Gran Canaria Historic Moments

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Volcanic Origins
Like all the Canary Islands, Gran Canaria is volcanic in origin and first emerged from the ocean 15 million yeas ago. A second spurt of volcanic activity created the northeast of the island 11 million years later. Happily, the volcanoes have been extinct for 3,000 years.

Arrival of the First Inhabitants
Mystery shrouds the island’s original inhabitants. Most historians argue that the Guanches arrived from North Africa around 2,000 BC. Others believe they were Vikings, or even Atlanteans! With the discovery of Cro-Magnon skulls, some have suggested that Cro-Magnon and Mediterranean man may have co-existed on the island.

Early Exploration
Although the Portuguese and Mallorcans had both sailed past the island, it wasn’t until 1405 that jean de Bethencourt landed. Though he had successfully taken Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, he could not overcome the tough Canarios. Juan Rejon had better luck in 1478, when he managed to set up the hamlet Real de Las Palmas, the island’s future capital.

Baptism and Defeat
The natives proved no match for the Spanish invaders. The northern chief, Tenesor Semidan, was captured, baptized, and enlisted in the Spanish cause. Final defeat came in 1483, when many of the remaining fighters jumped into a deep ravine rather than live in slavery.

Pirates Attack
The archipelago’s strategic position on the major trade routes brought fortune, but also trouble in the form of pirates. The defensive wall surrounding Las Palmas did little to protect it when Sir Francis Drake attacked in 1595, though he failed to defeat the locals. A more successful 10-day assault by Dutch corsair Pieter Van Der Does devastated the capital in 1599, and scores of churches and other historical buildings were sacked and burnt.

Mass Emigration
Following Columbus’s discovery of the New World, thousands of islanders headed across the ocean, settling throughout the Americas from Texas to Argentina. Most, however, made for the Caribbean islands and Venezuela. To this day, Venezuela is known as the “eighth island” due to its strong family links with the archipelago.

Boom and Bust
Contact with Latin America led to fierce competition and Gran Canaria’s sugar cane industry was ruined by tumbling prices. The wine and cochineal (food colouring) trades went the same way and, by the end of the 19th century, things were looking desperate, rekindling the mass exodus to Latin America.

Getting Connected
The development of Puerto de la Luz in 1881 was to change the island’s fortunes forever. It soon became the archipelago’s principal port and today it is one of Europe’s largest. The Canary Islands’ first airport was built just south of Las Palmas in 1930.

Franco Launches his Military Coup
When Spanish officials got wind of a rebellious general in March 1936, they quickly shipped him off to the Canary Islands. Their foresight didn’t pay off and, in July of the same year, General Franco and his followers launched an uprising from their headquarters in Las Palmas. It was the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. In 1939, Franco came to power and decades of Fascist rule began in Spain, only ending with his death in 1975.

Tourism Takes Hold
After the failed industries of earlier centuries, the islands needed a new and more stable source of jobs and income. Salvation arrived in the 1960s in the form of mass construction, and tomato plantations were soon giving way to high-rise hotels. The tables had turned, and tourism is now the pillar of the archipelago’s economy. Rather than somewhere to escape from, Gran Canaria has now become a favoured destination for immigrants.