History of Canary Islands
Ancient and pre-colonial times
Canary Islands in pre-colonial times
Guanche mummy in the Museo de la Naturaleza y el Hombre (Tenerife).
Before the arrival of the aborigines, the Canaries were inhabited by prehistoric animals; for example, the giant lizard (Lacerta goliath and Lacerta maxima), or giant rats (Canariomys bravoi and Canariomys tamarani).
The islands were visited by both the Phoenicians, the Greeks and the Carthaginians. According to the 1st century AD Roman author and philosopher Pliny the Elder, the archipelago was found to be uninhabited when visited by the Carthaginians under Hanno the Navigator, but that they saw ruins of great buildings. This story may suggest that the islands were inhabited by other peoples prior to the Guanches. King Juba, Augustus's Roman protege, is credited with discovering the islands for the Western world, and he dispatched a contingent to re-open the dye production facility at Mogador in the early 1st century AD. That same naval force was subsequently sent on an exploration of the Canary Islands, using Mogador as their mission base.
When the Europeans began to explore the islands, they encountered several indigenous populations living at a Neolithic level of technology. Although the history of the settlement of the Canary Islands is still unclear, linguistic and genetic analyses seem to indicate that at least some of these inhabitants shared a common origin with the Berbers of northern Africa. The pre-colonial inhabitants came to be known collectively as the Guanches, although Guanches was originally the name for the indigenous inhabitants of Tenerife.
During the Middle Ages, the islands were visited by the Arabs for commercial
purposes. The Muslim navigator Ibn Farrukh, from Granada, is said to have landed
in "Gando" (Gran Canaria) in February 999, visiting a king named Guanarigato.[citation
needed] From the 14th century onward, numerous visits were made by sailors from
Majorca, Portugal, and Genoa. Lancelotto Malocello settled on the island of
Lanzarote in 1312. The Majorcans established a mission with a bishop in the
islands that lasted from 1350 to 1400.
Alonso Fernández de Lugo presenting the captured native kings of Tenerife to Ferdinand and Isabella
Conquest of the Canary Islands
There are claims that the Portuguese had "discovered" the Canaries as early as 1336, though there appears to be little evidence for this. In 1402, the Castilian conquest of the islands began, with the expedition of Jean de Béthencourt and Gadifer de la Salle, nobles and vassals of Henry III of Castile, to the island of Lanzarote. From there, they conquered Fuerteventura ( 1405 ) and El Hierro. Béthencourt received the title King of the Canary Islands, but still recognized King Henry III as his overlord.
Béthencourt also established a base on the island of La Gomera, but it would be many years before the island was truly conquered. The natives of La Gomera, and of Gran Canaria, Tenerife, and La Palma, resisted the Castilian invaders for almost a century. In 1448 Maciot de Béthencourt sold the lordship of Lanzarote to Portugal's Prince Henry the Navigator, an action that was not accepted by the natives nor by the Castilians. A crisis swelled to a revolt which lasted until 1459 with the final expulsion of the Portuguese. Finally, in 1479, Portugal recognised Castilian control of the Canary Islands in the Treaty of Alcáçovas.
The Castilians continued to dominate the islands, but due to the topography
and the resistance of the native Guanches, complete pacification was not achieved
until 1495, when Tenerife and La Palma were finally subdued by Alonso Fernández
de Lugo. After that, the Canaries were incorporated into the Kingdom of Castile.
After the conquest
After the conquest, the Castilians imposed a new economic model, based on single-crop cultivation: first sugar cane; then wine, an important item of trade with England. In this era, the first institutions of colonial government were founded. Both Gran Canaria, a colony of Castile since March 6, 1480 (from 1556, of Spain), and Tenerife, a Spanish colony since 1495, had separate governors.
The cities of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria became a stopping point for the Spanish conquerors, traders, and missionaries on their way to the New World. This trade route brought great prosperity to some of the social sectors of the islands. The islands became quite wealthy and soon were attracting merchants and adventurers from all over Europe. Magnificent palaces and churches were built on the island of La Palma during this busy, prosperous period. The Church of El Salvador survives as one of the island's finest examples of the architecture of the 16th century.
The Canaries' wealth invited attacks by pirates and privateers. Ottoman Turkish
admiral and privateer Kemal Reis ventured into the Canaries in 1501, while Murat
Reis the Elder captured Lanzarote in 1585.
Church of San Juan Bautista, Arucas in Gran Canaria.
The most severe attack took place in 1599, during the Dutch War of Independence. A Dutch fleet of 74 ships and 12,000 men, commanded by Johan van der Does, attacked the capital, Las Palmas (the city had 3,500 of Gran Canaria's 8,545 inhabitants). The Dutch attacked the Castillo de la Luz, which guarded the harbor. The Canarians evacuated civilians from the city, and the Castillo surrendered (but not the city). The Dutch moved inland, but Canarian cavalry drove them back to Tamaraceite, near the city.
The Dutch then laid siege to the city, demanding the surrender of all its wealth. They received 12 sheep and 3 calves. Furious, the Dutch sent 4,000 soldiers to attack the Council of the Canaries, who were sheltering in the village of Santa Brígida. 300 Canarian soldiers ambushed the Dutch in the village of Monte Lentiscal, killing 150 and forcing the rest to retreat. The Dutch concentrated on Las Palmas, attempting to burn it down. The Dutch pillaged Maspalomas, on the southern coast of Gran Canaria, San Sebastian on La Gomera, and Santa Cruz on La Palma, but eventually gave up the siege of Las Palmas and withdrew.
