10 things you might not know about the Canary Islands
1. There are seven islands in total:
El Hierro, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, La Gomera, Lanzarote, La Palma and Tenerife. Tenerife is the biggest of the group. Together these seven Canary Islands form the small archipelago that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean to the south of Spain.
2. Though they are Spanish, the islands are actually closer to Africa.
They are situated just off Africa's north-west coast of Morocco. Which gives them their enviably warm climate and interesting sea life.
3. Their position creates the perfect marine environment
Thanks to the warm waters, and the influence from both the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean, the surrounding waters are perfect for a number of interesting and even endemic marine species. It is a popular place for diving and snorkelling thanks to the large amounts of fish, coral and invertebrates. But perhaps the most popular inhabitant is the endangered loggerhead turtle.
4. The 'Canary' Islands have nothing to do with tiny birds...
In fact, it's thought the name derives from the word for dog. The Latin Canariae Insulae literally translates as the 'Islands of Dogs'.
5. Canary birds are named after the islands and not the other way around.
The Atlantic Canary or the wild canary is native to the Canary Islands and is a small yellowish bird belonging to the finch family. It gets its name from its home. Canaries as we know them, the domestic canaries, have been bred since the 17th century, from the wild canaries, and can now be found in a range of colours.
6. So what's the relevance of the dogs?
There are several theories that may shed some light on why the 'Islands of Dogs' have been named as they are. One is that King Juba II named the islands after the large ferocious dogs spotted during the expedition he sent out in the 1st century. A second theory is that the large population of monk seals, or canis marinus (literally 'sea dogs' in Latin) were some of the islands' most distinguishing features to the ancient Romans, back when they were first introduced to the area.
7. It is still not completely certain where the name originated from...
The Guanches were the original inhabitants of the Canary Islands and it is thought that they could have worshiped dogs in a similar way to the Egyptian worship of the dog-headed god Anubis. It is thought that on Gran Canaria the inhabitants even called themselves the 'Canarii'. Even today the islands' coat of arms depicts two dogs.
8. There are two capital cities
The Canaries form an autonomous community and between the seven islands there are actually two capital cities: Santa Cruz in Tenerife and Las Palmas in Gran Canaria.
9. They are home to the highest point in Spain
Mount Teide is a volcano that is located on Tenerife. Not only is it technically Spain's highest peak, at 3,781 meters, but it's also the third highest island volcano in the world. And it remains active!
10. And a secret language spoken only by locals
Silbo Gomaro is a type of whistled speech spoken on the island of La Gomera. It is thought to have been bought over by early settlers and adopted by the indigenous Guanches. It adapted over time and now seems to be the only language of its kind taught in schools. Find out all about Silbo Gomero and La Gomera here.
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