The Canary Islands have always been present in myth and legend, like those mythical lands beyond the Pillars of Hercules in the Strait of Gibraltar, the gateway to the Mare Tenebrosum. Classical writers have placed Paradise, the Elysian Fields and the Garden of the Hesperides here, although one of the first reliable accounts of the islands we owe to Pliny the Elder, in the 1st century AD.
When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Tenerife, the island was divided into nine small kingdoms, or menceyatos: Taoro, Abona, Güímar, Anaga, Tegueste, Tacoronte, Icod, Daute and Adeje, with a king, or mencey, in charge of each, advised by his council of elders, or tagoror. The Guanches, the pre-colonial inhabitants of Tenerife, wore animal skins and, as far as the documented evidence goes, had not dominated the art of navigation. However, they did have elaborate burial rites for their dead, with mummification techniques that proved very effective in some cases.
The conquest of the archipelago officially began in 1402, with Jean de Béthencourt and Gadifer de la Salle, in the name of Henry III, taking Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and El Hierro. Tenerife was the last island to be conquered, and did not fall until the reign of the Catholic Monarchs. The fight was bloody and the Spanish, led by the Adelantado Alonso Fernández de Lugo, suffered some spectacular defeats, such as that of La Matanza, in 1494. A year later, the Adelantado returned with a new army and the invaders' luck on the battlefield changed at La Victoria.
Tenerife has always been close to America, being an obligatory stopover for ships travelling to the New World. The people of the Canary Islands have played an active role, as colonists, in the birth of new cities and nations. It was island families, for example, who founded the cities of Montevideo and San Antonio, Texas, and the list of those defending the Alamo features many obviously Canarian surnames. Venezuela and Cuba were the traditional destinations for emigrants from Tenerife.
The discovery of America and the sea traffic from Europe into the Indian Ocean via the western coast of Africa made the Canary Islands a crossroads for sea routes, and its new-found wealth made it a target for pirates and privateers for centuries. In 1797, Admiral Nelson tried to capture Santa Cruz de Tenerife from the sea. He was defeated by General Gutiérrez and lost an arm in the battle.
Owing to their geographical location, Tenerife and the other Canary Islands have always maintained certain economic and administrative peculiarities compared to the rest of Spain. These differences were set down in the Law of Free Ports at the end of the 19th century (1872); and recognised in the creation of the Island Councils, similar to a sort of government for each island (1912), and the Canary Islands Economic and Fiscal Regime (REF) Law of 1991.
In 1982, the Canary Islands became an Autonomous Region and in 1986 the islands were integrated into the European Union, along with the rest of Spain. Today, the archipelago's position in Europe is defined as an outermost region in the Maastricht Treaty (1992) and the Amsterdam Treaty (1997) and is recognised by the project for a European Constitution, in the Lisbon Treaty (2004), and the Outermost Regions Statute.
Each town and region of Tenerife has traditions dating back hundreds of years, which the local people are careful to maintain and preserve. These traditions are connected to agriculture, to the sea and fishing, and to the special bond that exists on the island between the inhabitants and the land they live in, with all of its special characteristics. If you would like more information about our Popular Parties.
Just like in all of the island cultural expressions, in the gastronomy of Tenerife tradition and modernity go hand in hand. The island kitchens offer the visitor a wide range of possibilities, where the natural produce, which is often a unique result of the peculiar conditions of this land, is always of the finest quality. Here in Tenerife you can enjoy the very best traditional dishes: gofio, honey and potatoes, amongst others. But you can also try the best in imaginative new cooking, the fruit of the fusion of creativity with tradition, at any of the island avant-garde restaurants. The fish par excellence and the favourite of the people of the Canary Islands is the vieja, with very delicate white flesh, but there are many other types that we strongly recommend, including bocinegro, sama and salema (all types of sea bream), and cherne (grouper). Tuna are abundant in the waters of the archipelago and these very tasty fish are served fried, grilled or in brine. Mackerel, sardines and, in particular, chicharro, or Atlantic Horse Mackerel (which gives the inhabitants of the island capital their name: chicharreros), are also common dishes. The morena, or moray eel, is normally served fried and is a dish that no visitor should miss.
Fruit and vegetables
The huerta, or farmland, of the island is without a doubt one of its gastronomic treasures, and the fresh fruit and vegetables that it produces can be "discovered" with pleasure again and again. Tenerife produces excellent tomatoes, cucumbers, bubandos (a variety of courgette), pumpkins, chard, watercress, yams, potatoes, aubergines, cabbages and kidney beans. As for fruit, the banana is one of the island staple agricultural resources. The fields of Tenerife are also filled with a wide range of tropical and subtropical fruits, such as avocado, mango, papaya, pineapple, custard apple, guava, mammee apple, starfruit, lychee and many other varieties, including some that are still relatively unknown in Europe. No description of the island food would be complete without mentioning rabbit, either prepared in salmorejo or stewed, two methods of cooking meat that give equally tasty results when used to prepare kid, or cabrito. Pork and chicken are also key ingredients in many island recipes and, together with beef, form one of the essential elements of the numerous asador carveries, which are especially popular in the north of Tenerife. Also worth noting are the wide range of pork products, both fresh and cured, such as sweet morcilla (black pudding) made with almonds and raisins; chistorra cured sausage; savoury ribs; salchicha sausages and spreadable chorizo, affectionately named "de perro". Another of the gastronomic treasures that may come as a pleasant surprise to visitors are the Canary Island cheeses: soft, cured or semi-cured, especially made from goat and cow milk. Certain varieties deserve our full attention, such as the cheeses of El Tanque, cured and lightly spiced, and those of the Arico-Fasnia, Anaga and Teno regions, among others. Particularly interesting is one of the starters or snacks that is often ordered when eating out: fried cheese with mojo.
Gofio is a traditional food inherited directly from the island indigenous people: the Guanches. It is a kind of flour made from toasted cereals, above all barley, wheat and maize, and, occasionally, pulses such as chickpeas or broad beans. It is often served, either as a dough or mixed with stock to form an escaldón, as an accompaniment to stews such as cazuela de pescado (fish casserole) or puchero canario. This natural product is most commonly eaten at breakfast time, when its pleasant taste and excellent nutritional values make it a healthy choice even for people watching their weight.
Mojo, a word of probable Portuguese origin, is the Canarian name for the typical sauces served on the islands. The most well-known mojos are the one made from coriander or parsley, called mojo verde, green mojo, and the colorado, or coloured mojo, which contains plenty of paprika.