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.
Lots of myths, theories and legends
surrounding the early history of the Canary Islands.
One widely accepted theory is that Gran Canaria’s natives, widely known as
Guanches although Canarios is actually the
correct historical term, originally came from North Africa and that they
were descendants of the Berber people.
The Guanches lived very primitively – as the unsophisticated tools and
weapons found on the island bear witness to – mostly
After the fall of the Roman Empire (476AD), Europe forgot about the Canary
Islands for almost 1,000 years and until the
rediscovery of the Canaries by Mediterranean sailors in the early 14th
century, the 30,000 Guanches on the island of Gran Canaria lived
a relatively peaceful life. This then changed drastically, in the 14th
century, as the Italians, Portuguese and Catalans sent
their ships to the islands to bring back slaves and furs. At the beginning
of the 15th century, the rapid process of the
conquest of the islands began.
In Gran Canaria, the Guanches fiercely resisted the Spanish invasion but, by
1483 Pedro de Vera, who led the Spanish forces,
had completed the conquest,begun by Juan Rejón five years earlier. Many
Guanches were killed or committed suicide rather than
surrender to the Spanish. Those who survived were forced into slavery and to
convert to Christianity, and soon started to
Contacts with the New World (because of the high emigration to Latin America
due to collapses of local industries), where
Cuba had won freedom from Spain in 1898,led to calls for Canarian
independence. Most people simply wanted the division of the
archipelago into two separate provinces (Las Palmas and Tenerife), which
eventually came about in 1927.
Going back in time to the year 1912, the Island Council’s Law was brought
into force, which led to a number of infrastructure
projects such as the airport, reservoirs and the principal motorway network
of the island, laying the foundation stone for the
development of the tourism industry. Another key date in the history of the
Canary Islands is 1982, when the Autonomous
Government Statutes were passed.
One thing that we can be sure of, is that the
Phoenicians, coming from what is known today as Cadiz, were bold sailors,
who explored the Atlantic Ocean between 1100-800 B.C. and very probably were
the ones to discover every one of the Canary Islands.
From 5000 B.C., the first settlers landed on La Gomera. It is unclear as to
whether they came from north African Berlan Tribes or if they were part of
the megalithic culture. It is also still unknown, if the settlement was part
of a specific migration.
It is assumed that the ancient inhabitants of the island, also known as “Guanches”,
had neither contact to Africa nor to the neighbouring islands.
They lived a peaceful life in a stone-age culture. Mostly they were farmers
and shepherds, who also sustained themselves by fishing.
The social structure of the Ancient Canarians, which was based on the
principal of equality, is seen as highly developed.
Spain’s conquest of La Gomera began in 1404, after the Norman aristocrat
Jean de Bethencourt annexed Lanzarote and Fuertaventura to the Spanish
In 1404, Bethencourt tried to invade La Gomera, but failed because of the
bitter resistance of the natives. An attack at a later time managed to
subdue two of the four tribes.
The Spanish authority changed many times, until Hernan de Peraza, together
with the beautiful Beatriz de Bobadilla, ruled over La Gomera in 1447.
The island's first recorded settlers were the
bimbaches or bimbapes, a native tribe that lived on the island at least from
the year 120 AD until it was conquered by Juan de Bethencourt for the
Kingdom of Castile. The bimbaches or bimbapes left us numerous petroglyphs,
such as those in El Julan, where they are most extensive and meaningful and
where we can also see remains of the ancient meeting placed called Tagoror.
They lived in caves or simple stone dwellings, in balance with their island
environment, from which they obtained sufficient resources for subsistence.
Agriculture, farming, hunting, fishing and gathering were their usual
The Role of the Kingdom of Castile
Later, the Kingdom of Castile paid French-Basque mercenaries to conquer it.
As of that time, the lands and other resources were no longer divided up
equally but were distributed using a feudal system.
On 6 January 1546, the statue of the Virgen de Los Reyes (Virgin of the
Kings) arrived by boat. The sailors gave it to some island shepherds in
exchange for provisions. That is how it came to belong to and be the patron
of the shepherds of La Dehesa and one of the most decisive features of the
history of El Hierro. Today it is the islanders' most profound social and
Columbus on the Island
In 1493, the island received the visit of one of the most famous and
important historical figures of all times. On his second voyage to America,
Christopher Columbus made a 17-day port of call to the island, gathering
supplies of water and food, and also waiting for better winds to push him
towards the Americas.
