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.
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