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All Isles Tourism Guide - Canary Islands History

The history of the Canary Islands is easily missed if you're hopping over for the party, sun, sea and sand, but just booking yourself on an island tour will begin to give you a flavour of just how fascinating the diverse history of the Canary Islands really is. Prior to the official beginning of the Spanish conquest in 1402 (when Bethancourt and his entourage landed first on Lanzarote) the original settlers, known as the Guanches derived from guan/man and che/white mountain (the guanches on Tenerife had light fair hair down to their waists hence che), had long been resident on the Canaries. In reality each of the tribes on the seven Canary Islands had their own distinct cultures and customs, and their history is beginning to become more accessible to visitors, with many of the decorated cave dwellings (particularly on La Palma) now open to the public. A good starting point to learning more about the Guanches is to pick up a copy of 'The Guanches, Survivors and their Descendants' by Jose Luis Concepcion. It's a concise book, translated into English and available in most museums and cultural centres across the Canaries.

Post Spanish Colonialism other histories emerge, including a mish mash of pirate invasion, emigration due to hardship and in more recent times the development of tourism post 1950 and the reliance of the Canarian economy on tourism. Immigration and emigration feature heavily in Canarian history (visit the Santa Barbara museum in Teguise on Lanzarote to find out more!), and this factor highlights the other influences as well as Spanish culture on the Canaries. Many Canarios emigrated to Venezuela and Cuba and Latin American links and influences remain strong on the islands. Fleeing poverty and hardship in search of a better life have always been the reasons behind movement, as they are again on the Canaries with the contemporary situation of continuing immigration of people from Northern Africa. News of deaths of immigrants from North Africa attempting to land on the Canaries in flimsy boats are now a frequent occurance, with no end in sight to this issue.

Lanzarote History Canary Islands

The history, art and culture of Lanzarote has been well preserved, and is growing still with fascinating museums emerging on the history of emigration and immigration to the Canary Islands to be found here on Lanzarote. The first of the Canary Islands to fall to the Spanish Conquest, Lanzarote and its pre-hispanic settlers generically known across the Canary Islands as the Guanches (although in Lanzarote they were called the Majos) had lived blissfully undisturbed. In 1402 Juan de Bethencourt and his lieutenant Gadifer de la Salle and accompanying priests and interpreters that had previously been captured a few years prior landed on Lanzarote. The original settlers called the island Titeroyugatra and it was ruled by a king called Guadarfia. Their arrival on Lanzarote is dated at 500BC. Lanzarote's contemporary name originates from the first European - Lancelotto Malocello - actually a Genoese sailor, who landed on the island in the first half of the 14th Century.

Bethencourt and his entourages' initial approach was friendly, and pacts were established and the Spanish Conquerers planned their next move down to Fuerteventura. Bethancourt soon returned to the Spanish mainland, and during his absence a rebellion broke out, resulting in fierce fighting and eventual conversion of the islanders to Catholicism. Two highly recommended books easily obtained from museums and cultural centres in Lanzarote and elsewhere in the Canaries well worth a look are 'The Guanches, Survivors and their Descendants by Jose Luis Concepcion and 'History of the Canary Islands' by Jose M. Castellano Gil and Francisco J. Marcias Martin. Translated into English, these two books are perfect for digging that bit deeper into the laid bare history of Lanzarote and Canary Islands - from pre-hispanic history right up to the present.

Gran Canaria History Canary Islands

Gran Canaria's pre-hispanic history is beginning to emerge and is becoming more accessible to visitors (the painted Guanche caves to the north in Galdar are very popular with visitors). Many holidaymakers come to Gran Canaria for the great holiday party atmosphere, the sun and the beaches, but what you might not know is that more Guanche, or Tamaran/Canarios (as the original settlers on the island were called) artefacts and burial remains have been found here on Gran Canaria than many of the other Canary Islands, including many caves. Columbus features heavily on Gran Canaria, as he does in general on the Canaries and elsewhere in Spanish Colonialist territory! How Columbus touched the Canary Islands is well explored in the Casa Colon Museum in Las Palmas. There is no doubt that many Canarios were with him on his voyages into the new world.

The starting point to learn more on Tamaran history is one of the highlight musuems in the archipelago, The Museo Canario in Las Palmas is almost entirely focused on the aboriginal inhabitants of Gran Canaria and the rest of the Canaries, exploring how they lived, communicated, social networks, skilled crafted ceramics, dwellings and so on. This museum really is the central point for learning about the history of the original settlers on the Canary Islands, alongside a pick at Jose Lusi Concepcion's excellent little book 'The Guanches - Survivors and Their Descendants' which you can purchase at most cultural centres and museums across the Canaries, and here at this museum.

