Canary Islands

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"Canaries" redirects here. For the bird, see canary.
Comunidad Autónoma de
Image:Locator map of Canary.png
Capitals Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
Santa Cruz de Tenerife
 – Total
 – % of Spain
Ranked 13th
 7 447 km²
 – Total (2003)
 – % of Spain
 – Density
Ranked 8th
 1 843 755
 – English
 – Spanish

 Canary Islander (Canarian)
Statute of Autonomy August 16, 1982
ISO 3166-2 ES-CN

 – Congress seats
 – Senate seats
 2 (by Autonomic Goberment), 3 for Tenerife, 3 for Gran canaria, and one for every other island=13
President Adán Martín Menis (CC)
Gobierno de Canarias

The Canary Islands are an archipelago of seven islands of volcanic origin in the Atlantic Ocean, off the northwestern coast of Africa (Morocco and Western Sahara). The islands belong to Spain, and form an autonomous community of that country. The name comes from the Latin Insularia Canaria meaning Island of the Dogs, a name applied originally only to the island of Gran Canaria.



Before the Castilian conquest, the Canary Islands were inhabited by the Guanches, a people possibly related to the Berbers of North Africa. Until the mid-20th century, some investigators held to a theory linking the Berber populations to Germanic tribes. This theory is now rejected by historians and anthropologists alike. The currently accepted theory is that they were brought there by the Phoenicians or the Romans. The most probable hypothesis points to succesive waves of migration from North Africa. The only available source document—the "legend of the detongued"—tells of the forced migration of the southern Berbers before the advance of the Roman Empire.

The principal economic activities of the Guanches were shepherding, agriculture, fishing, and gathering fruits. By the 1600's the Guanches were all but extinct as a separate race, but many did intermarry with the conquering Spaniards. Guanche or Berber traits can still be seen among many present day Canarians which tend to have slightly darker complexions than most Spaniards, but otherwise indistinguishable.

The Canary Islands were known in antiquity. The first awareness of the islands' existence must have been very ancient, since the peak of Mt Teide can be seen on clear days from certain points of the African coast. It is possible that the islands were discovered by the Carthaginian captain Hanno in his voyage along the African coast, and that they were visited by the Phoenicians, who sought the precious red dye extracted from the orchilla, for which reason the islands were also known as The Purple Isles. Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, and Romans traded with the islands over the centuries. Homer refers to them as The Elysian Fields, the place where warriors and notable men went to rest after death, and in the Odyssey he describes their climate: "it is a place where men live a sweet and peaceful life, without snow, harsh winters, or rain, but a perennial cool air, born of the breath of the zephyrs that the ocean exhales in a musical breath". They were also know as the Hesperides. Plato made them the site of Atlantis, the sunken island civilization. Pliny the Elder was the first to call them The Fortunate Islands. Plutarch was informed of the existence of the islands by Sertorius, who planned to flee there from Spain due to his political problems.

During the 1000 years between the 4th century and the 14th, the islands seem to disappear from history. The only documented testimony of this period, and very doubtful at that, is the famous voyage of Saint Brendan, whose legend endured for centuries in Christian Europe. During the Middle Ages, they were visited by the Arabs for commercial reasons. From the 14th century onward, there were numerous visits made by sailors from Mallorca, Portugal, and Genoa. Lancelotto Malocello settled on Lanzarote in 1312. The Mayorcans established a mission in the islands with a bishop, that lasted from 1350 to 1400, and from which remain various paintings and statues of the Virgin Mary that are currently venerated in the island, just as they were in the past by the converted Guanches.

In 1402, the conquest of the islands began, with the expedition of Juan de Bethencourt and Gadifer de la Salle to the island of Lanzarote, Norman nobles who were vassals of Henry III of Castile. From there, he conquered Fuerteventura and Hierro. Béthencourt received the title King of the Canary Islands, but recognized King Henry III as his overlord.

Béthencourt also established a base on the island of Gomera, but it would be many years before the island was truly conquered. The people of Gomera, as well as the Gran Canaria, Tenerife, and La Palma people, resisted the Spanish invaders for almost a century.

The conquest of the Canaries, which took almost 100 years, set a precedent for the conquest of the New World, with complete annhilation of the native culture and rapid assimilation to Christianity. Due to the topology and the resistance of the native Guanches, the conquest was not completed until 1496, when the conquest of Tenerife was completed and the Canaries were incorporated into the Castilian kingdom. Between 1448 and 1459, there was a crisis between Castile and Portugal over the control of the islands, when Maciot de Bethencourt sold the lordship of Lanzarote to Portugal's Prince Henry the Navigator, an action that was not accepted by the natives or the Castilian residents of the island, who initiated a revolt and expelled the Portuguese.

After the conquest, the Spanish imposed a new economic model based on single-crop cultivation— first, sugar cane, then wine, an important trade item with England. In this era, the first institutions of government were founded.

