Tenerife – General Information

The Tenerife Coat of Arms

The Coat of Arms of the island of Tenerife, and coat of arms of the Island Cabildo (Island Government) as the heir to the former Cabildo created after the Conquest in La Laguna the capital of the island of the time, was awarded to Tenerife by Royal Diploma on the 23rd of March 1510, granted by King Ferdinand V „The Catholic”, and issued in Madrid on behalf of his daughter, Joan I, Queen of Castile.


The original parchment of this Royal Warrant is conserved in the Municipal Archives of La Laguna. In the document´s description of the coat of arms, it says that … ” and all that placed in a shield on a yellow field with yellow bordered lettering on a red field that say , as inscribed in this, my charter that the aforesaid island of Tenerife earned on the day of San Miguel through the aforesaid Governor”…, referring to Alonso Fernandez de Lugo, conqueror of the island, who held the title of Governor General.


The Flag of Tenerife

The standard of Tenerife was initially adopted in 1845 as a registration signal or flag for the maritime province of Tenerife, based at Santa Cruz de Tenerife, by Royal Order, issued on the 30th July, 1845. At that time, Santa Cruz was the capital city of all the Canary Islands. It was finally adopted as the flag of the island at the request of the Island Cabildo, by Order of the Canary Island Government on May 9, 1989 and published in the Official Canary Island Gazette on the 22 May, 1989.

Description: Blue flag with a white cross whose arms terminate in the corners in the form known as the Cross of St. Andrew or Cross of Bourgogne. The field is navy blue and the white cross should be approximately one fifth of the width of the flag.

Geographic introduction: situation and size

Tenerife, the largest of the seven islands that make up the Canary Island archipelago, lies between the 28th and the 29th parallel north and 16 and 17 degrees west. Slightly to the north of the Tropic of Cancer, situated in the centre of the chain, between Gran Canaria, La Gomera and La Palma.

The island is just over 300 km from the African coast, and about 1,300 km from the Spanish Mainland. It has an area of 2,034 km 2 and a strangely triangular shape, with the gigantic Pico del Teide rising up in the centre to 3,718 metres, making it the highest point in all of Spain.

Landscape and terrain

Tenerife is a volcanic island that was originally formed in the late Tertiary Age. Seven million years ago, the areas of Teno, Anaga and Adeje emerged from the sea and later joined together to form the Dorsal Mountain Range. In the centre of the island, the impressive cone of Teide (3,718 m) rises up over the Caldera de Las Cañadas, forming the highest point of the island and, indeed, of the whole of Spain.

The rugged island terrain and the variety of climates has produced a territory of many different landscapes and forms, from the Teide National Park to Los Gigantes Cliffs with their vertical walls, with semi-desert areas with their drought-resistant plants in the south, valleys of tropical and sub-tropical crops, areas of laurel forests in the Anaga and Teno massifs and large areas of pine forest above the laurel forests relicts of the Tertiary Age. The wide variety of climates and landscapes in Tenerife is matched by a wealth of ecosystems, each with its own characteristic flora and fauna.


Even before the Canary Islands were part of history as such, they were legendary as the mythical lands beyond the Pillars of Hercules, the Gibraltar Straits, toward the Dark Sea. Paradise, the Elysian Fields or the Garden of the Hesperides are often placed here by Classical authors. One of the first reliable reports of the islands comes from Pliny who, in the 1st century, spoke of an expedition sent by Juba, King of Mauritania, which brought back giant dogs as a souvenir of the adventure. This is the origin of the name of the islands: Canary Islands, from can or canes. Magnificent examples of these fierce-looking native hunting dogs can still be found in the islands, where they are called „verdinos” on some islands and „bardinos” on others. It is hardly surprising that the first legendary and historic accounts of the Canary Islands almost always mention Tenerife, also known as Nivaria, as the sight of an enormous snow-capped mountain, sticking up above the clouds at those latitudes and visible for miles around must have made quite an impression on those ancient seafarers.


