Monday, September 12, 2011

The Canary Islands

Population: 2.099.000
Area: 7447 km2
Seven islands, six little isles, four national parks, hundreds of volcanoes, nearly all which are now inactive: this is a brief outline of an archipelago that lies off the West coast of Morocco, near the Tropic of Cancer....
Annexed to Spain between the XIV and XV centuries when the earliest inhabitants, the Guanches, were still there, then transformed into a flourishing trading centre on the shipping and trade routes to the American and African continents, these islands are nowadays two distinct Spanish provinces: the Western Islands(Tenerife, La Palma, El Hierro and La Gomera) and the Eastern Islands (Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura). The fantastic scenery, pleasant climate and beautiful sea have all made this place a paradise for tourism, though tourists seem to prefer the easternmost islands; La Palma, El Hierro and La Gomera are practically still free of important resorts. Tenerife is the most popular; its name derives from the Guanches dialect name for “Snow-clad Mountain”, clearly referring to the imposing Pico del Teide, which is the 3718 metre high inactive volcano that dominates this triangular island and is the highest in the whole of Spain. Beside seeing the capital of Tenerife, Santa Cruz, with its white beaches, its churches and interesting museums, the great Parque Nacional del Teide is definitely worth a visit: the park stretches fot kilometres in the barren, lavic scenery that skirts the two volcano cones of the mountain, interrupted only here and there by defiant but rare and beautiful and plants.
The situation in the Eastern Islands is somewhat different. Particulary in Gran Canaria, which attracts almost two million tourists every year; besides a microcosm of scenery and climate (sandy coasts and cliffs, beaches and green countryside, rugged peaks and valleys at the foot of the great volcano cone in the centre of the island), the island has two very famous cities, Las Palmas and Maspalomas. The former is the chief city and the largest in the province, with a very busy port where modern facilities flank the ancient architecture of the old district. Hence, next to the XVI Cathedral consecrated to Santa Ana, and the Casa de Colon, the government building that accommodated Christopher Columbus and now a museum dedicated to his adventures, visitors can see the picturesque Pueblo Canario, a tourist paradise of little white-washed houses, where the sounds of folk music and dancing fill the air around busy little shops selling the ware of local craftsmen. Then there is the Museo Canario, entirely dedicated to the rich, interesting history of the Canary Islands prior to the arrival of the Spaniards; and the Parque Santa Catalina, a shaded square facing the port and full of typical kiosks and delightful meeting places.

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