Gran Canaria originally meaning ‘Great [Island] of Dogs’) is the most populous island of the Canary Islands, with population of approx. 829 597 which constitutes approximately 40% of the population of the archipelago. Also, it is second most populous island in Spain after Majorca. Located on the Atlantic Ocean about 93 miles off the northwestern coast of Africa and about 838 miles from Europe.
The capital of the island, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, is also the largest city and capital autonomous community of the Canary Islands.
Gran Canaria was populated by the Canarii (Guanches), who may have arrived as early as 500 BC. The Canarii called the island Tamarán or Land of the Brave. After over a century of European (French, Portuguese…) incursions and attempts at conquest, the island was conquered on April 29, 1483, after a campaign that lasted 5 years, by the Kingdom of Castile, with the support of Queen Isabella I, a conquest which turned out to be an important step towards the expansion of the unified Spain.
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria was founded on June 24, 1478, under the name “Real de Las Palmas”, by Juan Rejón, head of the invading Castilian army. In 1492, Christopher Columbus anchored in the Port of Las Palmas (and spent some time on the island) on his first trip to the Americas.
Gran Canaria is located southeast of Tenerife and west of Fuerteventura. The island is of volcanic origin, mostly made of fissure vents. It surface area is 1,560 km² and its maximum altitude is 1,949 meters. It has a round shape, with a diameter of approximately 50 km.
About 80% of the volume of the island was formed during the Miocene period, between 14 and 9 million years ago. This is called the “Old Cycle” and is estimated to have lasted some 200,000 years and have emitted about 1000 km3, mostly of fissural alkali basalt. This cycle continued with the emission of trachytes, phonolites and peralkaline rocks. This period was followed by one of erosion, which lasted some 4 million years.
A second cycle of volcanic eruptions, known as the “Roque Nublo cycle”, took place between 4.5 and 3.4 million years ago. This shorter cycle emitted about 100 km3. Most of the inland peaks were formed by erosion from these materials. This period also started with fissural basalts, but ended with violent eruptions of pyroclastic flows. Some phonolitic features, like the Risco Blanco, were also formed in its last stages.
The third or recent cycle is held to have started some 2.8 million years ago and is considered to be still active. The last eruptions are held to have occurred some 3500 years ago.
The changes in volume, and therefore, weight, of the island have also caused the island to rise above the previous sea level during erosive periods and to sink during eruptive periods. Some of these “fossil beaches” can be seen in the cliff faces of the more eroded northern coast.
This island is called a “Miniature Continent” due to the different climates and variety of landscapes found, with long beaches and dunes of white sand, contrasting with green ravines and picturesque villages. A third of the island is under protection as a Biosphere Reserveby UNESCO.
The number of annual visitors is 2.2 million (2,200,000). Most of the tourists visit the southern part of the island. The north tends to be cooler while the south is warmer and sunny. The east coast of the island is flat dotted with beaches while the western coast is rockier and mountainous. The island possesses 32 Natural Protected Spaces, that they emphasize the Rural Park of Nublo, The Doramas Jungle, the Azuaje Ravine, Tamadaba, Pino Santo, etc.
Most tourists stay in the south of the island, which is sunnier and has less rain than the north. In the south there is a large bird park,Palmitos Park, as well as many beach resort communities. Resorts are concentrated in the central eastern part of the southern coast in the Maspalomas area, which includes the towns of San Agustín, Playa del Inglés, Sonnenland, Maspalomas and Meloneras. The Dunes of Maspalomas are located between Playa del Inglés (“The Englishman’s Beach”) and Maspalomas. Another tourist attraction is the lighthouse at Maspalomas situated at the western end of Maspalomas.
Still further to the west along the southern shore, in the Municipality of Mogán, are the communities of Puerto Rico and Puerto de Mogán, a village referred to as “Little Venice” on account of its many canals.
Other attractions include Cocodrilos Park, Roque Nublo (an 80 m monolith), Cenobio de Valerón with about 290 caves, Cueva Pintadathe most important archaeological park in Canary Islands and the botanical gardens Jardin Canario (in Tafira Alta) and Cactualdea (in La Aldea de San Nicolás).
El Dedo de Dios, or “God’s Finger” was a rocky spire jutting from the sea in Puerto de las Nieves, and was previously the signature attraction of the Canary Islands until it was destroyed by Tropical Storm Delta, that crossed the archipelago on November 2005.
Other well-known rock formations are El Cura (also known as El Fraile), The Frog (La Rana), Bentayga, the Roque de Gando, and the Peñón Bermejo. The highest peak of the island is the Pico de las Nieves, at 1,950 metres (6,400 ft).
Other important towns are Telde and Vecindario (within the municipality of Santa Lucía de Tirajana) and Gáldar important diving zone. InArucas there is a Neogothic temple, popularly known as “Arucas’ Cathedral”, as well as a large fertile plain where bananas are grown. InGáldar and its surroundings there is also a banana-growing plain and some remarkable archaeological remains, such as Cueva Pintada or Cenobio de Valerón’s communal silos, ancient tombs, and the port of Sardina del Norte (one of the island’s ports where, as in Las Palmas’, Christopher Columbus used to get supplies for his ships). In Teror the shrine of Virgen del Pino, the island’s patron saint, can be found.
Heading west along the southern coast is the fishing city of Arguineguín in the Municipality of Mogán.
via Gran Canaria.