Much of Tenerife’s history is the stuff of adventure stories – legends, pirates, epic battles between primitives and a European army, adventurers, sea battles, eruptions, plagues, floods, hurricanes, beautiful princesses, gallant soldiers, explorers, Nelson, Drake, love, betrayal and bravery.
There’s far, far too much juicy stuff to include on one website – if you want to know more there’s always our guide Going Native in Tenerife – but to give you a taste of Tenerife’s past that many people might not be aware of, here are ten fascinating facts about Tenerife’s history.
It’s claimed that Tenerife was the location of the Garden of Hesperides in Greek mythology; the place where Atlas slew the 100 headed dragon Ladon and stole the golden apples on behalf of Hercules. Some even say the island’s drago trees rose from Ladon’s blood.
Tenerife’s original inhabitants were the fur wearing, primitive Guanche who were supposed to be tall and beautiful with fair hair (think Raquel Welch in 1 Million Years BC). They lived in caves, mummified their dead and built pyramids to worship the sun. Every so often someone still stumbles over a dried up Guanche cadaver in a cave.
Although everyone refers to the conquest of Tenerife as being Spanish, the conquistadors were actually a multi-national mercenary army. They didn’t find Tenerife, the last of the Canary Islands to be conquered, easy. They had their noses well and truly bloodied at La Matanza in 1494. It was possibly only because the warrior Guanches of the north had been weakened by illness combined with the fact that some of Tenerife’s southern based Guanches had allied themselves to the conquistadors (no doubt jealous of the lush northern lands) that a year later the conquistadors tasted victory at La Victoria, marking the beginning of the end for the age of the Guanches. In recent years the islanders have embraced their Guanche heritage…even though ironically it was more likely that their ancestors were the conquistadors who decimated them.
Most people know by now that Admiral Nelson lost his right arm whilst trying to take Santa Cruz. He wasn’t the first Brit to taste defeat at Santa Cruz, Admirals (or privateers depending on your point of view) Jennings and Blake also tried and failed. Nelson’s attack on the city is re-enacted each July in Santa Cruz…he always loses.
Sir Francis Drake used Tenerife as a base for dodgy sea going enterprises like forays into West Africa to capture slaves. A hero in British history books, he’s a pirate in Spanish ones.
Tenerife’s links with the Americas go back a long way; it was Canarios sailing from Santa Cruz who founded Montevideo in Uruguay and San Antonio, home to the Alamo, in Texas.
The Millennium Drago Tree in Icod de los Vinos might draw visitors now but there was another even bigger specimen in La Orotava. It was so big that some say a family lived inside it. Unfortunately it was destroyed by a hurricane in the 19th century so we’ll never know for sure.
In February 1936 a new Captain General of the Canary Islands was appointed. In March of the same year he arrived in Tenerife. His name was Francisco Franco. By the end of the year he had become El Generalisimo and the Spanish Civil War was in full swing.
German Psychologist Wolfgang Kohler carried out research on chimpanzees in Puerto de la Cruz during the First World War. He discovered that chimps were capable of problem solving – everyone out there who thinks Rise of The Planet of the Apes is nonsense think again. His research on Tenerife completely changed the face of modern human psychology. As if that wasn’t enough, it’s also claimed that he may have been acting as a German spy at the same time. You could say there was a bit of monkey business going on.
In 1998, 30 members of a German cult headed to the summit of Mount Teide to commit suicide in the belief that a waiting spaceship would transport their souls to a new and wondrous world. Thankfully the police got wind of the plan and prevented them from reaching the summit. Just as well. I’ve been up there and guess what? No spaceship.