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Art and Culture in Tenerife
As the stopping off point between Europe and the Americas, the island has a rich and diverse history which you can get a taste of by visiting some of the 30 museums and galleries in Tenerife.
Cultural roots: the early history of Tenerife
The earliest people to settle on the islands were called Guanches, a tribal society that relied on limited farming, herding, hunting and gathering for their subsistence with a staple diet of gofio.
Many mummies have been found, showing that the Guanches embalmed their dead. Combined with the existence of the pyramids at Guïmar, this has proved an intriguing riddle to some historians such as the famous Thor Heyerdahl, who eventually made his home here. The Guanche Chiefs were known as Menceyes, and at the time of the Spanish invasion, there were nine Guanche tribes in Tenerife.
The Spanish conquest of the Canaries began in 1402, but Tenerife was not completely subdued until 1496. Santa Cruz de Tenerife became the stopping point for the Spanish conquerors, traders and missionaries on their way to the New World, bringing great prosperity to some social sectors of the islands. Architecture from this time can still be seen in the north of the island, notably in Santa Cruz, La Laguna, La Orotava and Puerto de la Cruz.
This wealth invited attacks by pirates and privateers. Perhaps Tenerife’s most famous assailant was Nelson. He attacked Santa Cruz in 1797 with a British fleet but was repulsed, losing almost 400 men and his right arm.
Agriculture was the economic mainstay of Tenerife’s islanders, but various price crashes led to economic hardship and mass emigration during the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries.
Museums in Tenerife
A great way to get a good feel for the history of Tenerife is by visiting a museum. The Museum of Man and Nature in Santa Cruz is a good starting point, exhibiting archaeological finds from pre-hispanic settlement sites on Tenerife. The Museo de Bellas Artes has some fascinating paintings showing scenes from the conquest of Tenerife over the Guanches. The Museo de Historia de Tenerife takes over the story from the 15th century and the social, cultural and economic development of the Spanish colonialists. The Museo de Antropologia de Tenerife is an 18th century Canarian mansion, with displays themed around popular culture and agriculture.
Another museum that is well worth a look is the Museo de la Ciencia y El Cosmos, which has all sorts of interactive displays as well as a planetarium.
Cultural events in Tenerife
There are abundant opportunities to enjoy the arts, music and theatre in Tenerife and a packed schedule every month of the year. The Santa Cruz Auditorium holds many cultural events, with regular classical, ballet and opera performances, but all around the island there are many other cultural events. Some of the best known are the Carnivals, which start in February, the jazz festival in July and opera in the autumn. Throughout the year, you can enjoy folklore, music and religious festivals.