Gran Canaria was known to its original inhabitants as Tamarán, linked to the Arabic name for date palms (tamar), whereas the Romans christened the island Canaria.
Conquest began in earnest in 1478 with the landing of a Spanish force led by Juan Rejón. Despite beating off a furious counterattack by Doramas, the guanarteme (chief) of the island’s Telde kingdom, Rejón was supplanted by Pedro de Vera, who stayed put for the following five years. The turning point was the conversion of the Guanche chief, Tenesor Semidan, to Christianity. In April 1483 he convinced the islanders to surrender.
The island was soon colonised by a ragtag assortment of adventurers and landless hopefuls from as far away as Galicia, Andalucía, Portugal, Italy, France, the Low Countries and even Britain and Ireland.
Initially, the island boomed from sugar exports and transatlantic trade between Spain and the Americas. But, as the demand for Canary Islands sugar fell and the fortunes of wine grew, the island declined before its main rival and superior wine grower, Tenerife. It was not until the late 19th century that Gran Canaria recovered its position.
To this day the two islands remain rivals and, between them, are home to most of the islands’ permanent populace.