The medical benefits of El Hierro
Throughout the 19th century, El Hierro became an island where politicians,
military leaders and liberals were sent to live in exile. Nonetheless, this
was beneficial for the island when Leandro Pérez was exiled there. He was
the island's first doctor and confirmed the healing properties of the water
from the Pozo de la Salud – a well in Sabinosa. Numerous other doctors later
certified the properties of these waters and the spring became known as a
place of pilgrimage.
In 1899, a fire burnt the Valverde Town Hall to the ground, destroying the
archives created in 1553. In 1912, the Valverde and Frontera town councils
were created and the island acquired self-governance. On 15 September 2007,
the municipality of El Pinar was constituted, making it the youngest in all
An island with a lot of history created out of lives and stories experienced
The History of La Palma
The Canary islands were known in antiquity as the Western edge of the known
world. Homer referred to the Islands of the Blest, lying westward of
Maurusia (modern-day Morocco) (see extract from Strabo). The Canaries have
also been associated with Plato's description of the island of Atlantis (see
extract), though most modern historians discount this suggestion.
It is likely that the first people to discover the Canaries were early
Phoenician explorers, originating from Sidon and Tyre in modern-day Lebanon.
Herodotus claims that a Phoenician expedition circumnavigated Africa in the
6th century BC (see extract). Carthage, a north-African Phoenician colony,
sent a colonising expedition of 30,000 people to the west of Africa in about
425 BC (see extract from Hanno). Phoenician coins are claimed to have been
found as far afield as the Azores. Thor Heyerdahl sailed from Africa to
South America via the Canary Islands in the Ra, a boat made of papyrus, in
order to prove that the journey was possible for ancient mariners.
Around 120 AD, Marinus of Tyre wrote that the habitable world was bounded on
the west by the Fortunate Islands. The status of the Fortunate Islands as
the western edge of the known world was more formally established when
Claudius Ptolemy (AD 90 - 168), following Marinus, adopted the Fortunate
Islands as the prime meridian for his Geographia. This was the most famous
classical map of the world, unsurpassed for almost 1500 years. The Canaries
continued to be widely used as the prime meridian for maps of the world
until well into the 19th century - for example, Louis XIII decreed that EL
Hierro be used as prime meridian on all French maps in 1634, and this
continued until about 1800. Dutch maps of the period used the peak of El
Teide on Tenerife as their prime meridian. (see for example this 18th
century English engraving).
The Romans are known to have explored the Canary Islands. The most complete
classical account of the Canaries is by Pliny the Elder (see extract), taken
from a description of an expedition sent by Juba II, governor of the Roman
protectorate of Mauretania (modern-day Morocco) from about 29 BC to 20 AD.
The islands were found to be uninhabited at the time of this expedition,
though Junonia (the Roman name for La Palma) did have a 'small temple built
of a single stone', presumably evidence of earlier inhabitants or explorers.
During the middle ages the Canaries become more myth than reality. They
figure for example in the search by St Brendan (c. AD 484 - 578) for
paradise, which he assumed to be an island in the Atlantic Ocean (map).
Around the end of the 13th century, the Canaries were rediscovered by a
Genoese fleet under Lancelot Malocello. A detailed survey was made by
Nicoloso de Recco of Genoa in 1341. A papal bull of 1433 awarded rights over
the Canaries to Henry the Navigator of Portugal, but this decision was
reversed in 1436, when another papal bull awarded these rights to the crown
of Castile. In the Alcovas treaty of 1479, Portugal recognised the rights of
the Castilians to the Canaries, in return for Castilian recognition of
Portugese sovereignty over Fez and Guinea.
At the time of the rediscovery of the Canaries they were inhabited by an
indigenous people called the 'Guanches'. We know from cultural similarities
that the Guanches were Berbers from the mountains of Northwest Africa. How
they reached the Canaries has been the subject of much speculation,
particularly since at the time of the rediscovery they apparently had no
knowledge of seafaring techniques - surprising for a people living on a
small island with other nearby islands clearly visible.
