Canary Islands

views updated May 14 2018

Canary Islands

The Canary Islands are a group of ten small islands (Tenerife, La Palma, Gomera, Hierro, Grand Canary, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, Alegranza, Graciosa, and Isla de Lobos) lying 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of the coast of Morocco that comprise two provinces of Spain. Known to the ancient world as the Fortunate Islands, they received their later name from Pliny the Elder in reference to the large dogs (canes) found there by King Juba II of Mauretania when he explored the islands around 40 bce. Along with the dogs, Juba found the islands inhabited by Guanches, a people of obscure origin, who successfully defended their domain against the king.

The details of first contact with Europe are contradictory. Europeans first visited the Canaries some time between 1330 and 1334, when a French or Iberian ship landed on the islands. This was followed fourteen years later by an expedition led by Luis de la Cerda, a grandson of Alfonso X of Castile, with the objective of converting the Guanches under a papal grant. This and similar attempts by the Spanish failed, both in their religious intent and in establishing a European colony there. Finally in 1402 two Frenchmen, Jean de Bethencourt and Gadifer de la Salle, successfully conquered most of the Canaries. Henry III of Castile gave Bethencourt money and the title of king of the islands in return for recognition of Castile's legal claim to possession. Spain began to consolidate its conquests when Alonso de Lugo signed a treaty with the local leader Tanasú in 1493. When some local residents resisted, de Lugo laid siege to the island, conquering it and freeing him up to invade Gran Canary that same year. By 1496 the islands were completely under the Spanish flag. The British often challenged the Spanish for possession of the Canaries. It was in the town of Santa Cruz on Tenerife during one of these forays that Lord Nelson lost his arm in 1797.

A sugar industry on the Canary Islands had long thrived until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when competition from the West Indies and Brazil proved overwhelming. The Canaries did, however, become a prime producer of cochineal dye, striking a blow at the dye industry of Central America. In turn the Canary dye industry was destroyed by the introduction of chemical dyes in the 1870s. Since the voyage of Columbus, the islands have served as a stopping point for ships to replenish their supplies before continuing on to the Americas. In the early twenty-first century, some Canarians identify more with Latin America than Spain, listening to Andean and Mariachi music.

See alsoCochineal; Colonialism; Sugar Industry.


Mercer, John. Canary Islands: Fuerteventura. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1973.

Fernández-Armesto, Felipe. The Canary Islands after the Conquest: The Making of a Colonial Society in the Early Sixteenth Century. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

White, Colin. 1797: Nelson's Year of Destiny: Cape St. Vincent and Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Stroud, U.K.: Sutton Publishing, 1998.

                                          Sheila L. Hooker

Canary Islands

views updated May 08 2018


CANARY ISLANDS , islands belonging to Spain, off N.W. Africa. Since the Canary Islands were taken over by Spain after the Expulsion of 1492, the first Jewish immigrants to the Canary Islands were *Conversos from Spain and Portugal seeking refuge from the Inquisition and persecution. The first Converso settlers came with their families and continued to follow a traditional life. The Conversos from southern Spain were the first Europeans to join the small local population of Berber-African origin. As elsewhere in the Spanish and Portuguese world, here too the Converso settlers were followed by the Inquisition. The Inquisition began to operate in 1504. Evidence given in a trial held by the Inquisition in 1520 tells of a Jewish community in one of the islands which had a synagogue and shoḥet. In 1502 the inquisitor-general, Francisco Diego Deza, summoned a number of Conversos from the islands before the tribunal in Seville; others were tried by the tribunal of Córdoba. The first auto-da-fé in the Canaries was held in 1526. Later the Inquisition relaxed its activities, but they were revived as a result of the plague of 1523–32. Among those burned at the stake were Alvar González of Castello Branco, the moving spirit of the Palma Converso community, and Pedro González, a royal official who left Spain in 1492, but later became a nominal convert to Christianity. The tribunal resumed its activities in 1568 when Diego Ortiz de Fuñez, formerly prosecutor in the tribunal of Toledo, arrived in the Canaries. In 1524 a movement to leave for Ereẓ Israel stirred the Converso community and some set off despite the dangers involved; one family reached its destination. Lucien Wolf based his study of the Converso community in the Canaries on the basis of 76 volumes of Inquisition records which were sold to a private individual in 1900. Since that time these volumes have disappeared. Wolf published the material in regesta in English with useful notes. Beinart discovered a few more trial reports in Spain. The material suggests that the Converso community maintained strong links with London.

In the 17th century, many Conversos, largely from Portugal, settled in Palma and Tenerife. Many of the Conversos who settled in the Canaries led a Jewish life. Some knew how to slaughter ritually, baked matzah for Passover, and continued to pray in the Jewish manner. Some of the Conversos adhered to a strictly religious way of life. During the 17th century the islands witnessed a revival of Judeo-Converso life. The islands were a convenient stepping stone to the New World and London. The number of Conversos increased considerably. Conversos in Western Europe saw the economic and strategic importance of the islands in international trade. The inquisitional records of the 17th century indicate that close connections existed between the Conversos in the Canaries and those in England and northwestern Europe. Among those denounced were Antonio Fernández *Carvajal, a founder of the London Jewish community, and his kinsman Lorenzo Lindo. During the 18th century, a few Conversos were still brought before the Inquisition in the Canaries, but without serious consequences. In the 1950s a number of Jews, mainly immigrants from Morocco, settled in the Canaries but did not form an organized community.


L. Wolf, Jews in the Canary Islands (1926). add. bibliography: H. Beinart, in: JHSE Transactions, 25 (1977), 48–86; L.A. Anaya Hernández, in: Inquisição 1 (1989–90), 161–76.

[Haim Beinart /

Yom Tov Assis (2nd ed.)]

Canary Islands

views updated May 14 2018

Canary Islands Group of islands in the n Atlantic Ocean, c.110km (70mi) off the nw coast of Africa; they constitute two provinces of SpainLas Palmas and Santa Cruz de Tenerife. The major cities are Santa Cruz (215,132) and Las Palmas (208,944). The Canary Islands are mountainous and the climate warm, with little rainfall. Under Spanish rule since the 16th century, the Canaries are now an autonomous region of Spain. Industries: agriculture, fishing, tourism. Area: 7273 sq km (2807 sq mi). Pop. (1999) 1,630,015.

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