Canary Islands: History

More than simply Sun, Sea and Sand

Canary Islands History

It is said that the Canary Islands were discovered by the western world thanks to King Juba. When Europeans began exploring the islands, they encountered several indigenous populations living at a Neolithic level of technology. The islands were visited during the Middle Ages by the Arabs, for purposes of a commercial nature. From the 14th century onward, The islands were visited numerous times by sailors from Majorca, Portugal, and Genoa. The Castilian conquest of the islands began in 1402. The conquest saw the expedition to the island of Lanzarote by Jean de Béthencourt and Gadifer de la Salle, who were nobles and vassals of Henry III of Castile. From there, they succeeded in conquering both Fuerteventura and El Hierro. Béthencourt thus became King of the Canary Islands, but despite his title he still recognized King Henry III as his overlord. La Gomera, Gran Canaria, Tenerife, and La Palma natives all managed to resist the Castilian invaders for almost a century. Béthencourt did however establish a base on the island of La Gomera, but it would be many years before the island was truly conquered. Finally, in 1479, Portugal recognised Castilian control of the Canary Islands in the Treaty of Alcaçovas. After the conquest the first institutions of colonial government were founded. Both Gran Canaria and Tenerife, which had been a Spanish colony since 1495, had separate governors. The cities of Santa Cruz in Tenerife and Las Palmas in Gran Canaria both became stopping points for 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 grew to become quite wealthy and as a result began to attract merchants and adventurers from all over Europe. But the wealth in the Canary Islands also invited attacks by pirates and privateers. The most severe attack took place during the Dutch War of Independence, which led to the Dutch laying siege to the city of Las Palmas and demanding it surrender of all its wealth. They received only 12 sheep and 3 calves. In the 18th and 19th Centuries, a new cash crop, cochineal (cochinilla), came into cultivation and saved the islands' economy, which until then had been facing stiff competition from Spain's American colonies. And at the beginning of the 20th century, the British introduced a new cash-crop, the banana. Export of bananas was controlled by companies such as Fyffes.