Up until the conquest of the Islands by Europeans, which took most of the 15th century, they were inhabited by people, possibly of North African origin. The Guanches – pre-Hispanic inhabitants of Tenerife – dressed in rough skins and there is no evidence to suggest they knew anything about sailing. They did, however, bury their dead with great care after mummifying them, often using highly efficient techniques for this, and they showed fine taste in their decorations. They worked in clay, although they did not use a wheel, and their spears (añepas) where tipped with sharp pointed heads of natural volcanic stone. Many ancient writers – and some modern ones too – thought that the Canary Islands were the visible remains of a sunken continent: Atlantis, and that the Guanches were the descendants of Atlas. They would be the sons and grandsons of the people who inhabited the mountains of that legendary world who were transformed suddenly into islanders by the catastrophe. The theory, although totally lacking in a scientific base, is supported by some based on the fact that the Guanches were not a seafaring people and that there was no communication between the islands, although they were clearly visible. These arguments also mention the enormous stature of the natives – if we are to give credit to some reports, giants were commonplace on the islands.

Volcanic evolution in Tenerife


Volcanism in the Canary Islands belongs to the alkaline series, with basaltic rock predominating, although a whole range of rocks derived from the original basaltic magma have emerged. The evolution culminates in elements such as trachytes and phonolites, which are particularly abundant on the island of Tenerife.
Viscosity is an essential feature of magma: so basaltic eruptions are more fluid and the lava flows over long distances, whilst gasses continually escape from the eruption centre; more highly evolved magma – trachytic -, on the other hand, is more viscous and the lava can not flow as far. It builds up in great masses close to the mouth of the volcano, below which gasses concentrate and are violently and dangerously expelled from time to time.


The volcanic history of Tenerife is completed when the eruptions of which we know about are located. The Guanches, the island´s first settlers, would certainly know of other eruptions that are not considered as historic as only those for which a written reference exists are considered as historic eruptions.

The 1704 – 1705 eruption: This eruption, a typical fissure eruption, occurred through three, clearly distinguishable emission centres: Siete Fuentes, Fasnia and Montaña de Las Arenas, all aligned along a 13-kilometre long fracture.

The Garachico eruption (1706): On the 5th of May, 1706, about 8 kilometres south of the town of Garachico, Montaña Negra came to life in an eruption that lasted nine days. Of all the historical eruptions in Tenerife, this is the only single point one and also, the only one that has caused considerable material damage.

The Chahorra eruption (1798): This is the only historical eruption that has occurred within the boundaries of what is now the Teide national park. The eruption started on the slopes of Pico Viejo, on the 9th of June, 1798 and continued until the 8th of September of the same year. This is the longest-lasting of all the historical eruptions that have happened in Tenerife.

The Chinyero eruption (1909): The last eruption to have occurred in Tenerife was the Chinyero eruption. It started on the 18th of November, lasting 10 days. The original nine mouths of the volcano were later reduced to three main ones.


Flora and Fauna: Introduction

Macaronesia is the collective name given to five chains of islands situated in the west central area of the North Atlantic Ocean. The islands are: the Azores, Madeira, the Selvagens, the Canary Islands and Cape Verde.

The Canary Islands are the group with the greatest wealth of flora. Moreover, it is the fourth natural region in the world for endemic flora, with 1700 reported higher plant species, of which some 20 genera and more than 500 species are endemic.

According to the former C.E.I.C. (Icona Canary Island Ecological Centre) data there are a total of 1919 species of plants in Spain, of which 505 are endemic Canary Island species.

Concerning the fauna, in the Canary Islands, there are more than 6000 species of invertebrates and 109 species of vertebrates, 20 of these latter species were introduced by man.

Despite its small size (2034 Km2), even though it is the largest of the group, Tenerife has a surprisingly rich biological diversity due to its special climate.. The rugged terrain of the island locally modifies the general weather conditions, generating a wide range of micro-climates.

The abundance of micro-climates, and, therefore, natural habitats, is clearly reflected in the rich and varied vegetation to be found on the island (1400 species of higher plants, including many species endemic to the Canary Islands (200) and to Tenerife (140).

