History of Fuerteventura

If you are interested in the history of Fuerteventura, then reading this brief summary will give you the key facts and events of the past 20 million years!  The first impression is that man has only made an impact on the island quite recently, since tourism became important, but there have been people living on the island for a long time in very difficult conditions.

The island was first formed by volcanic eruptions which started around 20 million years ago, and ended about  5 million years ago; and these created the oldest and second largest (1660 km2) Canary Island.  The last volcanic eruption on the island was 4-5,000 years ago.  Since then the volcanic landscape has been eroded by the weather.

In the early history of Fuerteventura, it is believed that the first settlers on the island arrived from North Africa, and they lived in caves and underground holes.  There is a museum at La Atalayita, in the Antigua municipality, which shows these dwellings and the type of tools and pottery they used. These people lived there from the 5th Century BC onwards, and were known as the "Guanches." They lived in the Stone Age and had flocks of goats.

From the 11th Century, different settlers arrived on the island – the Phoenicians, the Spanish and the Portugese.  

In the later history of Fuerteventura, the island was divided into two kingdoms.  Jandia was in the south of the island, and Maxorata was in the north.  A wall separated the two, close to La Pared, and some of it remains intact today.  Two of the kings were Ayoze, who ruled the south, and Guize, who ruled the north.  At this time, the island was known as Herbania, and it was also known as Planeria at some stage.  Ayoze and Guize are such an important part of Fuerteventura’s history that giant statues of them have been placed at the view point above the old capital Betancuria.

Early island people were known as ‘Mahorero’ or ‘Maho’ which derives from the word ‘mahos’ which were shoes made out of goat skin that were worn by the early settlers.  The word ‘Majorero’ is used today to describe someone who is born on the island.

A major event in the history of Fuerteventura was The Conquest, which began in 1402 and ended in 1406. The Frenchman, Juan de Bethancourt led the conquest of the island after leaving Lanzarote.  With is general, Gadifer de La Salle and 63 men, they landed at Ajuy on the west coast and conquered the island.  He established the first major settlement on the island, Betancuria, and it became the capital.

At this time the population of the island was 1,200; and was called "Forte Ventura" (this is the name as it appears, for the first time, on a map by Angelino Dulcert, in 1339). "Forte" means strong and "Ventura" could mean wind, luck or destiny).

From 1476, the island was ruled by the Spanish military and influential families.  A military Colonel ruled the island from 1708, when construction began on the Casa de Coroneles (the Colonel’s House) in La Oliva.  This impressive residence is now a museum after extensive renovations in 2006. 

From then on,the island was invaded by the Spanish, French and English, and suffered frequent pirate raids. To avoid these types of attacks, several castles were built along the coast, and most of the population moved inland. The Castillo de San Buenaventura in Caleta de Fuste is a good example of this. A famous part of Fuertentura history is the English pirate raid in 1740, which was thwarted by the local farmers, and this Battle of Tamasite, is celebrated every year in Tuineje on October 12.

In the more recent history of Fuerteventura, parishes were created in La Oliva, Pajara and Tuineje in 1835, and this created the municipalities that exist today.

In 1859 the control of the island ended, and in the following year, Puerto Cabras became the capital of the island.  In the 1950’s Puerto Cabras changed its name to Puerto del Rosario.

In 1917, Fuerteventura became part of the province of Gran Canaria.

So, when you are out and about in Fuerteventura, keep a look out for names that are part of the history of Fuerteventura  – Maxorata, Bethancourt, Ayose, Guize, Tamasite, Herbania,and Majorero.  Impress your friends by telling them all that you know!

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