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Ancient history

La Palma, like other Canary Islands, is volcanic in origin. La Palma rose out of the sea millions of years ago, an estimated 5-10 million years ago.

Around 3000 years ago, writers such as Homer already spoke of the 'islands of the blessed'. Between 1100 and 800 B.C., the Canary Islands were discovered by the Phoenicians, coming from present-day Cadiz, and the Carthaginians.

There is still no agreement on the origin of the original inhabitants. According to one theory, there were several waves of immigration of different tribes from the Mediterranean region from around 3000 BC. Usually, the original ones from the Canary Islands are called Guanches. The Guanches lived in the Stone Age and were shepherds and gatherers. They lived in caves and quarries and called La Palma 'Benahore'. Around 250 BC the first settlements were built on La Palma.

In the 1st century AD the Roman writer Pliny the Elder mentioned an expedition by the Mauretan King Juba II to the 'Insulae fortunatae'. La Palma was called 'Lunonia maior' by Pliny.


In the year 999 AD, the Canary Islands were rediscovered by the Arab Ben Farroukh who named the islands Al Djezir al-Khalidah. In 1016 and at the beginning of the 12th century, several more expeditions followed.

In 1312, the Italian Lancelotto Malocello entered the island of Lanzarote and founded the settlement of Teguise there. Majorcan and Portuguese traders were also very interested in the Canary Islands in their quest for slaves and natural dyes.

The first map of the archipelago was made in 1339 by the Majorcan cartographer Dulcert. In 1402, the Norman Jean de Béthencourt conquered Lanzarote for the Castilian crown and was given the title of 'King of the Canary Islands'.

The people of Lanzarote rebelled against De Béthencourt, but the latter put down the rebellion with the help of his stadtholder Gadifer de la Salle. King Guadarfia was baptised and the chapel of the fortress of Rubicón became the first bishop's seat in the Canaries. By force of circumstance, De Béthencourt conquered Fuerteventura, Lanzarote and El Hierro, but he did not get hold of La Gomera. In 1414, De Béthencourt gave the Canary Islands to the Iberian Count of Niebla.

From 1440 onwards, the Canary Islands were ruled by the Peraza people in a heavy-handed manner and this period was marked by many rebellions.

La Palma definitively Spanish territory

During the period 1433-1479, the Spanish and the Portuguese fought over the Canary Islands. In 1479 the archipelago was granted to Spain in the Treaty of Alcáçovas and Portugal was allowed to annex the Azores, Cape Verde and Madeira. In the last decades of the 15th century, successively all the Canary Islands were conquered: in 1483 Gran Canaria, in 1488 La Gomera, in 1495 Tenerife and in 1496 La Palma. On September 29, 1492, Fernández de Lugo landed in Puerto de Tazacorte. After bloody battles, the population of the island surrendered on May 3, 1493. De Lugo became governor on La Palma and was given the best land in the fertile Aridane valley. He started cultivating sugar cane, requiring many slaves.

In the 16th century, the Canary Islands became a major exporter of sugar, which was grown on large sugar cane plantations. However, the sugar industry collapsed due to cheap sugar from South America.

Around 1550, the heyday of viticulture began. From 1553 raids by pirates increased; the Frenchman Le Clerc raided the capital and reduced it to ashes. In 1585 English pirates tried in vain to occupy the capital of La Palma. From 1715 there was a marked decline in wine exports.

The first university of the Canary Islands was founded in Tenerife in 1744. In 1797 the Canary Islands were attacked for the last time by Admiral Horatio Nelson, who attacked Santa Cruz de Tenerife that year. In the 19th century carmine, a natural dye from the lice that live on fig cacti, became an important export item. But even this lucrative business was not long-lived. Soon cochineal began to face competition from artificial dyes.

Canary Islands province and free trade zone

In 1821, the Canary Islands became a province of Spain, with Santa Cruz de Tenerife as its capital. The result was a flaring rivalry between the two largest islands in the archipelago, Gran Canaria and Tenerife. In 1836, the feudal system was abolished on La Gomera and other islands and the island falls directly under the Spanish crown. However, the large landowners were able to retain their rights, so little changed for the majority of the population.

In 1852, the entire Canary archipelago was declared a free trade zone by Queen Isabella II. When Spain loses its last colonies, the Canary Islands again fare much worse economically as an entire market falls away. In 1863 the first newspaper appeared on La Palma, El Time, and from 1894 banana cultivation became widespread.

Tenerife became so dominant that in 1911 it was decided to do something about it by giving each separate island its own administration (cabildo insular). In 1927 the rivalry between Gran Canaria and Tenerife flared up again so much that the archipelago was definitively divided into two provinces: a western province with El Hierro, Tenerife, La Gomera and La Palma, and an eastern province with Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote.

Meanwhile, cochineal production had completely collapsed and many residents of the Canary Islands emigrated to South America. Beginning in 1880, Alfred J. Jones introduced the cultivation of bananas so that his fleet could carry a profitable export product on its return trip from West Africa to England. On La Palma, banana cultivation is in the hands of the Elder and Fyffes companies, which together become the United Fruit Company, the world's largest exporter of fruit.

Franco era

In 1931, the Second Spanish Republic was proclaimed, but in 1936 General Franco seized power in the Canary Islands, triggering the Spanish Civil War.

The Spanish Civil War, however, brought only economic malaise and political isolation. The islands did not escape the acts of war either. For example, mass executions took place in the Barranco del Infierno (Hell's Canyon) on Tenerife. At that time, the Canary Islands were the poorest area in Spain.

From 1960, tourism increased and rapidly replaced agriculture as the main source of livelihood. In 1971, the last eruption took place, in the south of the island. Near Fuencaliente, a new volcano, the Teneguia, emerged. After the death of General Franco in 1975, there was more political openness and democracy, and tourism experienced a boom.

Canary Islands autonomous and rise of mass tourism

In August 1982, the Canary Islands were granted autonomous status along with several other Spanish provinces, and in 1986, despite joining the European Union, the archipelago retained its separate status as a free trade zone. Capital status was divided between Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. In Santa Cruz are the headquarters of the Canarian Parliament, and half of all departments and ministries. Las Palmas is home to the seat of the government's governing council, the courts, and the remaining departments and ministries.

The islands currently derive about 80% of their income from mass tourism. Nevertheless, the economy of the smaller islands like La Palma still relies on agriculture and fishing.

In 1985 the International Astrophysical Observatory was opened on the Roque de los Muchachos.

From 1987 the first direct charter flights from Germany to the Canary Islands took place and in 2000 the number of foreign tourists on La Palma exceeded 150,000 for the first time, 80% of them from Germany.

See also the history of Spain.


Canarische eilanden
Van Reemst

Evers, K. / Canarische eilanden : Tenerife, La Gomera, El Hierro, La Palma, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote

Klöcker, H. / La Palma

Lipps, S. / Wandelgids La Palma

Murphy, P. / Canarische eilanden

Renouf, N. / Canarische eilanden

Rochford, N. / Wegwijzer voor La Palma en El Hierro : een landschapsgids
Sunflower Books

Schulz, H.H. / La Palma
Van Reemst

Valk, T. / Wandelgids La Palma : 16 wandelroutes

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated May 2024
Copyright: Team The World of Info