The Canary Islands, also known as the Canaries, are a Spanish archipelago located just off the northwest coast of mainland Africa, west of the border between Morocco and the Western Sahara. The Canaries are one of Spain's 17 autonomous communities and are among the outermost region of the European Union proper. The islands include (from largest to smallest): Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro, La Graciosa, Alegranza, Isla de Lobos, Montaña Clara, Roque del Este and Roque del Oeste.
The archipelago's beaches, climate and important natural attractions, especially Maspalomas in Gran Canaria and Teide National Park and Mount Teide in Tenerife (the third tallest volcano in the world measured from its base on the ocean floor), make it a major tourist destination with over 12 million visitors per year, especially Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote. The islands have a subtropical climate, with long warm summers and moderately warm winters. Due to their location above the temperature inversion layer, the high mountains of these islands are ideal for astronomical observation. For this reason, two professional observatories, Teide Observatory on the island of Tenerife and Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on the island of La Palma, have been built on the islands.
The capital of the Autonomous Community is shared by the cities of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, which in turn are the capitals of the provinces of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Province of Las Palmas. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria has been the largest city in the Canaries since 1768, except for a brief period in 1910. Between the 1833 territorial division of Spain and 1927 Santa Cruz de Tenerife was the sole capital of the Canary Islands. In 1927 a decree ordered that the capital of the Canary Islands be shared, as it remains at present. The third largest city of the Canary Islands is La Laguna (a World Heritage Site) on Tenerife.
Ancient and pre-colonial times
The islands were visited by 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 Numidian protégé, is credited with discovering the islands for the Western world. He dispatched a naval contingent to re-open the dye production facility at Mogador in what is now western Morocco 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. From the 14th century onward, numerous visits were made by sailors from Majorca, Portugal and Genoa. Lancelotto Malocello settled on Lanzarote in 1312. The Majorcans established a mission with a bishop in the islands that lasted from 1350 to 1400.
There may have been a Portuguese expedition that attempted to colonize the islands as early as 1336, but there is not enough hard evidence to support this. In 1402, the Castilian conquest of the islands began, with the expedition of French explorers Jean de Béthencourt and Gadifer de la Salle, nobles and vassals of Henry III of Castile, to 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. Despite Pope Nicholas V ruling that the Canary Islands were under Portuguese control, a crisis swelled to a revolt which lasted until 1459 with the final expulsion of the Portuguese. In 1479, Portugal and Castile signed the Treaty of Alcáçovas. The treaty settled disputes between Castile and Portugal over the control of the Atlantic, in which Castilian control of the Canary Islands was recognized but which also confirmed Portuguese possession of the Azores, Madeira, the Cape Verde islands and gave them rights to lands discovered and to be discovered...and any other island which might be found and conquered from the Canary islands beyond toward Guinea.
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 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.
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 Pieter van der Does, attacked the capital Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (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.
In 1618 the Algerian pirates attacked Lanzarote and La Gomera taking 1000 captives to be sold as slaves. 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
The sugar-based economy of the islands faced stiff competition from Spain's American colonies. Low prices 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. Between 1840 and 1890 as many as 40,000 Canary Islanders emigrated to Venezuela. Also, thousands of Canarians moved to Puerto Rico where 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. During the Spanish-American War of 1898, the Spanish fortified the islands against possible American attack, but an attack never came.
Romantic period and scientific expeditions
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 travelers:
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:
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
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 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.
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.
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 almost insignificant, with no presence in either the autonomous parliament or the cabildos insulares.
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 2007 elections, the PSOE gained a plurality of seats, but the nationalist Canarian Coalition and the conservative Partido Popular (PP) formed a ruling coalition government.
According to "Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas" (Sociological Research Center) in 2010, 43.5% of the population of the Canary Islands feels more Canarian than Spanish (37.6%), only Canarian (7.6%), compared to 5.4% that feels more Spanish than Canarian (2.4%) or only Spanish (3%). The most popular choice of those who feel equally Spanish and Canarian, with 49.9%. With these data, one of the Canary recorded levels of identification with higher autonomy from Spain.