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The Canary Islands

an autonomous province of Spain

The Canary Islands are an archipelago of 13 islands in the Atlantic Ocean about 60 miles (97 kilometers) off the northwest coast of Africa. The islands' name comes from canaria, the Latin word for "dogs," and was given to them by the ancient Romans because they found large, fierce dogs living there. Canary birds were so named because they were first seen on the islands.

map of the Canary Islands

The islands have a total land area of 2,808 square miles (7,273 square kilometers). All of the islands are volcanic in origin, and some of the volcanoes are still active. The highest peak in the Canaries is 12,162-foot (3,707-meter) Pico de Tenerife, on Tenerife, the largest island in the archipelago. The volcanic soils are very fertile, and the climate is mild year-round.

Seven of the thirteen islands are inhabited, with a total population of approximately 2,117,500. The majority of the islands' inhabitants are of Spanish descent.

The Canary Islands were visited by the ancient Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, and Romans. Arab mariners reached the islands in the 12th century, and they were visited by French navigators in 1334. The islands were claimed by Portugal in 1341, but awarded to Castille (present day Spain) by Pope Clement VI in 1344. Portugal and Spain disputed "ownership" of the Canaries until 1479, when Portugal agreed to recognize Castilian control over the Canary Islands in exchange for Castille's recognition of Portuguese control over the Azores, Madeira, and Cape Verde islands. The Canary Islands have been a province of Spain since then.

The Canary Islands were divided into two provinces in 1927 -- Santa Cruz de Tenerife includes the islands of Tenerife, La Palma, Gomera, amd Hierro, and its capital is Santa Cruz de Tenerife; Las Palmas includes Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, and Fuerteventura, and its capital is Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. The Islands as a group have 13 seats in the Spanish Senate. Of these, 11 seats are directly elected, 3 for Gran Canaria, 3 for Tenerife, 1 for each other island; 2 seats are indirectly elected by the regional Autonomous Government, which is presided over by a popularly elected President.


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The Robinson Library >> General and Old World History >> Spain >> Regions, Provinces, Etc., A-Z

This page was last updated on September 24, 2017.