The History of Gran Canaria

June 11 2011

There are lots of myths and legends surrounding the early history of the Canary Islands. It would seem that the island was already populated around 500BC. The natives of Gran Canaria, widely known as ‘Guanches’ (although the correct term is ‘Canarios’), originally came from North Africa and were descendents of the Berber people. The Guanches lived very primitively, mostly in caves and under rock spurs. The 30,000 Guanches on the island of Gran Canaria lived a peaceful life until the rediscovery of the Canary Islands by Mediterranean sailors in the early 14th century. Things on the Island then changed dramatically as throughout the 14th century the Italians, Portuguese and Catalans sent their ships to the islands to get slaves and furs for their own countries.


The Spanish invasion and conquest of the Island, which took place during the reign of the Catholic Monarchs in the last third of the fifteenth century, was fiercely resisted by the Guanches. However, in 1483, Pedro de Vera completed the conquest that was started five years earlier by Juan Réjon. Many Guanches were killed, or committed suicide rather than surrender to the Spanish. Those that were left were forced into slavery and forced to convert to Christianity.


The Crown of Castile began to infiltrate the Island of Gran Canaria in political, social, and economic terms. The Capital of Gran Canaria became the administrative centre and epicentre of the planning of the archipelago. During the 17th century, cracks started to appear, which was caused by a lull in the exportation of agricultural products to America and the rest of Europe.


A special economic regime designed to favour trading relations wasn’t established in the Canary Islands until the middle of the nineteenth century. This new regime acted as a major trading attraction as it was based on tax exemptions and facilities for free trade, so the number of British ships and shipping companies using the Island multiplied.


Due to this shipping traffic, the tourism industry in Gran Canaria was born. From the second half of the 19th century, Gran Canaria began to gain popularity in Europe. Shipping companies began to equip their vessels with cabins to transport tourists and they took the initiative in building one of the first hotels on the island – the hotel Santa Catalina in 1890. This is the only hotel dating from the beginning of tourism that is still open today.


It was only in the 1950’s when the island began to receive significant numbers of tourists because the development of tourism and services had been affected by a number of wars – the two World Wars and the Spanish Civil War.


At Christmas in 1957, an aeroplane from the Swedish airline Transair AB, landed at Gando with all 54 of its seats occupied. This was the first of the charter flights with which Gran Canaria launched itself into the mass tourism market.

 

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