The city was founded by the banks of the Giniguada River, where the historical district of Vegueta still lies. Here you find a whole host of characteristic buildings of the city, like the cathedral, the Casa Museo de Colón, the Casas Consistoriales or the Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno. The area’s architecture is a faithful representation of the majestic style of the period and you will find examples of neo-classical, modernist and gothic façades.
Over time, many businesses have set up in these streets, driven, in all probability, by the large numbers of tourists who visit them every day and the proximity to the most important shopping area of the capital: Triana. Here, among other things, you can eat in the El Herreño restaurant, which is famous for its tapas and has become a popular meeting point in the evenings for young people, who are drawn primarily to the many different bars.
The Triana district is on the other side of the Giniguada River, and is full of modern buildings and shopping areas. You also find the famous Teatro Pérez Galdós here; this is the venue for, among other activities, the Festival de Ópera Alfredo Kraus, and the Casa Museo Pérez Galdós. Using Calle Triana as a starting point, this area is ideal for shopping and contains many assorted shops: sports, clothes, fabrics, crafts, gifts, bookshops, etc. A few worthy of mention are FEDAC, Promod, Juan G and Orca. Heading out of Triana is Parque de San Telmo, with its shelter and bandstand, and the bus station, where you can get a bus to anywhere on the island. Next to the bus station are different bars and restaurants like El Guincho or Timbeque.
In the area of Las Palmas known as El Puerto, there are three main hubs: Mesa y López, Santa Catalina and Las Canteras. The Mesa y López Avenue and surrounding area form a very important shopping area where you find shops like López, Mango, Don Juan, Massimo Dutti and the department store El Corte Inglés. Along this avenue and the nearby streets there is a constant flow of people and cars that confirm this is one of the most busiest places on the island. There are also several restaurants, cinemas and bars, like Tapasia, Multicines Galaxy or Heineken respectively.
Parque de Santa Catalina is famous for its cosmopolitan feel, provided by the shops and hotels found there. You will find: Los Bardinos and Santa Catalina, as well as the Museo Elder de la Ciencia y la Tecnología, the Castillo de la Luz and Carnaval, where famous parties take place. In the evenings, thousands of young people (and the not so young) enjoy the bars and nightclubs in the area, like Área or La Marquesina.
Lastly, we could not go to Gran Canaria’s capital without mentioning the famous and characteristic Playa de las Canteras. There are 4km of yellow sand which are sheltered by a reef, called La Barra, which succeeds in calming the water without cutting it off from the open sea. Along the length of the Paseo de las Canteras, there are lots of hotels such as the Sansofé or the Reina Isabel, restaurants like the Candombe, terraces and shops selling a huge variety of products, including unforgettable ice creams at the Peña la Vieja. At the end of the Paseo, you come to El Confital beach, a paradise for windsurfers due to the great waves, the Centro Comercial Las Arenas and the marvellous Auditorio Alfredo Kraus, home of the only classical music festival that takes place in the middle of winter.
But the island of Gran Canaria is made up of much more than its capital. In the South lies one of the most important focal points for tourists, due, without doubt, to the incredible miles of yellow sandy beaches, the famous Maspalomas dunes and above all, the fantastic climate all year round. In the other direction, in recent times, the north and centre of the island have become more popular with locals and outsiders due to the high standards of the hotels and restaurants in the towns, the striking mountains which are amenable to parachuting and other activities related to the great outdoors.
History of Gran Canaria
Since ancient times, nomadic travellers and others have dreamt of and talked about the Canary Islands. The Jardín de las Hespérides, Islas Afortunadas and Cumbres de la Atlántida are just some of the names they have received throughout history, dating back to when the Phoenicians, Romans and Arabs first came.
The former inhabitants of Gran Canaria, the Tamaran, came from the nearby African coast. Historians appear to be in agreement that these inhabitants were Berber in origin and reached the islands at different times. The economy was centred around agriculture and politically, at the time of the Conquest, they were divided into two guanartematos or kingdoms, Gáldar and Telde, ruled by a leader, known as the guanarteme. They also had a developed system of religious beliefs, with a high priest called a faycán who was blood related to the guanarteme. A clear example of these beliefs is the site at Cuatro Puertas.
Apart from the presence of the Balearic monks who settled along the coast before the Conquest (and several episodes of pillage and Castilian incursions), it was not until 1478, with the foundation of the city El Real de las Palmas by the conquistador Juan Rejón that the conquest and domination the island began. It was precisely at this time that the island took on the name Gran Canaria, in homage to the brave inhabitants who defended their freedom.
With the foundation of the city at the mouth of the Guiniguada riverbank, the small town, now the city of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, started to grow on both sides of the river, creating new districts like Vegueta and Triana. Here the colonial architectural style which would later be exported to the New Worldwas developed, as well as religious and military buildings of great character, like the cathedral, the Palacio Episcopal, the Castillo de Mata or La Luz Castle, the Casas Consistoriales and even Plaza Santa Ana.
The influx of settlers on land colonised by the Catholic Monarchs resulted in a division of land throughout the 16th century. Thus, families from the peninsula started to occupy land and build cities, which in many cases were erected near or on top of primitive villages, like Telde or Gáldar.
From this moment on, agriculture and farming were at the heart of life on the island. The farming of single crops, sugar cane first and later vineyards, created an economy dependant on external forces; at the same time, subsistence farming was continually getting poorer and there was incipient trade in the city of Las Palmas. The latter was boosted at the end of the 19th century by the construction of the Puerto de la Luz and the decisive presence of powerful Englishmen in the city.
Previously, the city of Las Palmas had grown towards the area of La Isleta from the original site next to the Guiniguada. The traffic of the port set the foundations for a new city, and after the first commercial travellers came the tourist boom of the 1960s. Tourism, Gran Canaria’s last monoculture after tomatoes and bananas, now in full decline, would be responsible for the last upheaval of the landscape and the lifestyle on the island.
The millions of tourists each year, overwhelmingly Northern European and German, who visit places like Maspalomas or Las Canteras, have ended up making this island a huge display case. They have managed to convert the island, from whence people had traditionally emigrated to countries like Cuba or Venezuela, to a promised land for thousands of Spanish, European, South American, and African immigrants. Gran Canaria has become a real melting pot of races, language and religions and this, is one of the island’s main attractions.