The Mystery of the Guanches and the Pyramids of Tenerife
Tenerife in the Canary Islands is well-known as a holiday destination, but many tourists visit the island unaware that there are pyramids there and an ongoing mystery. Who built the pyramids, when were they constructed, and why? There are three theories and an ongoing debate.
Pyramids of Güímar
Güímar is a town in the south of Tenerife and it is the location where six of the pyramids are to be found. They are safely housed today in the Ethnographic Park, which was set up by the explorer Thor Heyerdahl, with the financial backing of shipping magnate Fred Olsen.
Thor Heyerdahl (Photo: Public Domain)
Heyerdahl first heard about the pyramids in 1990 when he read an article by Francisco Padrón in the Tenerife newspaper "Diario de Avisos." He ended up going to the island to see the pyramids for himself, and was so impressed that he set up home in Güímar where he lived for the remainder of his life.
The Norwegian adventurer thought the constructions were similar to other stepped-pyramids he had seen on his past travels. He theorized that they had been built at a time when people were traversing the oceans and that a link existed between the pyramid building cultures of Egypt and those of Central America. He also thought it was possible that the Guanches, who lived on Tenerife before the Spanish Conquest, might have been responsible for building the pyramids.
The Academic explanation
Academics, however, did not agree and put forward the alternative theory that the pyramids are no more than piles of volcanic rocks that farmers had made when clearing their land. It is also proposed that the pyramids were made in the 19th century because pottery said to be dating back to that time was found in excavations carried out by archaeologists from the University of La Laguna.
Author and researcher, the late Philip Coppens, who visited Tenerife in 2009, investigated the matter for himself and had this to say on his website with regard to what the academics claim:
The fact is that on one plaza between two pyramids, archaeologists dug down into the structure, but stopped at a level they equated with the 18th century – and which was between 50 and 150 centimetres deep. From this, the mistaken conclusion was reached that they had dug down all the way to the bottom, and had realised the oldest layer was two centuries old. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Summer Solstice Alignments
Heyerdahl, and those who believe the Guanches made the pyramids, have argued that the constructions are painstakingly designed with stepped levels and possible alignments made for ceremonial purposes, such as those that could have been carried out at the Summer Solstice. In 1991, Juan Antonio Belmonte Avilés, Antonio Aparicio Juan, and César Esteban López, who were researchers from the Canary Institute of Astrophysics, demonstrated that the long sides of some of the terraces surrounding the pyramids of Güímar marked the direction of winter and summer solstices.
Pyramid of Güímar showing steps (Photo: Raphael Biss)
One of the pyramids has a set of steps built into it and it has been suggested that this was so that a celebrant could ascend the stairs to reach the top level of the pyramid where they would be facing the rising sun.
Did Freemasons make the pyramids?
In 2005, a book by Antonio Aparicio Juan and César Esteban López with the title The Pyramids of Güímar: Myth and Reality was published. In it the authors put forward the theory that Freemasons built the pyramids, suggesting that the solstices and pyramids are important in Freemasonry, and that the former owner of the land the Güímar pyramids are on was a Freemason himself.
Who were the Guanches?
Pelicar - A Guanche king (Photo: cinetech)
The Guanches were a mystery because it had never been established how these white-skinned and fair-haired people came to be living on islands close to North Africa. The explanation accepted by anthropologists is that these people were descended from the Berbers of North Africa, possibly from Libya. However, legends say that the Guanches had originally been Atlanteans who had survived when Atlantis went under the ocean because they were on the mountain peaks which today we know as the Canary Islands.
What we do know of the Guanches is taken from the writings of the Spanish Chroniclers and archaeological discoveries that have been made. The Guanches were hunter-gatherer tribes who lived a lifestyle much like it is supposed that people lived in the Stone Age. They were known to have lived in caves and huts and to have had few tools with no metalwork because they lived on volcanic islands where there are no metal ores. They made pottery though and had knowledge of basic farming and foraging from the wild. They also practiced embalming and the mummification of their dead, as well as trepanation of the living. The mummies were left in caves but other Guanche corpses of a lower social standing were buried.
The Guanches of Tenerife were split into nine kingdoms with a king known as a ‘mencey’ for each of these.
Pintadera design (Photo: Steve Andrews)
But could they have made the pyramids? The Guanches had knowledge of geometric symbolism because this has been shown in designs on ‘pintaderas,’ which were some form of artistic seal made of pottery.
It is known that the Berbers made pyramidal tombs, such as the Pyramid of Madghacen, so why couldn’t the Guanches have done this too?
Pyramid of Madghacen (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Other Pyramids of Tenerife
There are many more pyramids in Tenerife on the other side of the island that do not attract the publicity that those in Güímar receive. The village of Santa Barbara, near Icod de los Vinos, has several pyramids with a large one situated in the middle of a farmer’s land.
Main pyramid in Santa Barbara (Photo: Steve Andrews)
Another notable construction is to be found in a banana plantation in the road known as Camino de la Suerte near San Marcos.
It is known that other pyramids once existed but were destroyed by building and development schemes.
Savages in Foreign Lands
Independent filmmaker Raphael Biss was so inspired by the mystery of the Guanches and the pyramids of Tenerife that he has made a full-length documentary entitled Savages in Foreign Lands.
He has recently returned from the Cannes Film Festival and had this to say about the Guanches:
“So few people have heard about them and I truly believe they have an amazing story that deserves to be told and heard. I think I was mainly attracted by the mystery and the uniqueness that surrounds these people... Archeologists and historians are still searching for more clues about their presence, and how they survived and evolved in the archipelago. It’s still a work in progress, and for some a great mystery.”
With regard to the pyramids, Biss added: “The Pyramids in Tenerife were the starting point of my interest in the Guanches. When I found out about them, I was captivated and wanted to know more about their purpose and origins. It’s still hard to say whether the Guanches built these pyramids or not. Even after all the research that went into it, and despite the fact that many historians argue that they were built after the Spanish conquest, there is still a part of me that believes they hold a deeper secret that is yet to be discovered.”
Featured image: One of the Pyramids of Güímar (Photo: Colin Moss)