A heritage of 140 plant species that are exclusive to Tenerife gives the island the greatest wealth of endemic species in the whole of Macaronesia. The combined action of all the different weather-related agents on the variety of volcanic materials has also led to a wide range of soil types.

The influence of all these different factors has generated a whole variety of habitats that shelter many different communities of plants and animals, whose interactions constitute the outstanding ecosystems of Tenerife. The vegetation of Tenerife can be divided into 6 major zones that are directly related to altitude and the direction in which they face.

LOWER XEROPHYLIC ZONE: 0 – 700m. Xerophylic shrubs that are well adapted to long dry spells, intense sun-shine and strong winds. Many endemic species. Spurges, cactus spurge, wax plants, etc.

THERMOPHILE FORESTS: 200 – 600 m. Transition zone. Moderate temperatures and rainfall. Area deteriorated by human activity. Many endemic species: Juniper, dragon trees, palm trees, etc.

LAUREL FOREST: 500 – 1000 m. Dense forest of large trees, descendants of the Tertiary Age flora, situated in a zone of frequent rainfall and mists. A wide variety of species with abundant undergrowth of bushes herbaceous plants and ferns. Laurels, holly, ebony, mahogany, etc.

WAX MYRTLE – TREE HEATH: 1000 – 1500 m. A dryer vegetation, poorer in species. It replaces the degraded laurel forest. Of great forestry importance. Wax myrtles, tree heath, holly, etc.

PINE FOREST: 800 – 2000 m. Open pine forest, with thin and unvaried undergrowth. Canary Island pine, broom, rock rose, etc.

HIGH MOUNTAIN: over 2000 m. Dry climate, intense solar radiation and extreme temperatures. Flora well adapted to the conditions. Endemic species of great scientific importance and beauty. Vipers bugloss, Teide white broom, Teide violet, etc. The fauna of the island is also highly interesting, with many endemic invertebrates and unique reptile, bird and mammal species. The fauna of Tenerife includes some 400 species of fish, 56 birds, 5 reptiles, 2 amphibians, 13 land mammals and several thousand invertebrates, along with several species of marine turtles, whales and dolphins.

The trade winds. Eternal spring

Tenerife is known throughout the world as the Island of Eternal Spring. Its geographic position, in an imaginary strip around the world in which you find some of the best holiday spots in the world, means that this slogan is not far from truth.

The reasons for the gentle climate are the prevailing winds – the trade winds – the orography of the terrain itself and the cold Canary current, which ensures that the coasts and beaches of Tenerife always enjoy magnificent temperatures, sometimes above the temperature of the air.

In general, the Island´s climate is mild, temperate and moderate throughout the year. There are no seasons of extreme cold or suffocating heat. Average temperatures fluctuate between 17º and 18º C in winter, up to 24º or 25º C in summer. These relative and general values are especially applicable in coastal areas where most of the tourist resorts are sited.

In the previous section (flora and fauna) information was given about the enormous variety of scenery in Tenerife. This also implies a wide variety of micro-climates, which is one of the most surprising and attractive aspects of the Island.

Traditional Architecture

The traditional architecture of the Canary Islands, the architecture of stately homes and more humble houses for the people, takes its inspiration mainly from the traditional architecture of Andalucia and Portugal, although it also has a strong personality of its own.

The best of the Andalucian architecture – of which magnificent examples can be found in La Orotava and La Laguna – are the typical balconies and interior patios. Both rely heavily on wood, usually heart wood from the pine trees of the island, often magnificently worked by the hands of craftsmen.


The facade of these buildings is usually simple, free of adornments, which are reserved exclusively for use in grand balconies, set with latticework louvres and broad overhangs over the street. Windows are usually sash-windows and they usually have seats on the inside, set into the wall.

Interior patios, genuine gardens in which you can still sometimes find a distilling stone (a curious and beautiful device used to filter water and keep it cool), are surrounded by a gallery, supported on posts of resiny pine, which gives access to the bedrooms and chambers of the house. Wooden stairs, in keeping with the whole style, lead up to the gallery.

