Tenerife History

Tenerife History

Tenerife History

Tenerife History

Tenerife History – Volcanic – Habitation – Colonisation – Civil War – Post War

Volcanic Origins

The Volcanic Origins of Canary Islands Archipelago began millions of years ago with sub sea volcanic activity; there are seven islands, the largest of which is Tenerife and was the last island to be formed. Tenerife was formed between eight and twelve million years ago and the neighbouring islands to the east were formed more than twenty million years ago and. It is believed that Tenerife was once three islands fused together by volcanic lava flows.

Mount Teide, the highest mountain peak in Tenerife is 3718 metres above sea level, it towers high above the enormous plateau of Las Canadas, reports claim that it was formed when an earlier and perhaps larger volcano, collapsed into a molten lake. The crater of Las Canadas is surrounded by a ridge which is 17 km long.
The recorded history of the volcanic origins of Tenerife is very short on the overall time line; apparently the first volcanic activity was reported by Christopher Columbus during 1492 whilst sailing past the Island. Between 1704 and 1705, three separate eruptions were recorded along a 13 km fracture and during 1706 there was a nine day eruption from a single location 8 km south of Garachio.

During 1798, the Chahorra eruption started on slopes of Pico Viejo and lasted for three months. This area is now within the Teide National Park.
The last volcanic activity was an eruption, known as the Chinero Eruption, occurred near the summit of Mount Teide during 1909 and lasted for 10 days.
During recent years the United Nations Committee for Disaster Mitigation designated Mount Teide as a Decade Volcano, which means it is a risk due to major towns being in close proximity including Puerto de la Cruz, which sits beneath the steep western slopes of Teide. The United Nations Committee declared the Mount Teide Volcano as the 13th most dangerous in the world.

Early Habitation

The early habitation of Tenerife was in Neolithic times, the inhabitants were known as the Guanches, possibly of North African origin, they are thought to have lived on the island as early as the Stone Age period. The Guanches mostly lived in caves; they dressed in animal skins, produced clay ware and sharp pointed spears made from volcanic stone which they used for hunting.

Although early habitation was primitive, the Guanches did mummify their dead using highly effective techniques and they buried them which is analogous to other early civilizations.

The Guanches were known to be of large stature but little evidence of their culture remains today, some say the Silbo whistling language used on the Island of La Gomera descends from the Guanche culture.

The Guanches were not evidently a seafaring race and perhaps that also gave rise to a theory that the Canary Islands are the visible remains of the sunken City of Atlantis and the Guanches were landlocked in the mountains by the invading sea, a truth, a legend, or a mystery.


The colonisation of Tenerife began with the surrender of the Guanches to the Hispanics on 25th December 1495.

When the Hispanics colonized the Island, many Guanches died resisting the invasion, some fled to the mountains while others became colonized adopting Christianity and a new colonial culture. Sadly some died of new diseases against which they had low immunity, a sad result of their long isolation.

A number of administrative communities were set up governed from the new Metropolis of San Cristobal de La Laguna, the construction of which began during 1496, about 7 km inland from Anaza Bay now known as Santa Cruz. The administrative government later moved to Santa Cruz which to this day remains the principle city of Tenerife.

Some of the pine forests were cleared to enable the cultivation of sugar cane for export and later other commodities, such as bananas and grapes for wine production, were introduced and cultivated. Such agricultural development was a normal colonisation process to support the new inhabitants and generate the economy.

Life on Tenerife was once again in a state of peaceful existence until the invasion of Santa Cruz by the British on 25th July 1797. The invasion was however unsuccessful with the British being repelled by the Spanish, Admiral Nelson was shot in the right arm as he disembarked to go ashore and his arm was later amputated. During September the same year the British tried to invade the island again near Los Gigantes but this attempt also failed, the British were repelled by the locals who threw stone boulders from the cliffs.
Subsequent visitors to the island were less hostile and the advent of tourism began during the 1890’s with large numbers flocking to the northern cities of Puerto de la Cruz and Santa Cruz. Mount Teide became a popular tourist site when oceanic travel became possible.

The most notable Tenerife History has been set down since colonisation began.

Spanish Civil War

Francisco Franco, later to become General Franco, was posted by the Spanish Republican Government to Tenerife during March 1936; perhaps they were aware of his anti-establishment views.

Following elections held during February 1936 the left wing Popular Front formed a new government but a period of discontent followed and this escalated into violent clashes between left and right wing supporters. There was anti-clerical violence against the church and tensions were raised culminating is the assassination of a major opposition figure by a commando unit.

By July 1936, General Franco had participated in a Coup D’etat against the Popular Front Government, the coup failed but further unrest and discontent lead to uprising and the Spanish Civil War began. During the war Franco emerged as the leader of the Nationalists.

After winning the Spanish Civil War, Franco dissolved the Spanish Parliament and established a military regime which existed until his death during 1975. After his death Spain began a transition to democracy and in 1978 a new constitution was drafted.

Post War Period

The Canary Islands fell to the Nationalists during July 1936 and many opponents of the new regime were subjected to execution.
During the post war period, the Islands may have escaped invasion during the Second World War but the 1950’s were a period of misery and depression with many of the Islanders emigrating, in search of a better economic climate, mostly to parts of Latin America. Tenerife History records that the Island has not always been prosperous.

During 1964 a Canary Islands Independence movement was formed seeking Autonomy for the Canarian Archipelago. Although the movement was not that popular various activities led to the formation of an Autonomous Canary Island Community during 1982.

Tenerife has continued to cultivate bananas and although it has become industrialized, to some extent, economic growth has probably been limited due to the Canary Islands being geographically detached.

However the onset and growth of tourism over past 40 years has done much to boost the economy of the island. This period was short in terms of evolution but it has probably made a biggest impact on the Island.