The islands became a stopping point in the trade routes with America, Africa, and India, and the port of La Palma became one of the most important ports of the Spanish Empire. The town of Santa Cruz, on La Palma, became a stopping point for the Spanish conquerors, traders, and missionaries on their way to the New World. This trade brought great prosperity to certain social sectors of the islands. The islands became very wealthy and soon attracted merchants and adventurers from all over Europe. Magnificent palaces and churches were built on La Palma during this busy, prosperous period. Of particular interest to visitors is the Church of El Salvador, one of the island's finest examples of the architecture of the 1500s.

However, because of the crises of single-crop cultivation in the 18th century and later, the independence of Spain's American colonies in the 19th century, caused severe recessions. A new cash crop, the cochinilla, came into cultivation.

During the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, owing to economic crises in the archipelago, a series of emigrations took place, primarily for the Americas.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the English introduced a new cash-crop, the banana, the export of which was controlled by companies such as Fyffes.

The rivalry between the elites of the cities of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and La Palma for the capital-ship of the islands would lead to the division of the archipelago in two provinces in 1927, though this has not laid to rest the rivalry between the two cities, which continues to this day.

During the time of the Second Spanish Republic, workers' movements with marxist and anarchist ideologies began to develop, led by figures such as Jose Miguel Perez and Guillermo Ascanio. However, outside of a few municipalities, these organizations were a minority.

In 1936, Francisco Franco traveled to the Canaries as General Commandant. From the Canaries, he launched the military uprising of July 17. He quickly took control of the archipelago, with the exception of a few focal points of resistance on the island of La Palma and in the town of Vallehermoso, on Gomera island. Despite the fact that there was never a proper war in the islands, they were one of the places where the post-war repression was most severe.

Opposition to Franco's regime did not begin to organize until the late 1950s, which saw the formation of groups such as the Spanish Communist Party and various nationalist, leftist, and independence-terrorist movements, such as the Free Canaries Movement and the MPAIAC.

After Franco's death and the installation of a democratic constitutional monarchy, a bill of autonomy was put forth for the Canaries, which was approved in 1982. In 1983, the first autonomous elections were held, and were won by the Spanish socialist party, PSOE. The current ruling party is the Canarian Coalition.

Physical geography

The islands and their capitals are:

The nearest island is 108 km from the northwest African coast.

The islands form the Macaronesia ecoregion with the Azores, Cape Verde, Madeira, and the Savage Isles. The Teide volcano on Tenerife is the highest mountain in Spain, and the third largest volcano on Earth. According to the position of the islands with respect to the trade winds, the climate can be mild and wet or very dry. Several native species are conserved, like the dragon tree Dracaena draco and the Laurisilva forests.

Four of Spain's 13 national parks are located in the Canary Islands, more than any other autonomous community:

Political geography

The Autonomous Community of the Canary Islands consists of two provinces, Las Palmas and Santa Cruz de Tenerife, whose capitals (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Santa Cruz de Tenerife) are co-capitals of the autonomous community. Each of the seven major islands is ruled by an assembly named cabildo insular.

Maps of the Canary Islands drawn by William Dampier during his voyage to New Holland in 1699
Maps of the Canary Islands drawn by William Dampier during his voyage to New Holland in 1699
Map of the Canary Islands
Map of the Canary Islands


The economy is based on tourism 32% of GDP construction near 20% and tropical agriculture (banana, tobacco) for exportation to Europe and the Americas. They receive about 10 million tourists per year. Ecologists are concerned that the resources, especially in the drier islands, are being overexploited.

Their economy size is (measured as Gross Domestic Product 2001 figures) 25 billion euro. Two times the size of Costa Rica and one-third the size of Venezuela. Remarkable, taken into account their population and surface. Canary Island is also one of the most powerful economies of central atlantic region, including the zone called "macaronesian" (who include Cape Verde, Madeira, Azores and Canary Islands). The islands experienced continued growth during approximately 20 years in a row (last 20 until 2001), at a rate of 5% annualy approximately, fueled mainly due to huge amounts of Foreign Direct Investment mostly to develop tourism real state (hotels and apartments) and European Funds (near 11 billion euro in 2000-2007 period) since the Canary Islands is labelled Region Objective 1 (ellegible to euro structural funds).

The combination of high mountains, belonging to Europe, and clean sky has made the Roque de los Muchachos (in La Palma island) peak a leading placement for telescopes like the Grantecan.

The islands are outside European Union customs territory, though politically within the EU. The ISO 3166-1 α-2 code IC is reserved for representing them in customs affairs. Goods subject to Spanish customs and excise duties and VAT, such as tobacco or electronic goods, are therefore significantly cheaper in the Canaries. The islands do not have a separate Internet country code from the rest of Spain. The currency is the euro.

Canarian time is WET, one hour less than that of mainland Spain and the same as that of London.

External links

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