The Canary Islands (sp. Islas Canarias), often referred to simply as “the Canaries”, are a group of about a dozen islands - mostly inhabited but some only wildlife reserves - in the eastern Atlantic Ocean some 100 km (about 60 m) off the coast of north-west Africa. It is a little over 1300 km (about 820 m) south of Spain of which it is an “Autonomous Community” divided into two provinces. Subsequently, it has two capitals - Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. As part of Spain, it is considered part of the European Community. It has a total population of about 2.1 million.
The archipelago is volcanic in origin and contains Western Europe’s highest volcano, Mount Teide which is a World Heritage site and an extremely popular tourist attraction. Good beaches, a mild sub-tropical maritime climate and the mixture of Spanish and African influences make the islands one of the most visited international holiday destinations on earth. Whilst mostly rugged and barren, the many valleys support agriculture in the form of grains, citrus fruits, figs and wines.
In ancient times it was known as “The Fortunate Isles”. It was rediscovered by Portuguese mariners in 1341, but granted to Castile by the Pope in 1344 and formally possessed in 1401. These latter discoverers found dogs there and the archipelago's name derives from the Latin for dog – canis. It was fought over in the fifteenth century by Castile and Portugal whilst vying for the West African trade; then acquired by Aragon.
During the Age of Exploration and colonial times it was the last “water hole” before setting off for the New World. Not only the Spanish, but other venturers used it - especially Tenerife - as a way station – legally or not; Drake called there to his detriment on his way to the Indies in 1595. The English “First Fleet” the convict laden vessels on their way to settle New South Wales in 1787, resupplied there.
From the 17th to the early 19th century there was a flourishing trade with New England settlers – bartering wine for fish.