Lanzarote was the first Canary Island to fall to Jean de Béthencourt in 1402, marking the beginning of the Spanish conquest. Along with Fuerteventura, the island was frequently raided by Moroccan pirates based along the northwest African coast, barely 100km away. The problem accelerated during the 16th century, but the Moroccans weren’t the only source of grief. British buccaneers such as Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir John Hawkins and John Poole also plundered the island, as did French bearers of the skull and crossbones such as Jean Florin and Pegleg le Clerc.
By the middle of the 17th century, misery, piracy and emigration had reduced the number of islanders to just 300.
As if they hadn’t suffered enough, in the 1730s massive volcanic eruptions destroyed a dozen towns and some of the island’s most fertile land. But the islanders were to discover an ironic fact: the character of the volcanic soil proved a highly fertile bedrock for farming (particularly wine grapes), which brought relative prosperity to the descendants of those who had fled from the lava flows to Gran Canaria.
Today, with tourism flourishing alongside the healthy, if small, agricultural sector, the island is home to around 127, 000 people, not counting all the holiday blow-ins who, at any given time, can more than double the population.