History of Gran Canaria

The beginning

The history of Gran Canaria began several million years ago. Like all of the Canary Islands, Gran Canaria was formed during volcanic eruptions. The island first emerged from the Atlantic  Ocean 14 million years ago. The northeast part of Gran Canaria was created 11 million years later, after a second outburst of volcanic activity.

First inhabitants of Gran Canaria

There are various opinions on who were the island’s original inhabitants. Most scientists who study the history of Gran Canaria believe that they arrived from North Africa around 2,000 BC, while some others think that they could have been Vikings or Atlanteans. Gran Canaria was named by its original inhabitants as Tamaran, because of the Arabic name for date palms (tamar).

Around the second-first century BC, the island became populated by the new arrivals – the Guanches (“Guan” meaning “man” and “che” meaning “white mountain”, referring to the Teide volcano on Tenerife). However, where did they come from, is not clear also. It is believed that Guanches were well built, strong, blue-eyed and blond-haired people.

Playa de Las Alcaravaneras in Las Palmas Gran Canaria

Playa de Las Alcaravaneras in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria

Conquest of Gran Canaria

The next stage in the history of Gran Canaria’s was in the fifteenth age, the Age of Exploration. In 1405 a French explorer Jean de Bethencourt landed in the island. Though he had taken Fuerteventura, Lanzarote and El Hierro, he could not manage to do the same with Gran Canaria. In 1478 an Aragonese captain Juan Rejón, who was delegated to participate in the conquest of the Canary Islands by the Catholic Monarchs, landed in Gran Canaria. Rejón founded the current capital of the island – Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

But because of the problems with his men Rejón was sent back to Spainand replaced by Pedro de Vera, who continued the campaign. He had the good luck as the island’s Guanche chief Tenesor Semidan was captured, sent to Spainand converted to Christianity. In 1483, after his come back, Semidan (Don Fernando Guanarteme after the baptism) convinced his people to surrender. However, many of them jumped into ravine rather than live in slavery.

Economic booms and busts

Gran Canaria was colonized by people from Galicia, Andalusia, Portugal, Italy, France, Britain and Ireland. The island experienced a successful boom from sugar export and transatlantic trade between America and Spain. However the colonization of America and Caribbean halted the sugar industry because of the cheaper workforce in the new regions.

A lot of islanders left and settled in America, the Caribbean islands and Venezuela. This country and now is often called as the “eighth island” because of the strong family links with the Canary Islands.

Economy of the Canary Islands was saved by the growing demand of wine. Most of it was produced in Tenerife and Gran Canaria. At the beginning Gran Canaria declined to its competitor and superior wine grower – Tenerife, but in the late 19th century recovered its position.

In the nineteenth century Gran Canaria became important as a refuelling place for steamship traffic and brought big investments from Britain and the other countries. The expansion of Port of Las Palmas (also known as Puerto de la Luz) in 1881 changed the island’s fortunes forever. This port not only became the main in the Canary Islands, but also one of the biggest in Europe.

However, after that came another economic bust and emigration wave in the history of Gran Canaria, which was resulted by the outbreak of World War I. The blockade ruined international trade and banana export dropped significantly.

Francisco Franco comes to power

In 1936, fearing the putsch, Spanish officials shipped off General Francisco Franco, a hero of Moroccan wars to the Canary Island. However in the same year Franco and his followers took control of the islands and the Spanish Civil Was began and lasted till 1939. Franco came to power and long years of Fascist rule began in Spain. At that moment the Canary Islands stopped to develop economically. This led to the foundation of Canary Islands Independence Movement (CIIM) in 1963 that aimed for the independence of archipelago.

After Franco’s death in 1975 and the establishment of a democratic constitutional monarchy in Spain, in 1982 the Canary Islands were granted autonomy. Now local authorities are in control of education, health services and transport, while defence, foreign policy and finances are in the hands of central government.

Tourism becomes the main economy

While Franco was still in power, after the failed industries of previous centuries, the Canary Islands started looking for a new source of jobs and financial income. The solution was found and in the 1960s followed one of the most important events in the history of Gran Canaria: the borders were opened for sun-seeking European tourists. Though it failed to improve the situation at the beginning, later tourism became the main economy of Gran Canaria.

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