The Canary Islands played a crucial role on Christopher Columbus' voyage to the New World. Not only were they the last European port from which the caravels set sail, they were also a refuelling point in every sense of the word, as the island's natural riches, the quality of its drinking water and the welcoming nature of its inhabitants led the expedition to settle here for several weeks to gather their strength before their long crossing.
When you visit the Canaries you're bound to feel all their energising force, and you'll understand why Christopher Columbus chose this as his provisioning point for the most important voyage in history.
Off to the New World
On August 3 1492, the three caravelles –the Santa María, the Pinta and the Niña– set sail from Palos de la Frontera for the Canary Islands, the last port of call before embarking on their quest for an alternative route to the Indies.
They reached the island on August 9, and took the opportunity to finish preparing the ships and to recruit some Canarian sailors, who were known for their skill and knowledge of the water. Finally, on September 6, Christopher Columbus' expedition set sail for the eastern coast of Asia. No one that day could foresee what was about to happen. Several weeks into the voyage, tensions began mounting among the crew members, and there were even stirrings of a mutiny
On October 12 1492, after 36 days at sea, the mariner Rodrigo de Triana shouted the long-awaited words from the Pinta's crow's nest: “Land ahoy!”. Christopher Columbus had changed the course of history.
The presence of the Canary Islands in America
Two circumstances made the Canary Islands an obligatory port of call on the route to the New World: they lie at the centre of the trade winds currents, and are also the last western bastion in Europe. And ever since Columbus noted both these facts, the history of the Canary Islands has been closely linked with that of America.
It was from these islands where the first sugar cane and banana seeds left for the Indies. The same occurred with pigs, goats, dogs and sheep, which were soon also to extend around the Antilles. Inversely, the potato was brought from the Americas to the Canary Islands, where it rapidly acclimatised before being exported all over Europe.
What's more, many native Canary Islanders embarked on the voyages that led to the foundation of cities like Buenos Aires in 1535, or others like Santa Marta, Caracas, Montevideo and Havana, where their influence can still be seen today.
Built on the site of the old governor's house, from whom Christopher Columbus asked for assistance to repair the damage suffered by the Pinta on the crossing from the mainland, this building still conserves original features from the 16th century and is considered to be of exceptional historic value. The moment you cross the threshold you'll feel as though you are in the age of discovery, and as you wander through its rooms you'll be able learn more about everything to do with that first voyage to America and of the Canary Islands' role in this event. See >
Columbus' House in La Gomera is the ideal place to find out why the Genovese mariner had such a weakness for this island. The abundant archaeological and historic material it contains offers a glimpse into La Gomera as it was at that time, and explores the fundamental role played by its inhabitants in the discovery. The museum is housed in a beautiful mansion built in the typical 17th-century Canarian architectural style, which has been refurbished with scrupulous respect for the original design, and now serves as an exceptional setting for discovering all the secrets surrounding this event. See >
An insight into the discovery
in La Gomera
Christopher Columbus is said to have been captivated as soon as he stepped onto the island of La Gomera. One legend even recounts that the navigator had a passionate love affair with the lady of the island, Beatriz de Boadilla, in the city of San Sebastián. This route could only start in one place: the Torre del Conde tower, where according to the islanders, the lovers used to meet in secret. Today it is one of the most visited monuments on the island, and contains an interesting exhibition of maps. A few metres away stands the Casa de la Aguada de la Aguada building, the first residence of the lords of the island, and from whose well Columbus is said to have taken drinking water for his first voyage. This short route ends very nearby at the church of la Asunción, where tradition holds that Columbus prayed for the success of his mission.