Fuerteventura History Canary Islands

After Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, or Maxorata and Jandia as the two kingdoms of the island were known to the Guanche original settlers, fell to Spanish conquerors headed by De Bethencourt in 1405. Guize, the king of the larger area Maxorata (all of Fuerteventura north of Pajara) surrendered in 1405, followed shortly by Ayoze ruler of Jandia. Incidently, as Jose Lusi Concepcion reminds in his book 'The Guanches - Survivors and their Descendants', the battle to secure Fuerteventura by Spanish colonialists was assisted by Lanzarote Guanche leader Guadarfia. Checkout the Rural Tourism Fuerteventura weblinks right for indepth information on Guanche sites, Eco Museums and historic churches and art.

The caves at Ajuy on the west coast of Fuerteventura are a particular highlight in your Guanche sites exploration across the Canaries. Access is now superb, and you can walk right into the caves. (Work also was in progress when we visited to improve coastal walking access on this stretch - good news indeed). Currently you wouldn't know this site featured on the Guanche map unless you'd visited the Museo Canario in Las Palmas/Gran Canaria where there is ample information on it. Fuerteventura does ecotourism and agricultural history well. Move inland to discover Eco Museums, reconstructed Guanche villages, Guanche artefacts and a wild and hauntingly captivating barren volcanic landscape. The beaches often get the focus on Fuerteventura, but you're missing out if you don't take time to move inland (hire car highly recommended to enjoy the interior at your leisure, especially around Betancuria.

Tenerife History Canary Islands

Dear Alice, Just to let you know we are ok. Had to wait 4 hours at Gatwick Airport, so may not be back before Sunday dinner time. They say it's all to do with the mist over the craters. Will you save this card for when we return. It's our Hotel and X marks our room. It's right on the sea front. Bit dissappointing as it's all rocks. We do our sunbathing on the roof. Love Daisy Les x' (Postcard from Puerto de la Cruz to the UK, dated 2nd July 1958).

A history of holidaymaking to Tenerife beginning from the late 1950s by not just UK holidaymakers, but Germans and many other Europeans would go down very well, say with a little museum on working class cheap and cheerful package holidays to Tenerife located in Los Cristianos or indeed Puerto de la Cruz. There's an idea for the Arona or Orotava Valley Cabildo! Anyway, back to what's on offer history and culture wise in Tenerife! For top cultural hotspots on the island, offering a mix of traditional Canarian architecture, some excellent museums (one of the best which explores the pre-hispanic history of the Guanches on the Canary Islands is the Man & Nature Museum in Santa Cruz), some choice art galleries with a focus on Canarian Art and museums focusing on rural and agricultural history head to Santa Cruz de Tenerife, San Cristobal de la Laguna, La Orotava and Puerto de la Cruz. But history is all around you really - British Holiday makers have been coming to Tenerife since the beginnings of the tourist boom in the late 1950s.

The hub of Tenerife's cultural scene, including the best art galleries, museums exploring Guanche pre-hispanic settlement and religious history museums are to be found in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Puerto de la Cruz, La Laguna, La Orotava and for geological and volcanic history of the Canary Islands, including of course Teide and Tenerife head for the two excellent educational visitors centres in the Teide National Park. A new tram line is currently being built (as of 2006) in Santa Cruz the capital. Eventually the tram will connect with Adjede down in south Tenerife, make it quick and easy for cultural day trips to Santa Cruz.

The Museum of Man and Nature in Santa Cruz (Calle Fuente Morales s/n, Santa Cruz. Tel: 922 20 93 20) is a big affair, and a must visit on your tour of Guanche sites and history on the Canary Islands. Like the Museo Canario in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, this museum lays bare the archeological finds from pre-hispanic settlement sites on Tenerife and elsewhere in the Canaries. It also explores indepth the flaura and forna of the Canary Islands, with exhibits and information on numerous geologists, naturalists and archeologists who have come to Tenerife over the years.

La Gomera History Canary Islands

La Gomera's recent history, through the 19th and first half of the 20th century, is largely one of isolation. It wasn't until the 1950s that San Sebastian's harbour was developed to accommodate visiting vessels, and even more recently that rural tourism has taken off here. Today tourism is the major money earner for La Gomera, but so far its focus is very much on ecotourism - largely rural accommodation, conservation and accessibility of Garajonay National Park and the promotion of walking and outdoor activity based holidays in mostly the interior of the island. Garajonay is currently a UNESCO protected area, and conservation projects, for example breeding in captivity of the Giant Gomera lizard in the Valle Gran Rey are bearing fruit.

