At more than 2,000 square kilometres in size, Tenerife is the largest of the seven Canary Islands. An estimated five million tourists visit on holidays each year. Many are happy to soak up the sun, dip their toes in the warm sea and sip sangria.
But its current identity as an island paradise for sun seekers is a new one for Tenerife, and just beneath that mild-mannered exterior lies a history stretching back many thousands of years. Those willing to scratch the surface will find an array of ghost stories, myths and legends – a window through time onto Tenerife’s fascinating past.
Tenerife is believed to have been inhabited for between three and four thousand years. The Guanches are thought to have been the island’s first inhabitants.
Many people are convinced that beneath Tenerife lies the submerged mythological continent of Atlantis and that the Guanches were the descendants of the folk of that long-lost civilisation, a belief that endures across the island even today, long after the demise of the Guanches.
Tourists intending to visit the picturesque gorge of Masca on their holidays to Tenerife may be interested to hear that the area has a rich heritage associated with magic and sorcery. One legend tells of a boy whose mother feared he would be assaulted by witches in the Masca gorge and warned him against crossing it to visit his beloved.
Ignoring his mother’s pleas, the boy set off on his journey. He was soon attacked by a huge pig, which he drove off with a stick before fleeing back home unharmed. A lucky escape from a wild animal, he thinks to himself, until the next day he discovers that someone has reportedly killed his beloved’s grandmother with a stick in the woods. Spooky coincidence or proof that witchcraft actually exists in this otherwise tranquil and idyllic part of Tenerife?
Tenerife even makes an appearance in one of the best-known Greek legends – the 12 labours of Hercules. The golden apples which Hercules has to steal are located on a tree in the Garden of Hesperides, otherwise known as modern-day Tenerife. According to legend, the garden was guarded by a 100-headed dragon, which was killed by Hercules. The story tells us that trees grew where the dragon’s blood was spilt. The trees, known simply as ‘dragon trees’ after the legend, still grow across northern Tenerife. The sap of the trees is red, and this sap is believed to be real dragon’s blood from the slaughtered beast.
The final and perhaps most intriguing legend for visitors on holidays to Tenerife is the mystery of a ghost island located just off shore.
Called San Borondon, this ‘ghost island’ is believed to be an eighth Canary Island which appears and disappears as it pleases and is only visible under certain conditions. There have been sightings, from locals and visitors alike, with people claiming even up to modern times that they have caught a glimpse of the famed mythological island.
Swirling out of the mists off the shore of this island paradise, like an Atlantic Ocean-based Avalon moving in and out of another time and dimension, will you spot San Borondon next time you visit?