Tenerifes Forgotten Past: Pirates, Battles & Castles

Today, Tenerife is a firm favorite with package holidaying makers – its promise of sun, sea, cheap beer and quality fry ups makes it an alluring destination for Brits wanting to escape – but in its not so distant past, Tenerife was far from the holiday camp it now is.

Delve into the island’s murky past and you will find bloodthirsty pirates, invading armies and fierce battles. Indeed, it sounds more like a medieval adventure story than a tourist hot spot but, as we shall reveal, the scars of a tumultuous history are to be found all over this island, particularly in its proud heritage…

The inhabitants of Tenerife began speaking Spanish, enjoying tapas and taking siestas in 1494, after Spain decided to conquer the island and turn it into a colony.

Soon, the islanders found themselves at the heart of the ocean and as trading began to flourish, Tenerife was caught between Europe, Africa and the New World. With rich trade routes passing its shores on a daily basis, this meant one thing and one thing only – pirates. And lots of them.

If you imagine the typical rum-swilling skull and crossbones characters of pirate-themed comic books, you’re on the right tracks. Tenerife was regularly ransacked by treasure hunting terrorists who buried their swag, pillaged the villages and generally caused merry hell.

The most significant attack happened in 1553 when pirates plundered Tenerife’s main city, Santa Cruz, and burnt it to the ground. After their homes were all but cinders and their spirits had been dashed, islanders began building a castle to protect their beloved city.

They proudly named it Castillo de San Juan (although it was really just a small fortress) and prepared for the next invasion. The castle (fortress) came into its own in 1797 when, on a hot day in July, a fleet of British ships could be seen off of the coast of Santa Cruz.

Led by Admiral Horatio Nelson (the guy who won the battle of Trafalgar), the Brits were keen to claim the island for King George III.

This was the height of the Empire and the British were used to getting their own way. However, the islanders were tired of being pushed around. They retaliated in their thousands and after a passionate battle, the Spanish suffered only 30 dead whilst the British lost 250.

Their victory was strengthened by the fact that the fabled Nelson lost his right arm during the conflict. These days, the people of Santa Cruz annually re-enact this battle with pride and panache. It is remembered as the day that they finally defended their homes.

Naturally, the British have never forgiven the residents of Tenerife for injuring one of their greatest navy heroes and in an act of bitter revenge, they frequently charter budget Tenerife flights.

Since the early 80’s, these flights have successfully infested the island with young, impressionable gadabouts that hog their sun-loungers and demand Sex on the Beach. If they couldn’t occupy the island in the 18th century, then they’d simply have to anglicise it some other way.

Not only that, but the rum-swilling pirates of yesteryear have returned. Hoards of men with booze-stained breath and a stagger to rival Davey Jones regularly pillage the bars and nightclubs of Tenerife’s party district.

Stag dos, as their called nowadays, are Tenerife’s contemporary blight and although they actually pump money into the local economy, someone always has to clean up in the morning.

(photo credit: 1 – 2 – 3 – 4)