Another noteworthy attack occurred in 1797, when Santa Cruz de Tenerife was
attacked by a British fleet under the future Lord Nelson on 25 July. The British
were repulsed, losing almost 400 men. It was during this battle that Nelson
lost his right arm.
18th to 19th century
Bus Station at San Telmós Park, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
The sugar-based economy of the islands faced stiff competition from Spain's American colonies. Crises in the sugar market in the 19th century caused severe recessions on the islands. A new cash crop, cochineal (cochinilla), came into cultivation during this time, saving the islands' economy.
By the end of the 18th century, Canary Islanders had already emigrated to Spanish
American territories, such as Havana, Veracruz, Santo Domingo, San Antonio,
Texas and St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana These economic difficulties spurred
mass emigration, primarily to the Americas, during the 19th and first half of
the 20th century. From 1840 to 1890, as many as 40,000 Canary Islanders emigrated
to Venezuela. Also, thousands of Canarians moved to Puerto Rico; the Spanish
monarchy felt that Canarians would adapt to island life better than other immigrants
from the mainland of Spain. Deeply entrenched traditions, such as the Mascaras
Festival in the town of Hatillo, Puerto Rico, are an example of Canarian culture
still preserved in Puerto Rico. Similarly, many thousands of Canarians emigrated
to the shores of Cuba as well. During the Spanish-American War of 1898, the
Spanish fortified the islands against possible American attack, but an attack
Romantic period and scientific expeditions
Coast El Golfo, El Hierro
Sirera and Renn (2004) distinguish two different types of expeditions, or voyages, during the period 1770-1830, which they term "the Romantic period”:
First are “expeditions financed by the States, closely related with the official scientific Institutions. characterized by having strict scientific objectives (and inspired by) the spirit of Illustration and progress”. In this type of expedition, Sirera and Renn include the following travellers:
* the British citizen Edens (1715) who ascends Mount Teide and publishes his
story in Philosophical Transactions.
* Louis Feuillée (1724), who was sent to measure the meridian of El Hierro and to map the islands.
* Charles Borda (1771, 1776) who more accurately measured the longitudes of the islands and the height of Mount Teide
* the Baudin-Ledru expedition (1796) which aimed to recover a valuable collection of natural history objects.
The second type of expedition identified by Sirera and Renn is one that took place starting from more or less private initiatives. Among these, the key exponents were the following:
* Alexander von Humboldt (1799)
* von Buch-Smith
Sirera and Renn identify the period 1770-1830 as one in which “In a panorama
dominated until that moment by France and England enters with strength and brio
Germany of the Romantic period whose presence in the islands will increase”.
Early 20th century
Casa de Colón y Pilar Nuevo (Gran Canaria)
At the beginning of the 20th century, the British introduced a new cash-crop, the banana, the export of which was controlled by companies such as Fyffes.
The rivalry between the elites of the cities of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Santa Cruz de Tenerife for the capital of the islands led to the division of the archipelago into two provinces in 1927. This has not laid to rest the rivalry between the two cities, which continues to this day.
During the time of the Second Spanish Republic, Marxist and anarchist workers'
movements began to develop, led by figures such as Jose Miguel Perez and Guillermo
Ascanio. However, outside of a few municipalities, these organizations were
a minority and fell easily to Nationalist forces during the Spanish Civil War.
In 1936, Francisco Franco was appointed General Commandant of the Canaries. He joined the military revolt of July 17 which began the Spanish Civil War. Franco quickly took control of the archipelago, except for a few points of resistance on the island of La Palma and in the town of Vallehermoso, on La Gomera. Though there was never a proper war in the islands, the post-war repression on the Canaries was most severe.
During the Second World War, Winston Churchill prepared plans for the British seizure of the Canary Islands as a naval base, in the event of Gibraltar being invaded from the Spanish mainland.
Opposition to Franco's regime did not begin to organize until the late 1950s,
which experienced an upheaval of parties such as the Communist Party of Spain
and the formation of various nationalist, leftist parties.
Auditorio de Tenerife, icon of modern architecture in the Canary Islands (Santa Cruz de Tenerife).
After the death of Franco, there was a pro-independence armed movement based
in Algeria, the MPAIAC. Now there are some pro-independence political parties,
like the CNC and the Popular Front of the Canary Islands, but none of them calls
for an armed struggle. Their popular support is insignificant, with no presence
in either the autonomous parliament or the cabildos insulares.
Parliament of the Canary Islands (Santa Cruz de Tenerife)
After the establishment of a democratic constitutional monarchy in Spain, autonomy was granted to the Canaries via a law passed in 1982. In 1983, the first autonomous elections were held. The Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) won. In the most recent autonomous elections (2007), the PSOE gained a plurality of seats, but the nationalist Canarian Coalition and the conservative Partido Popular (PP) formed a ruling coalition government. Still, the 1977 bombing of a flower shop in Las Palmas Gando airport and the threat of another bomb, both claimed by an pro-indepence group, led to the major air disaster in Los Rodeos airport in Tenerife, which claimed hundreds of victims, the deadliest result of an indepence group bombing and threats unsurpassed by 2009.