Many people who visit Santa Cruz tend to stay in the main drag, Plaza de España, Calle Castillo, and miss some of the oldest parts of the city
One of my favourite places is La Noria and the surrounding area. It’s a beautiful place to go for a Sunday morning stroll after a visit to the nearby rastro (flea market), or maybe just to contrast it with the movement on a Saturday night. La Noria means the ferris wheel, or a water wheel, for taking water from one level to another, which is probably the origin of the name.
The street itself, La Noria, was renamed in 1917, but ask anyone where Dominguez Alfonso is and, chances are, you’ll draw a blank. Ask for La Noria and most people will know.
To get oriented, start at the post office in the Plaza de España, near the monument, in the centre of Santa Cruz. With your back to the sea, go left down Calle General Gutierrez. This street is named after the Governor and Commander General of the Canary Islands and commander of the troops in Tenerife during the defeat of Horacio Nelson. Compared with Calle Horacio Nelson (near the bull ring) it is a short street. At the end you will find a bust of the general himself. The bust was erected in 1999, which seems a long time to wait, considering he was responsible for the only defeat suffered by Nelson.Cut across Imeldo Seris to Calle Candelaria. The extensive road works here are for the laying of the tracks for the new Tranvia, which will link Santa Cruz to La Laguna and, eventually, Los Rodeos airport. You will see some paintings here, on canvases nailed to the wall of a deserted building (although one has disappeared, either because of wind or some light-fingered art collector). These were put up by Pepe, the owner of La Balsa Blues, as the sight of bare bricks in front of his door was more than he could take. He was also responsible for the organization of the series of open air blues concerts “Santa Blues”, which caused a lot of controversy among the neighbours. La Balsa Blues is a good place to stop for a glass of wine and some tapas, or even a meal. It won first prize in La Ruta del Vino of Santa Cruz (the wine route) of 2005.
Going left at the Balsa Blues takes you down into the Plaza de la Iglesia, and the church of Our Lady of the Conception.
On the corner as you get to the Plaza you’ll find Santa Cruz’s only Irish bar – JC Murphy. If not the only pint of Guinness available in Santa Cruz, given the surroundings, it’s probably the best. The Church of Our Lady of the Conception was built in 1500, not long after the conquest of the island. It was extensively damaged by fire in 1652 and rebuilt in 1653. The tower, dominating the area, was erected in 1786, so it was an easy landmark for Nelson to see on his approach to the city. Inside the church you’ll find, among many outstanding works of art (including the organ, which was built in London in1862), the cross from which Santa Cruz gets its name, La Cruz de la Conquista.
This is the same cross set up by Alonso Luis Fernández de Lugo on first landing on the island in 1495. There is a small chapel opposite the auditorium which, some say, marks the exact spot. However recent scientific studies have placed this on the vacant plot beside the Plaza de Europe, opposite the Plaza de la Iglesia. Who knows, it’s doubtful if de Lugo was particularly worried. The church also holds the remains of General Gutierrez. There are no opening times posted on the church, but it is usually open in the morning. Leaving the church, go across the barranco, where you will find El Museo de la Naturaleza y del Hombre (Natural Science Museum).
This beautifully restored building, formerly a hospital, is well worth a visit, housing, as it does, mummified bodies of Guanches found in excavations on the islands, and gives a better understanding of the Guanche way of life.
Stop for a short while in the patio, have a cup of tea or coffee and enjoy the peace and tranquility to be found there.
Coming back across the bridge to continue our stroll, you’ll see Bar Casa Nelson – nothing to do with Horacio. It’s the owner’s name. At least that’s what everybody calls him. There are many bits and pieces crammed into the little bar, a feast for curio lovers.
Back at the door of the church, go left away from the sea. You are now in the heart of carnival preparation land. The organization offices of carnival, and all other fiestas, are located in number 7. If you want a preview of carnivals, this is where to go. In the old houses along here the murgas, comparsas and rondallas (different groups of singers, musicians and dancers) practice their songs and dances and discuss strategies in the bid for 1st prize. And if there is one thing that is taken extremely seriously in Santa Cruz (and the Canary Islands in general) it’s the annual carnival. Not even the darkest days of the Franco dictatorship could stop it. Curiously, at the time of writing, there was a case going through the courts, brought by members of the local communities, trying to stop the carnival taking place in the streets. The law clearly prohibits live, open air music in residential areas, however it was declared that Carnivals are above the rights of the citizens. Many of the houses here date from the 1700’s.
It was along these roads that Captain Hood led his marines in 1797 during Nelson’s frustrated attempt to take Santa Cruz. Lost and confused, they ran past these very houses as they tried to find their companions.
Look out for the “Casa del Miedo” the house of fear. This was once home to the writer Verdugo y Masseau. Fed up with being distracted by the kids playing in the street under his window while he wrote, he eventually got a skull and put candles inside it to scare them away. It must have worked, although nowadays it’s doubtful if it would have too much effect. Strangely enough, his surname, Verdugo, means executioner or hangman.
Further up the road you can take a breather in the chill out bar Bulán Restaurante Chill Out, an excellent place to relax with some liquid (or solid) refreshment, in unusual surroundings. This is another old house and each room has been done out in a different style: Moorish, Indian etc.
Tearing yourself away from the Chillout (or one of the other resting places along the street) climb up the steps to the recently renovated bridge “Puente General Serrano”. The low style street lighting set into the walls and pillars give this bridge an extra magical touch at night.
The building under construction on the other side is to be the cultural centre, with new photography centre, library etc. A very interesting looking structure.
Leaving the bridge behind you, turn right down by the Recova. Here you’ll find the present photography centre. With any luck there should be some interesting exhibitions to be seen there. On the left is the Teatro Guimerá. This was built on the site of the old Dominican convent where, on 25th July 1797, Captains Hood and Troubridge took refuge and demanded, for the third time, the surrender of the Spanish garrison.
Gutierrez, who had the convent surrounded, wasn’t terribly impressed. Hood and Troubridge finally got the message and, in a strange form of surrender, agreed to leave Canary waters and make no further attacks if they were allowed to go back to their ships.
Gutierrez not only permitted them to go back, but looked after the wounded and had his own troops row the British, still armed, back to their ships along with a cask of wine. Nelson had no choice but to accept the terms of surrender and took his own surrender papers to Cadiz. The act of a gentleman on Gutierrez’s part, or a very astute general? Probably both.
Continuing down the street of Santo Domingo you get back to the square, making a nice little stroll of between 15 minutes and several hours, depending on how you feel and what you feel like doing. More information on the wine route can be obtained from the Tourist Information
Centre in the Plaza de España
A good place to visit for more information on Nelson’s attack is the Military Museum on calle San Isidro, near the end of the Avenida de Anaga (Entrance is free, but you will need some ID, residency card or passport).