The Canary Islands are an archipelago of seven islands of volcanic origin in the Atlantic Ocean, off the northwestern coast of Africa (Morocco and Western Sahara). The islands belong to Spain, and form an autonomous community of that country.
The islands and their capitals are:
The nearest island is 108 km from the northwest African coast.
The islands form the Macaronesia ecoregion with the Azores, Cape Verde, Madeira, and the Savage Isles. The Teide volcano on Tenerife is the highest mountain in Spain. According to the position of the islands with respect to the trade winds, the climate can be mild and wet or very dry. Several native species are conserved, like the dragon tree Dracaena draco and the Laurisilva forests.
Four of Spain's 13 national parks are located in the Canary Islands, more than any other autonomous community:
The Autonomous Community of the Canary Islands consists of two provinces, Las Palmas and Santa Cruz de Tenerife, whose capitals (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Santa Cruz de Tenerife) are co-capitals of the autonomous community. Each of the seven major islands is ruled by an assembly named cabildo insular.
The Canary Islands are supposed to have given birth to the Greek myth of the Garden of Hesperides.
The islands were named Canaria (Latin canis, dog) because of the descriptions of the large numbers of wild dogs roaming the islands, first reported by the Roman scholar Pliny. The bird canary was named after the islands. Initially dominated by Norman adventurers and Portugal, the islands were finally conquered by Castile towards the end of the 15th century, and the local (possibly Berber) people —called guanches— subsequently diminished in number until their extinction or assimilation with the immigrants.
The Canary Islands were first discovered by ancient Greek and Roman seafarers, yet it was not until the early 1400s that anyone made a serious attempt to conquer the Canaries.
In 1402, the French explorer Jean de Béthencourt led an expedition to the islands, landing first on the north side of Lanzarote. From there, he conquered Fuerteventura and Hierro. Béthencourt received the title King of the Canary Islands but recognized King Henry III of Castile, who had provided aid during the conquest, as his overlord.
Béthencourt also established a base on the island of Gomera , but it would be many years before the island was truly conquered. The people of Gomera, as well as the Gran Canaria, Tenerife, and La Palma people, resisted the Spanish invaders for almost a century.
By 1495, the islands had fallen to Spanish rule. The town of Santa Cruz, on La Palma, became a stopping point for the Spanish conquerors, traders, and missionaries on their way to the New World.
The islands became very wealthy and soon attracted merchants and adventurers from all over Europe. Magnificent palaces and churches were built on La Palma during this busy, prosperous period. Of particular interest to visitors is the Church of El Salvador, one of the island's finest examples of the architecture of the 1500s.
In 1977, 583 people were killed in a major aviation accident known as the Tenerife disaster.
The economy is based on tourism and tropical agriculture (banana, tobacco) for exportation to Europe and the Americas. They receive about 10 million tourists per year. Ecologists are concerned that the resources, especially in the drier islands, are being overexploited.
The combination of high mountains, belonging to Europe, and clean sky has made the Roque de los Muchachos (in La Palma island) peak a leading placement for telescopes like the Grantecan.
The islands are outside European Union customs territory, though politically within the EU. The ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 code IC is reserved for representing them in customs affairs. Goods subject to Spanish customs and excise duties and VAT, such as tobacco or electronic goods, are therefore significantly cheaper in the Canaries. The islands do not have a separate Internet country code from the rest of Spain.
Canarian time is GMT, one hour less than that of mainland Spain and the same as that of London.