About Gran Canary
The volcanic island of Gran Canaria, is the third largest of the Canary Islands (off the northwest coast of Africa), but currently commands about half their population. Those visiting Gran Canaria are immediately impressed by its varied landscape – white sand beaches along its southern coast, a rural mountainous interior (especially the island’s center – where the 1,949 meter-high Pozo de Las Nieves peak is located). A few high peaks and many gorges radiating out towards the sea can also be found there. Cliffs dominate the south western and western coasts, whereas the coastline of the north and northeast offers more diverse pleasures, including a wide variety of beaches and coves.
With Gran Canaria and adjacent islands being discovered by European sailors in the 14th century, it was conquered by the Spanish in 1483. Christopher Columbus spent time at Gran Canaria (including the Port of Las Palmas) before proceeding onto his first voyage to the Americas in 1492. Due to its geographic position, Gran Canaria’s Port of Las Palmas became a vital port of call for Spanish conquistadors, traders, and missionaries who were traveling to the Spanish colonies in the Americas. The trade that resulted during the colonial period explains some of the medieval structures found on the island. The Church of El Salvador survives as one of the island’s finest examples of the architecture from the 16th century.
Because of Gran Canaria’s importance in Spain’s maritime trade at the time, it was subject to attacks from both Ottoman pirates, as well as hostile European forces. Gran Canaria was attacked by the Dutch during that country’s war of independence in 1599 (laying siege to Port of Las Palmas and other parts of the island). In 1618, Gran Canaria was reminded of the perils of piracy within its waters when Algerian pirates attacked the nearby islands of Lanzarote and La Gomera (rounding up 1,000 captives to be sold into slavery).
In 1812, Gran Canaria and the rest of the Canary Islands officially became a province of Spain. By that time, a number of local residents sought better economic opportunities by migrating to Havana (Cuba), Veracruz (Mexico) and Santo Domingo (which became Dominican Republic in 1844). More economic difficulties in the Canary Islands during the rest of the 19th and the early 20th centuries resulted in further waves of locals migrating to Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Cuba. During the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, Francisco Franco (who was already appointed General Commandant of the Canaries at the time) controlled the Canary Islands. After Franco’s death in 1975, and the establishment of a democratic constitutional monarchy, the Canary Islands were granted autonomy in 1982.
Due to the Canary Island’s tropical weather, tourism would eventually become their main economic engine of growth (making up as much as 32% of the islands’ GDP). As many as 12 million tourists a year visit the Canary Islands. Gran Canaria, Tenerife and Lanzarote are the most visited of the Canary Islands.