The island was first formed by volcanic
eruptions which started around 20 million years ago, and ended about 5
million years ago; and these created the oldest and second largest (1660
km2) Canary Island. The last volcanic eruption on the island was 4-5,000
years ago (2000-3000BC). Since then the volcanic landscape has been eroded
by the weather.
In the early history of Fuerteventura, it is believed that the first
settlers on the island arrived from North Africa, and they lived in caves
and underground holes. There is a museum at La Atalayita, in the Antigua
municipality, which shows these dwellings and the type of tools and pottery
they used. These people lived there from the 5th Century BC onwards, and
were known as the "Guanches."
They lived in the Stone Age and had flocks of goats.
From the 11th Century, different settlers arrived on the island – the
Phoenicians, the Spanish and the Portugese.
In the later history of Fuerteventura, the island was divided into two
kingdoms. Jandia was in the
south of the island, and Maxorata
was in the north. A wall separated the two, close to La Pared, and some of
it remains intact today. Two of the kings were Ayoze, who ruled the south,
and Guize, who ruled the north. At this time, the island was known as
Herbania, and it was also known as Planeria at some stage. Ayoze and Guize
are such an important part of Fuerteventura’s history that giant statues of
them have been placed at the view point above the old capital Betancuria.
Early island people were known as ‘Mahorero’ or ‘Maho’ which derives from
the word ‘mahos’ which were shoes made out of goat skin that were worn by
the early settlers. The word ‘Majorero’ is used today to describe someone
who is born on the island.
A major event in the history of Fuerteventura was The Conquest, which began
in 1402 and ended in 1406. The Frenchman,
Bethancourt led the conquest
of the island after leaving Lanzarote. With his general, Gadifer de La Salle
and 63 men, they landed at Ajuy on the west coast and conquered the island.
He established the first major settlement on the island, Betancuria, and it
became the capital.
At this time the population of the island was 1,200; and was called "Forte
Ventura" (this is the name as it appears, for the first time, on a map by
Angelino Dulcert, in 1339). "Forte" means strong and "Ventura" could mean
wind, luck or destiny).
From 1476, the island was ruled by the Spanish military and influential
families. A military Colonel ruled the island from 1708, when construction
began on the Casa de Coroneles (the Colonel’s House) in La Oliva. This
impressive residence is now a museum after extensive renovations in 2006.
From then on,the island was invaded by the Spanish, French and English, and
suffered frequent pirate raids. To avoid these types of attacks, several
castles were built along the coast, and most of the population moved inland.
The Castillo de San Buenaventura in Caleta de Fuste is a good example of
this. A famous part of Fuertentura history is the English pirate raid in
1740, which was thwarted by the local farmers, and this Battle of Tamasite,
is celebrated every year in Tuineje on October 12.
In the more recent history of Fuerteventura, parishes were created in La
Oliva, Pajara and Tuineje in 1835, and this created the municipalities that
In 1859 the control of the island ended, and in the following year, Puerto
Cabras became the capital of the island. In the 1950’s Puerto Cabras changed
its name to Puerto del Rosario.
In 1917, Fuerteventura became part of the province of Gran Canaria.
Lobos's Island volcanic field
Massif of Betancuria
Massif of Haler
Montaña de La Arena
Montaña de Tindaya
Vulcan of Jacomar
Massif of Marissa
Massif of Los Ajaches
Montaña de El Golfo
Montaña del Fuego
Timanfaya Volcanic Field
Volcan of La Corona
As with the other Canary Islands, Lanzarote’s
early history is veiled in myth and mystery, especially because it is the
oldest of the Canaries, with about 180 million years. Populated for at least
2000 years, according to recent archaeological discoveries, Lanzarote was
originally inhabited by Berbers, a people from North Africa. Grazing,
fishing and agriculture were the main forms of livelihood for these first
inhabitants, who became known as ‘Majos’.
Greeks and Romans certainly knew of the existence of these islands, as
proven by excavations in Lanzarote, where pieces of metal and glass were
found. These artefacts, dated between the first and the fourth centuries,
proved that Romans used to trade with the people of these islands, though
there is no evidence they ever set foot there.
After the fall of the Roman Empire (476AD), the Canary Islands fell into
oblivion for almost 1,000 years, to be then rediscovered in the early 14th
century by Mediterranean sailors. In fact, it is widely
believed that the name "Lanzarote" derives from Lanzarotto (or Lancelotto)
Malocello, a Genoese sailor, who first moored on the island in the early
1300s. After this, Lanzarote was invaded several times by Europeans, who
sought to conquer wealth and glory, by capturing natives to work as slaves
in their countries.
Over the years, many expeditions headed to the Canaries, but the ultimate
conquest began, in the early 15th century, under the fist of the Norman
explorers Juan de Bethencourt and Gadifer de la Salle.
Since Lanzarote was, at that time, an extremely depopulated island, natives
were willing to sign a non-aggression and friendship pact with the invaders,
receiving in return protection against pirates and slavers.
Later, Juan de Bethencourt named his nephew, Maciot de Bethencourt, the
first governor of Lanzarote, and then returned to France. Maciot would then
marry Princess Teguise of Lanzarote and found a town after her name.
But conquering Lanzarote – as well as Fuerteventura, La Gomera and El Hierro
– was, actually, no great feat, since the small native population on these
islands had already been decimated by the diseases introduced by the
Europeans during the years of slave trading. So, to increase the local
population, many slaves were taken from North Africa, and dromedaries were
also brought to this island.
At the beginning of the Spanish conquest, the islands of the archipelago
experienced different histories. While the bigger islands of Gran Canaria
and Tenerife still rendered fierce resistance – it took almost a century
until they finally surrendered to the Spanish crown – the process of
exploration and colonisation of Lanzarote was already going strong. Soon,
the first churches were built and the surviving Majos were forced to convert
The Phoenicians were here for around 300
years from 1100 BC though the Guanches, who arrived around 200 BC, had the
biggest early impact. They ruled the roost until the Spanish conquest in the
latter part of the 15th century saw the Spanish absorb Tenerife from nearby
Gran Canaria. Though they put up a gallant defense, the Guanche ultimately
succumbed to the superior Spaniards’ military might, and through murder and
Tenerife was in an ideal spot for resupply to the New World, and so was
planted with sugarcane and other crops. Even Columbus stocked up here. La
Laguna was established at this time and became the capital of Tenerife.
Declared a World Heritage site in 1999, La Laguna has the pick of the
historic sites, including the 16th century Royal Sanctuary church and the
1904 Cathedral of La Laguna.
La Laguna gave way to Santa Cruz de Tenerife (Santa Cruz) in the 1700s due
to declining economy and populace. The port eventually became the capital of
Tenerife and the Canary Islands, a status which is today shared with Las
Palmas. It was the site of the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in 1797,
when Lord Nelson lost an arm.
Tourism arrived early in Tenerife, with rich Europeans heading to Puerto de
la Cruz and Santa Cruz from the late 1800s to escape the frigid winters back
home. Tourism quickly became the main source of revenue for the island.
Franco arrived on Tenerife in 1936 prior to the Spanish Civil War though the
islands quickly fell to the Nationalists, while WWII saw the emigration of
many Canarians to Latin America.
Today, Tenerife thrives on tourism. The History Museum of Tenerife in Santa
Cruz is the best option to learn more of its story and of the Canaries as a
whole. La Orotava, near Puerto de la Cruz, also has a good history museum
(Casa de los Balcones) and an art museum.