The facades of traditional, thick-walled houses of the people are painted many different, and surprising colours, although, in recent years, there has been a trend toward painting them a uniform, impersonal white. You can find examples of this kind of architecture scattered all over the Island, like the one you can still see in the Masca House.

Official and religious buildings reflect the different styles that have prevailed in each age, from the immediate post conquest times – some churches like La Concepcion de La Laguna -, passing through the Baroque and Neo-classical trends to the more modernist styles of more recent years. La Laguna, La Orotava – whose town centres are national historic-artistic monuments -, Santa Cruz and Puerto de la Cruz conserve remnants of all these styles in their older and more personal streets. Of more recent architecture, mention is worth making of the head offices of CajaCanarias savings bank, in the heart of Santa Cruz, because of its original treatment of lines and spaces.


Canary Island folklore has evident mainland influences (Spanish and Portuguese), although it has also found inspiration in South America, with whom it has so many ties, and also draws on its own native history and experience. Where these native roots can be most clearly seen is in certain airs from islands such as El Hierro and La Gomera.

From this melting pot has emerged a popular music with a clear personality of its own, although the „isa” is derived from the „jota” and one of the most popular songs is called a „malagueña” (from Malaga). The „folia”, rhythmic and sensitive, and the „tajaraste”, cheerful and syncopated are the four most typical airs of Canary Island folklore music. To understand the full wealth of Canary Island music, other not so well known songs must also be added, like the „tango de la Florida”, the „aires de Lima”, the „sirinoque”, etc.

The local musical instrument par excellence is the timple, a sort of small, four or five-string guitar – this depends on which island it comes from – which has an extraordinary sound and enormous potential as a solo instrument in the hands of experts like Totoyo Millares and Jose Manuel Aldana.

Canary Island folklore has been studied and renovated in recent years by solo artists and groups that have had major successes in their investigations and big hits with their music. They include „Los Sabandeños” – the most successful – and „Añoranza” from Tenerife, „Los Gofiones” from Gran Canaria and „Taburiente” from La Palma.


Sabandeño Festival. La Laguna, Fiestas del Cristo, September. International Folklore Festival. Los Cristianos, August. International Folklore Festival. La Laguna, July.



Some of the most popular craft items among visitors are the „calados” – drawn work embroidery – and „rosetas” – rosette embroidery. Calado is a technique used to embroider a tightly stretched piece of cloth fixed to a wooden frame, requiring good taste, patience and accuracy. It is generally used for table cloths and produces beautiful results. Roseta is a technique, mainly used in Vilaflor, that consists of making patterns with threads that are crossed over and wound round pins stuck in a „pique” – a small, almost spherical support made of cloth. By joining small pieces together, this technique is used for making individual mats and serviettes of great beauty.

Tourist and visitors may be approached in the middle of Santa Cruz, or in whichever holiday resort they are staying in, by street salesmen who offer them „Hand made Canary Island table cloths” very cheap. Of course you can buy whatever you want, but you should know that these are not the genuine article, they are table cloths that have been mass produced, usually in the Far East. In this short section on handicrafts, mention must be made of the historic skills of the carpenters of the North of Tenerife – mainly La Orotava and Los Realejos. They are maestros at wood carving, making doors, lattice-work, balconies, window-frames and hand-made furniture, all of which are perfect for decorating houses built in the traditional Canary Island style.


In Tenerife, and in the rest of the Canary Islands, there is a long tradition of working clay that has grown out of the primitive ceramic work done by the ancient Guanches, who did not use a potter’s wheel. Modern potters continue to ignore the wheel. Clay is worked entirely by hand, giving truly genuine results, be they articles originally used in the household, such as „ganigos” – small traditional pots – and „asadores” – clay spit used for roasting fish, or simply adornments: bead necklaces or the famous „pintaderas” a kind of symbol that is repeated with spirals in Guanche iconography: an series of triangles set within another common triangle.

Web: www.tenerifeartesania.es   –   http://www.artenerife.com/es/