Moving way back to the pre-hispanic period, the history of the original Gomeros settlers is beginning to emerge. The Juego de Bolas Visitor Centre near Las Rosas in the north of La Gomera has excellent exhibits and information on the Gomeros way of life. Of all the Canary Islands, resistance to Spanish colonialism was particularly strong on La Gomera. Initially they only half conquered the island, and indeed Bethancourt gave up for a time. The terrain, mountainous and covered in jungle like vegetation, favoured the original settlers. Christopher Columbus is everywhere in San Sebastian. He stopped here on La Gomera a few times before heading off to the Americas, and San Sebastian makes the most of his visit! Explore the history of ups and downs in agriculture on La Gomera at the Ethnological Museum in Hermigua.

La Palma History Canary Islands

La Palma together with Tenerife was one of the last of the Canary Islands to be conquered by the Spanish. When De Lugo and his entourage finally landed on La Palma it was divided into 12 provinces including Aridane, Tihuya, Tamanca, Ahenguare-me, Tigalate, Tedote, Tenegua, Adeyahamen, Tagaragre, Tagalguen, Hiscaguan and Acero. All were rulled by different leaders.

La Palma had come under attack several times but had proved hard to conquer. When Lugo arrived he landed on the Tazacorte beaches, and with the help of Gazmira la Palmense who had been captured previously and now served as interpreter they convinced the Benahoares original settlers to peacefully submit, offering them numerous false promises. The settlers of Aridane, Tihuya, Tamanca and Ahenguareme then surrendered. The settlers in Tigalate however decided to put up a fight. They lost the fight there unfortunately, however the Acero region (today the Caldera de Taburiente) ruled by Tanausu proved too much for De Lugo.

De Lugo eventually tricked Tanausu into a meeting again offering false promises that he could remain on his lands if he submitted peacefully. Tanausu, together with other Palmeros, were put on a ship heading for Spain, however Tanausu preferred to die of hunger after he lost sight of his beloved homeland La Palma, crying Vacaguare, Vacaguare - I want to die. There are many stories of heartless betrayals such as this by the Spanish - De Lugo was renowned for it.

Post Spanish colonialism, La Palma was not included in the Crown of Castilla until as late as 1493 - De Lugo had pretty much conquered La Palma in 1492. Under the Spanish, La Palma became a centre for sugar and Malmsey wine as well as honey, and the Canary Pine were used for building Spanish ships. Santa Cruz de la Palma continued to develop as an important Spanish port - by the 16th century is was up there as a key Spanish port alongside Seville. Today bananas are the top crop on the island, and cigars are another important produce.

El Hierro History Canary Islands

The original settlers on El Hierro - the Bimbaches referred to it as hero which meant milk! El Hierro was ruled over by one king - Armiche prior to Spanish invasion. When Bethencourt landed on El Hierro he had Augeron, the king Armiche's brother with him (he'd been captured in previous years and acted as interpreter). The story is much the same as that of Tanausu on La Palma. Armiche was assured by Bethencourt that he came in peace, but it didn't take long for Bethencourt to take Armiche prisoner and to divide the land on El Hierro amongst around 20 colonists, whilst enslaving the Bimbaches.

Today El Hierro's economy is based on fishing, fruit growing, cheese making, some livestock and tourism (albeit low key tourism!).

The Guinea settlement in Frontera is a must visit on El Hierro, and a chance to view up close the prehistoric El Hierro giant lizard found to have survived on the Roque Salmor. The Lagartario recouperation centre for the giant lizard is adacent to the Guinea Settlement and viewing is part of the guided tour!

The Guinea settlement was originally occupied by the Bimbaches - the ancient original native settlers on El Hierro. They lived in volcanic tubes called Juaclos prior to Spanish colonialism. Considerable archaeological material has been uncovered - you can still view shells scattered about the settlement from this original period! Ecomuseo de Guinea & Centro de Recuperacion del Lagarto Gigante de El Hierro, Carretera Gral de las Puntas s/n Fronter. Tel: 922 55 5056.

Photos of Canary Islands History

San Cristobal de la Laguna, North Tenerife. Canaries History is everywhere here
San Cristobal de la Laguna, North Tenerife. Canaries History is everywhere here
Guanche Rock Carvings. Cueva de Belmaco, La Palma
Guanche Rock Carvings. Cueva de Belmaco, La Palma
Ajuy Caves, Fuerteventura
Ajuy Caves, Fuerteventura
Emigration. Find out more at Museo del Emigrante Canario, Teguise, Lanzarote
Emigration. Find out more at Museo del Emigrante Canario, Teguise, Lanzarote
Ecomuseo de Guinea, El Hierro
Ecomuseo de Guinea, El Hierro