History of Tenerife: Spanish Conquest

The Spanish Conquest in Tenerife
While there is evidence suggesting that Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans knew of the Canary Islands, the archipelago more or less totally forgotten until the 14th century. Nonetheless, in a world in which countries essentially sought world domination, the islands' rediscovery quickly led to its conquer in the name of the Spanish crown.

The Spanish conquest of the Canary Islands formally began in 1402 and the smaller islands quickly fell. In Tenerife, however, the steadfast - and often bloody - Gaunche resistance to the invaders delayed the definitive conquest of Tenerife for nearly a century. In 1494 Spanish troops took a pounding in the battle of "La Matanza" (The Slaughter) and retreated to mainland Spain.

After licking their wounds for a year, the troops returned. Supported by the famed Catholic monarchs Fernando and Isabel and led by Alonso Fernández de Lugo (you're likely to see this name on quite a few street signs around the island), Spanish troops took Mencey Bencomo's kingdom of Taoro, the final Guanche stronghold.

Once inevitably incorporated into the Spanish kingdom, Tenerife immediately became a major stopping point on journeys to and from the newly discovered Americas. Its strategic location right smack in the middle of these trade routes quickly infused a brand-new afflency in the island, as exterior commerce complemented agricultural wealth. Spanish, Portuguese, English and Belgian merchants and traders gravitated to the paradisaical island, a cultural mix that began to mold Tenerife into the multi-faceted society it is today.

Pirates in Tenerife
jack sparrow Due to its strategic location along these very trade routes, Tenerife and its fellow Canary Islands essentially became sitting ducks for pirate attacks and skirmishes with foreign invasions- including England's Lord Horatio Nelson, the famed admiral of the mighty Royal Navy who not only lost his 1797 invasion attempt but also his arm.

The constant cross-ocean naval movements between Spain and its American colonies meant ships laden with treasures and spices. Pirate flotillas began essentially patrolling the stretch of ocean between the Azores and Canary Islands in the 16th century, and would continue to do so into the 17th, 18th and even 19th centuries. In their down time, these pirates would head for the islands - particularly Tenerife and Gran Canaria - where they robbed, burned down villages and killed islanders in search of wine and riches.

This constant threat led to a militarization of the island. Watch towers and castles were constructed with hopes of fending off bad-intentioned seafarers, villages were built out of sight from the coastline. Today you can still explore castles, forts and towers in Tenerife. Learn more on our page about castles and towers.