There is evidence for two distinct Guanche racial types , usually referred
to as 'Cro-Magnoid' and 'Mediterranean'. Pottery remnants suggest there were
up to four distinct waves of colonisation, whilst carbon dating techniques
suggest that the first colonists arrived during the first millenium BC.
The Guanches named their island Benahoare, and divided it into 12 kingdoms,
each with its own ruler (see map, list). Estimates of the Guanche population
at the time of the conquest range from 1,200 to over 4,000.
The Guanches lived in caves, such as those at Belmacho near Mazo , and at
Zarza in Garafía . They mummified their dead. The Gaunche religion appears
to have centred around stone pyramids, and the Roque Idafe in the Caldera de
Taburiente. The legacy of the Guanches includes carvings of geometrical
forms and hand-made decorated pottery. Reproductions of these pots are still
made, in the artesania El Molino in Mazo
The conquest of the Canaries took from 1402, when Juan de Bethencourt landed
on Lanzarote, to 1496, when Tenerife fell to Alonso Fernandez de Lugo. The
conquest of La Palma started on the 29th of September of 1492, with the
landing on the beaches of Tazacorte by Fernandez de Lugo, and finished on
the 3rd of May of the following year. The last king of Benahoare to submit
himself to the invaders was the legendary Tanausu, who ruled the Kingdom of
Acero (Caldera de Taburiente). After two failed attempts by the Castilian
conquistadors to penetrate La Caldera to defeat him, Fernandez de Lugo sent
a man called Juan de Palma, a relative of Tanausu already converted to
christianity, to establish a truce. Tanausu agreed, but Fernandez de Lugo
broke the agreement, and Tanausu was captured in an ambush. Tanausu was
taken away into slavery, but refused to eat after leaving the island, and
died without seeing land again.
After the conquest, Alonso Fernandez de Lugo was appointed the first
governor of Tenerife and La Palma. Since he had been personally responsible
for financing the conquest, he was endowed by the crown with powers rather
more extensive than the governors of the other islands. These powers
included the disposition of slaves, the right to control entry and exit from
the islands, to exercise civil and criminal jurisdiction, and to appoint and
dismiss judicial deputies.
The richness of the island resulted in immigration not just from Castille,
but also of Portugese, Italians, Catalans, Basques and other northern
Europeans. Indeed, Fernandez de Lugo was accused at successive judicial
enquiries of favouring Genoese and Portugese above native Castilian. The
period of immigration was intense but relatively short-lived - after the
1520s immigration almost ceased, until the eighteenth century.
For an impression of La Palma in the period following the conquest, see this
map produced by Leonardi Torriani, an Italian engineer who toured the
Canaries fron 1587 to 1593 on an inspection of the islands fortifications.
Despite the large number of immigrants, the Guanches did not disappear,
being assimilated rather than exterminated. Gaspar Frutuoso writing at the
end of the 16th century described the population of La Palma as being evenly
divided between Castilian, Portugese and indigenous peoples. He reported
these elements of the population as already being largely interbred,
indistinguishable in faith and custom, and coexisting as equals.
The principal produce in pre-conquest days were dye-stuffs and shells. Of
particular importance was orchil, a moss-like dye-stuff. Wheat was
introduced during the 15th century, but towards the end of the century sugar
became the dominant export. Apiculture thrived alongside the sugar industry,
producing both honey and beeswax.
From the beginning of the 16th century the sugar industry was the basis of a
commercial boom. Shipbuilding enterprises were established and Santa Cruz de
La Palma's port developed sea connections with Europe and America. The
primary interest of foreign merchants was the export of sugar in return for
the import of cloth. Hakluyt described the trade by Nicholas Thorne of
Bristol in 1526, who exchanged sugar, orchil and goatskins for cloth 'both
coarse and fine, broad and narrow, of divers sorts and colours'.
La Palma figured prominently in this boom. One of the largest holdings in
the Canaries was the estate held from 1513 by the Welzers, a German banking
family, which included all the waters of the Tazacorte valley. Sugar was
being produced for export from La Palma in 1515 by the English merchant
Thomas Malliard, in partnership with the Genoese Francesco Spinola, at a
refinery at Rio de Los Sauces.
