A Small Island in World History

I’ve just been away on holiday, to Tenerife (it’s an Atlantic island belonging to Spain, off the north-west coast of Africa). It was lovely. Warm but not too hot (it’s cooled by ocean breezes), light and sunny, relaxed and low key, it was just what the doctor ordered. And my wife (She-who-must-be-obeyed) imposed a total ban on anything to do with work, so I really had no choice but to be idle – never a hardship for someone as naturally lazy as myself.

From a historical point of view, the thing about Tenerife is that there isn’t a great deal of history there – at least, not headline-grabbing history. No great battles have been fought there, there are no world-famous castles or palaces or churches; no sons or daughters of Tenerife have ventured forth to carve their names on the A-list of historical celebs.

All of this belays the crucial importance of Tenerife and the other Canary Islands, in world history. They, along with Madeira, acted as a sort of half-way house between Europe and the Americas. Their role as a launching-off point for the new long-distance explorations being undertaken by the Portuguese and Spanish on the 15th and 16th centuries was probably essential in enabling these voyages to actually take place. Christopher Columbus himself stopped off at the Canary Islands (Gran Canaria and Le Gomera), as did Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan and many (all?) others heading out into the South Atlantic.

So, not so unhistorical, after all.


By Peter Britton