Canary Islands, Spain

Canary Islands, Canaries, Spanish Islas Canarias [“Dog Islands”; called “Canaria” by Pliny the Elder because of the large number of dogs observed there], Spanish archipelago in the Atlantic off the northwest coast of Africa, also a Spanish autonomous region, 7 447 km 2, (2020) 2.2 million residents; common capitals are Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

The region consists of seven larger and six smaller islands and includes the two provinces of Las Palmas and Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Inhabited are Hierro, La Palma, Gomera, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote and Graciosa; there is ferry traffic between them.

The cultural landscape and settlements have a Spanish character. The original population of the Guanches was almost completely wiped out in the 15th century by the Spanish-Castilian and Norman conquerors commissioned by them; the survivors were absorbed by the Spanish population.


The most economically developed are Tenerife (oil refinery, artificial fertilizer factory) and Gran Canaria, while La Palma, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote and Gomera are in strong upward development. Bananas, tomatoes, wine, almonds, new potatoes, onions and tobacco are grown for export, as well as maize, wheat, barley and legumes for personal consumption; Breeding of cochineal scale insects, from which the pigment carmine is obtained; significant fishing (especially tuna, halibut); Sheep, goat, cattle and pig farming; Sea salt extraction. Diverse traditional trades: mainly embroidery, lace-making, pottery, knife work, basket weaving.

Thanks to the mild climate and the natural beauty of the landscape, the most important branch of the economy is tourism (especially in winter), which has enjoyed a boom since the late 1960s and early 1970s; 2015: 13.3 million foreign visitors (especially British and German). Around 80% of all employees live directly or indirectly from tourism. This development is promoted by the exemption from customs duties (since the 19th century) for goods from all continents. Because of the strategic traffic situation, the airports and ports of the Canary Islands are bases for air and shipping traffic between Europe, Africa and North and South America as well as for US space travel.


Abbreviated as CI according to, the Canary Islands were formed by submarine volcanism in the Tertiary / Quaternary; the two eastern islands of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura sit on the African shelf (shortest distance to the mainland: 115 km). The other Canary Islands rise from a depth of 3,000 m (1,000 m deep between individual islands) with mighty volcanic mountains, which have been active until recently, and which are often divided by deeply cut dry gorges (barrancos). The highest volcanic mountain is the Pico de Teide (3 718 m above sea level) on Tenerife.

The climate is oceanic-subtropical with mild winters and moderate summers; Due to the relatively cool Canary Current, the water temperatures are 19 ° C in winter and 22 ° C in summer. Only short winter rains interrupt the otherwise constantly blowing dry north-east trade wind (annual rainfall: 100–450 mm). As with all the Passat Islands, there is a big difference between the (more humid) windward and leeward sides. The distinctive elevation ranges from a hot, dry, deep zone (up to 500–600 m above sea level) through a cooler, more precipitation-rich central zone (up to 1,500 m, often days of damp fog, called Bruma) and a warm, dry inversion zone (up to 2,000 m) a dry and cold high mountain area (over 2,000 m above sea level). Larger, constantly flowing watercourses are only available on La Palma and Gomera, however, springs and considerable groundwater reserves are widespread. Water shortages are partly remedied by desalination of sea water.

Noteworthy in the vegetation of the Canary Islands (especially Tenerife and Gran Canaria) are the distinctive structure in altitude levels as well as the comparatively high proportion of endemic plants (e.g. many aeonium species, dragon blood tree, several types of euphorbia, canary palm, Canary pine, red and blue Teidenadternkopf, Teide violet). The rest of the flora consists mainly of plants from the Mediterranean region (tree heather, oleander, laurel, etc.) as well as representatives of tropical and subtropical zones around the world (e.g. agave, avocado, bougainvillea, eucalyptus, coffee, parrot flower, passion flower, Christmas star). The vegetation is divided into five height levels (using Tenerife as an example): 1) the south coast in the trade shade, which is a narrow, desert-like area with Saharan African elements; 2) the steep slopes above, a semi-desert overgrown with succulents; 3) the montane forest level, which is characterized in the cloud zone by laurel forests (only remnants are left) and above all by the Canarian pine; 4) the alpine level above the tree line, which is covered by initially closed, later slowly loosened stands of gorse bushes (here there are also Teide violets, Teidenatternkopf and others endemic); 5) the step above 3,100 m above sea level, where only cryptogams grow. The original vegetation has been largely destroyed by human intervention (deforestation, cultivation, soil removal, afforestation with alien species). In the summer of 2016, around 4,000 hectares of pine forest burned on the island of La Palma.

The fauna, which is less rich in species than the flora, belongs to the Mediterranean fauna province. The islands were settled from the Iberian Peninsula and mainland North Africa. Subsequent radiation resulted in a high number of endemic species, e.g. B. with the head beetles (Malachiidae) with 72 species in the Canary Islands. The abundant bird life includes canaries, Teide finches and the hoopoe that can often be seen. Poisonous snakes and scorpions are absent.


Since around 2000 BC The Canary Islands were settled by the Guanches. The islands, probably already known to the Phoenicians, called Fortunatae Insulae (“Happy Islands”) by Roman writers, were visited by Arabs in the 11th century, followed by Genoese, Spaniards, Portuguese and French in the 14th century. Castile and Portugal fought over possession of the islands. The islands of Gran Canaria, La Palma and Tenerife were subjected to Castilian crown possession in 1478-96 by order of the Catholic Kings, while Portugal had waived its claims in the Peace of Alcáçovas (1479). The Canary Islands were an important stopover for the Spanish American voyages.

In 1902, Spanish troops crushed a local independence movement. The islands continued to form a province, which in 1927 was divided into the provinces of Las Palmas (with Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, Graciosa and others) and Santa Cruz de Tenerife (with Tenerife, La Palma, Gomera, Hierro and others) due to internal disputes. In 1936, the islands were the starting point for Franco’s military action against the republican government. In 1983 the two provinces were given a statute of autonomy. The strongest regional party is the “Canarian Coalition” (Coalición Canaria).

Canary Islands, Spain