Tenerife History Facts and Timeline

(Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain)

Tenerife is the biggest and best-known of all the Canary Islands, being popular among holiday makers from across northern Europe. The island is dominated by Mount Teide, the world's third-biggest volcano.

Nowadays, nearly half of all Canary Islands residents live here, yet this island was completely uninhabited until around 200 BC. The first settlers in the history of Tenerife were cave-dwellers known as Guanches, who had only the most basic technology.

Before the Spanish conquest, Tenerife was divided into 'menceyatos', or kingdoms, each with their own independent rulers. When the Spanish invaded, each 'menceyato' responded with rather differing attitudes of war and peace.

History of the Spanish Conquest

The Spanish conquest began at the very end of 1493, when Spanish military leader Javier Alonso Luis Fernández de Lugo sailed here, together with soldiers numbering in the region of 2,200. They landed on the coastline which is now home to Tenerife's capital, Santa Cruz. As some of the 'menceyatos' met fire with fire, the complete conquest lasted around two years. In 1494, the Spanish suffered a demoralising defeat in the First Battle of Acentejo, although the last of the defending Guanches had surrendered by late December, 1495.

Many of the island's residents were enslaved once the conquest was completed, with those Guanches who had fought against the Spanish faring quite badly. In addition, the Spanish brought new diseases with them, such as smallpox. As a result, many of the surviving Guanches succumbed to diseases which they had no natural immunity or resistance to.

Santa Cruz

In 1496, Tenerife was incorporated into the Kingdom of Castile, allowing Santa Cruz to begin its expansion into the bustling city that we know today. The first wharf was constructed in the middle of the 16th century and it became an important stopping off point among those heading to the New World. As the port grew, it came under increasing attention from pirates and raiders who roamed the Atlantic. As such, the Spanish constructed a number of castles and fortresses in order to defend Tenerife from these attacks.

British Raids

One of the most important castles to be constructed in Santa Cruz was the 'Black Castle' (Castle Negrillo) in the year of 1641. It lies at the heart of Santa Cruz, close to the Parque Maritimo César Manrique, where it hosts an annual re-enactment of the Battle of Santa Cruz on 25th July. This battle is best-known for being led by British admiral Horatio Nelson, who lost his arm as a result of cannon fire. Nelson led the first of several British invasion attempts during this era.

The Island in the 20th Century

Mass tourism began in Tenerife during the late 19th century and was mostly centred on northern settlements such as Santa Cruz. However, its growth was tempered by two major events in the 20th-century history of Tenerife.

In March of 1936, General Franco was sent to Tenerife in an effort to distance him from the Republican government. This isolation led Franco to plot a coup from neighbouring Gran Canaria, ultimately leading to the Spanish Civil War.

After Nationalists took control in July 1936, opponents of the new regime were executed en masse in one of the darkest episodes in Tenerife history. Following the war, many of the island's residents left the island for Cuba and Latin America.

The world's deadliest airline disaster sadly took place here in 1977, when two jumbo jets collided on the Tenerife North Airport runway, leading to the deaths of 583 people.

Today, Tenerife draws holiday makers year-round, with its enticing package deals, plentiful sunshine and glorious sandy beaches. Away from the coastline, the inner towns and villages offer a more traditional feel than the resorts and may appeal to those looking for a day out.