Pyramids of Guimar

When you think of mysterious pyramids probably the first that come to mind are those in Egypt perhaps followed by the ones in the remoter parts of the Amazon Basin or the Central American highlands. However, the most mysterious pyramids are those found in the Canary Islands, particularly on the largest island of Tenerife.

The Canary Islands are one of the holiday hot spots of Europe with most of the development in Tenerife in the resort communities on the southern coast. From any one of these resorts you can book a trip to the Pyramids of Güímar which is a lovely way to spend a day. They are about an hour and a half away by bus.

Güímar has a nice array of sunny beaches and is farther away from the commercial developments of the south coast of Tenerife. It has impressive architecture and churches dating back to the conquest of the island in the 15th century, which was the first real expansion of Spanish colonialism in the Canary Islands.

However, aside from the appeal of a more laid back holiday spot, the principle appeal of Güímar are its mysterious pyramids. Theories abound about the Pyramids which date back to well before the days of the Spanish Conquest. They are mentioned in the earlier writings by Roman visitors to the islands, though in the writings of Pliny the Elder, the Romans say the Canaries are completely uninhabited. Even to the Romans these pyramids were mysteries.

Pyramids of Güímar
Pyramids of Güímar

These pyramids are low, stepped sided pyramids similar to the ones seen in Central and Mesoamerica as constructed by the Mayans. The conventional theory is that they were made by local farmers clearing out rocks from the fields as they were being plowed; the similarity to agricultural terraces is a decent corroboration. It’s also known that several of the pyramids have underground chambers beneath them which were used by the native Guanches people as hiding places when the Spaniards came.

A much more opportunistic theory was proposed by Thor Heyerdahl in the early 1990s. Heyerdahl, who demonstrated that it was possible to cross the Pacific using Polynesian style outriggers (Kontiki Expedition) and had also crossed the Atlantic from Morocco to Barbados on a Papyrus boat, contends that the Canary Islands were a major trans-shipment point for trade crossing the Atlantic from the Mediterranean to the Americas in ancient times.

Points in Heyerdahl’s favour include the fact that the stones appear to be igneous basalt that’s been worked rather than the granite found in the local fields of the area. The ground was also levelled before construction and the way the pyramids are arranged may have special astronomical significance, given where the steps are and where the sight lines run and what stars are visible during the summer solstice.

A further point is that the great circulating current of the Atlantic Ocean flows westward from the Canaries; it’s the same route Columbus took in his voyages, and the Canaries were a major transshipment point during the era of Spanish Colonialism. It is plausible that at one point the Canaries were, in pre-Roman times, used as a “meeting place” between Mesoamerican and perhaps Carthaginian traders.

Fortunately, a decade ago, the Spanish government declared the Pyramids to be an ethnological feature worth study and opened up two of them for tourists while closing the remaining four off for study by archaeologists. There is an extensive information centre covering Heyerdahl’s theories, the voyages he undertook and a lot of information on the current knowledge of these mysterious ancient buildings.

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