The Canaries became strategically important as a stopping point on the route
to the newly-discovered Americas. Christopher Columbus stopped at the
Canaries (but not La Palma) to restock before crossing the Atlantic for the
first time, and later mariners followed the same pattern. The transatlantic
sailings were known as the 'carrera de Indias'. From early spring ships
would leave Sevilla and follow the clockwise pattern of the prevailing
Atlantic trade winds down to the Canaries, and thence across through the
islands of the Lesser Antilles into the Southern Caribbean - see the 'Secret
Instruction for Navigation between Spain and the Isle of Santo Domingo',
published in 1526 by the Casa de Contratacion, the body established in 1503
to regulate the transatlantic trade.
The prosperity of the Canaries attracted famous pirates and corsairs of the
time, particularly the French Jambe de Bois (Peg-Leg) who sacked Santa Cruz
de La Palma in 1553. Most of the older buildings that can now be seen in
Santa Cruz date from the subsequent rebuilding of the city. In 1585 Santa
Cruz was attacked by an armada of 24 ships commanded by the English pirate
Francis Drake, resulting in the destruction of the harbour fort.
The expansion of the Brazilian sugar industry in the last quarter of the
sixteenth century dramatically reduced the demand for Canarian sugar. Wine
replaced sugar as the principal export. Of particular importance was the
production of Malvasia, a sweet dessert wine.
Malvasia wine remained a major source of income throughout the 17th and 18th
centuries, the wine being exported to Britain and the American colonies. The
position of the Canaries on the route to the Americas made commerce with the
colonies particularly attractive.
The Canarian economy was affected throughout much of this period by trade
restrictions imposed by the Casa de Contratacion in Sevilla, which was
responsible for overseeing the crown monopoly on trade with the American
colonies. For example, in 1610 exports from the Canaries were limited to a
total of 1000 tons, of which 300 was from La Palma. The destination of these
exports was also restricted. In 1613 the total was reduced to 600 tons and
in 1627 to 700. Regulations introduced in 1678 required 5 families to
emigrate to America for every 100 tons of exports.
A more liberal regime was introduced by Charles III in the second half of
the 18th century. Trade was liberalised from 1778 onwards, and produce
included cotton, tobacco and silk. During the 18th century the port of Santa
Cruz was regarded as the third largest of the empire, after Antwerp and
Sevilla. (see 'Civitas Palmaria', an 18th century watercolour of Santa
Portugese and Madeiran wines provided strong competition to Malvasia
throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. The wine trade with England slumped
at the beginning of the 19th century, with the introduction of port wine to
the English market.
The wine trade was replaced around 1825 by the growing of cochineal, a
cactus parasite used as a food colouring, which became an important source
of income. However, this industry was hit by the introduction of artificial
colourings in the 1870s, resulting in widespread hardship.
The production of sugar cane reappeared, and around 1880 a rudimentary
tourist industry started. At the turn of the century the first banana plants
appeared. The resulting prosperity was however to be short-lived, due to the
effects of world war 1 on foreign trade.
Economic hardship during the latter part of the 19th century and the first
half of the 20th century resulted in high levels of emigration, Cuba being
the preferred destination up to the 1930s, and Venezuala subsequently. Many
Canarians retain strong family links with Cuba and Venezuala.
The Canarian economy continued to be dominated by agriculture until the
early 1960s. Liberalisation introduced by the Franco regime from 1960
onwards allowed an economic revival, based on bananas, annual exports of
which exceed 130 million kilograms, plus other produce, forestry and
tobacco. Most important of all was the growth of the tourist industry, from
73,240 tourists in 1960 to over 2 million tourists in 1975.
The Chinijo Archipelago includes the islands
La Graciosa, Alegranza, Montaña Clara, Roque del Este and Roque del Oeste.
It has a surface of 40.8 km2 (15.8 sq mi), and a population of 658
inhabitants all of them on La Graciosa. With 29 km2 (11 sq mi), La Graciosa,
is the smallest inhabited island of the Canaries, and the major island of
the Chinijo Archipelago.
THE CHINIJO ARCHIPELAGO