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Tenerife – The Island & Its History

Tenerife is one of 7 principal islands in the archipelago known as the Canary Islands. It is also the largest and most populated of the islands, with a land mass of over 2,000km2 and a population somewhere north of 1 million inhabitants, accounting for 43% of the total population of the 7 principal Canary Islands.  Over 5 million tourists visit the island each year, with numbers increasing by approximately 5% per annum over the past few years.

The island is dominated by majestic Mount Teide, an active volcano which formed over 12 million years ago. At 3,718 metres tall it is the highest peak in Spain and the tenth highest in the world. Following any substantial rainfall during the winter months, tourists can sunbathe on a beach whilst marvelling at the backdrop of the snow-capped mountain. The mountain is located in the Teide National Park, which was named an UNESCO World Heritage Site in June 2007. The Park boasts a variety of natural wonders in addition to one of the world’s most famous astronomical observatories.

The capital city is Santa Cruz, which is situated in the north east of the island and has a population of over 200,000.

Although Tenerife and the Canary Islands are a part of Spain, the culture and history is quite distinct. The island was colonised by the Guanches in around 200 BC, who remained in control of the islands until the Spanish invaded in around 1494. It is estimated that over 20% of generational Canarians have DNA traceable back to the Guanches.

Admiral Horatio Nelson famously lost his arm at Santa Cruz as a result of cannon fire during the British invasion of Tenerife in 1797.

The Canary Islands have also developed and maintained close links with Latin American countries, particularly Venezuela and Cuba. From as early as the 17th Century, large numbers of Canarians emigrated to the New World and vice versa. More recently, emigration to Cuba soared in the 1950’s under the rule of General Franco. As a result, Spanish pronunciation is closer to that of Latin America, where the hard ‘c’ and ‘z’ (pronounced ‘SEH’) are used rather than the soft ‘c’ and ‘z’ of mainland Spain (pronounced ‘THEH’).

A large number of Canarians do not actually consider themselves to be Spanish and as with all regions that were suppressed or controlled during the Franco regime, many have a distrust of Madrid. A minority are actually in favour of independence from Spain and there is a widespread sympathy for other autonomous regions (e.g. Catalonia). Whilst not always voiced actively, the fact that ‘Barcelona FC’ supporters in Tenerife appear to outnumber ‘Real Madrid FC’ supporters by 5 to 1 speaks volumes.

Whilst owned by Spain and under Spanish rule, the Canary Islands are made up of 2 autonomous communities, namely ‘Santa Cruz de Tenerife’ and ‘Las Palmas de Gran Canaria’. Each island is governed by a ‘Cabildo’ (Council).