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Gran Canaria forms part of the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean, 210 km from the coast of Africa. Its capital is Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and the island gives name to the province which also includes the islands of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura.
The Canary Islands have an interesting history, stretching to the present day from the arrival of the first inhabitants, generally known as 'Guanches', and its later settlement by the Castilians.
The native inhabitants of the Canary Islands are probably descended from the Berber peoples of North Africa who used the ocean currents to reach the islands. Little remains of their culture, apart from traditional costumes, place names and other reminders of the past. Settlement by the forces of the Spanish crown took place in the year 1483. From this time onwards there were rapid changes in the political and economic structure of the islands, because they became a stopping point on the voyage to America. Their resulting economic prosperity made them a target for attacks by French, Dutch and English freebooters during the sixteenth century.
In the modern age tourism is the mainstay of the economy of the Canary Islands, while strong growth has also been encouraged by the development of the building trade, the ports and agriculture, which exports tomatoes and bananas on a large scale.
Because of its range of climatic zones and ecosystems the island of Gran Canaria is regarded as a kind of miniature continent of its own. It has an area of approximately 1,560 km², a coastline of 236 km and its highest mountain, 'Pico de las Nieves', rises to a height of 1949 m.
The Canary islands were formed by the accretion of material from thousands of volcanoes. The islands to the east (Fuerteventura and Lanzarote) are separated from the continent by a narrow and shallow strip of sea (approx. 1000 m in depth). The remaining islands rise from depths of 3000 to 4000 m. Geologically Lanzarote is the oldest island (19 million years), and El Hierro the western-most and youngest (around 1 million years). The volcanic origins of the islands are clearly indicated by their mountainous landscape with its volcanic cones and craters.
The formation of the Canary Islands and their distance from the continent have led to the development of a wide range of fauna which is indigenous to the islands, while their flora has long been of special interest to specialists. The wildlife of the Canary Islands is fascinating for the diversity of its bird and reptile species while its marine fauna includes many types of whales (at least 29 species), dolphins, turtles, rays and fish such as the gilthead sea bream.