what are nearly always earthen dwelling. Both these districts benefited from another period of growth between 1920 and 1930, with the same architectural models. It was possible throughout the 19th century when the urban structure of El Cerrillo and La Goleta was established as we know them today. Although the latter is the origin of the “upper” town, there is little evidence of the development of these districts prior to the last century. That was when a narrow row of houses appeared between the road up to Firgas and the irrigation channel bringing water from Las Madres. These houses appeared all along the road, and varied from galleries with tiled roofs to large houses. Here is where we can still find a series of flour mills which, until the mid-20th century, were driven by the water in the irrigation channel.

Along all the roads – especially the one from Arucas to the north west of the island, through Bañaderos – and ancient trails (“caminos reales”), we can find a large number of country homes and estates dating from the 17th or 18th centuries, such as the Carril, Trasmontaña and Cruz de Pineda estates on the trail mentioned earlier. They are the centre of the large estates established after the conquest, which flourished not only in the two periods mentioned (the 19th and 20th centuries) but also when they were exclusively dedicated to the banana trade in the period between the wars and up to 1950. In fact it was during this decade that some of the best buildings appeared. These architectural complexes – main building plus service buildings, stables and stores – are traditionally “L” or “U” shaped with walled-in open areas, which are models of an alternative to typical urban dwellings.

The structure of the irrigation system was of enormous importance in Arucas. Most of the network of irrigation channels that carried water from Firgas, initially for the sugar cane crops and to drive the “upper” town sugar cane mill mechanisms, are still preserved. At the start of the century, estate land was already being watered next to budding Arucas. Since then, the Water Owners’ Association has built a veritable “architecture of water” with a large number of channels, cut-off mechanisms and distribution boxes, or “cantoneras” – some of them very important, like the one at “Las Chorreras”-, and finally, at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century, the large reservoirs in the Pinto ravine. All the above is a valuable heritage for the island.