History of Fuerteventura

Early Settlers

Fuerteventura’s first settlers are believed to have come from North Africa. The term for these first settlers is Maho or Majorero, which comes from the name of the ancient goatskin shoe that the people used to wear. The Maho’s lived very basic lives, in caves and simple dwellings made of lava stone. The Maho people subsisted by fishing and raising goats; visit Poblado de la Atalayita in Malpaís Grande, a short drive south of Caleta de Fuste to see the remains of an old Maho village.

The Romans

It has recently been proven, thanks to archaeologists from the University of La Laguna that the Romans not only knew about the Canary Islands, but utilised Isla de Lobos for the manufacture of a very special Purple Dye (known as Imperial Purple) during approximately 1BC to 1AD. This dye was obtained from the shells of a certain snail, and was apparently a laborious and very smelly job, with 12,000 snails producing only 1.4 grams of purple dye! The extreme amount of work for such small amounts of dye, meant that purple was only worn by the most senior figures; hence the name ‘Imperial Purple’.

The shell of a Murex Snail, used to create Imperial Purple dye on Isla de Lobos, Fuerteventura
The shell of a Murex Snail, used to create Imperial Purple dye
Castilian Conquest

Jean de Bethencourt and Gadifer la Salle first landed on Fuerteventura in 1402. By 1404 Betancuria was founded as the Capital and remained so until 1834. Betancuria was the centre for the courts, government, religious and administrative offices, making it a focus for attacks by both Berber and European pirates, which it endured time after time. The largest and most devastating attack came in 1593 by Berber pirate Jabán Arráez, when most of the Capital was destroyed, along with nearby town of Antigua. It is believed that Jabán attacked on numerous occasions in retaliation for the capture and enslavement of his people, who were captured and brought to the Canary Islands as slaves; their efforts still visible all over the island with the terraces (used to grow grains) that they were forced to build, in what must have been backbreaking work.

DID YOU KNOW? – Fuerteventura was once known as the ‘bread basket’ of the Canary Islands. Producing cereal and grain that was exported to the other islands.


By 1481 the Conquest for the Canary Islands was over (with Gran Canaria and Tenerife holding out for much longer than the eastern islands), and a treaty was signed, defining the archipelago as a kingdom within the Spanish Monarchy.

After countless attacks over the centuries, a garrison was built in La Oliva and officially instated in 1708.  The island was then kept under military rule, with the Colonel assuming the lifelong title of Governor at Arms and installing himself at the Casa de los Coroneles (in La Oliva) where successors to the title also remained until 1859, when military rule was dissolved.

In 1834 the title of the islands Capital was given to Puerto de las Cabras, (yes, Port of the Goats – the name was soon changed to Puerto del Rosario which sounded much less provincial) and has remained the Capital ever since. Puerto del Rosario had very humble beginnings as a small fishing village, that benefited from a sheltered natural harbour. Other than that, the place was largely overlooked, as evident by the “Atlantic Navigator” commenting in 1854 that it was an “insignificant place”.  (The islands by then were classed as a free trade zone, thanks to the ruling of Isabella II in 1852.)

Goat herd
The old name for the capital Puerto del Rosario was Puerto de las Cabras (Port of the Goats)
Modern Day

Puerto del Rosario’s population almost doubled overnight, following the Spanish Foreign Legion pulling out of the Western Sahara in 1975. Although the soldiers were put up in barracks in the nearby village of El Matorral, there were many ‘incidents’ in Puerto led Rosario that were attributed to the soldiers, even a murder. It must have been a very significant change for the residents of Puerto del Rosario, but no doubt, the sudden influx of these soldiers assisted in the growth of what was, a relatively sleepy town until that point.

The Capital, over the last few years has made significant improvements, making it much more tourist friendly. New pedestrianised streets, a large shopping centre, newly renovated town beaches (some have been awarded the prestigious Blue Flag status) and an open air sculpture museum are all part of the much needed re-vamp of what once felt like a rather dreary Capital.

Large Hotel in Fuerteventura with swimming pool
Large Tourist Hotels in Fuerteventura

Tourism really started to grow during the 1960s, following the building of hotels in the south and the building of the airport at El Matorral (the current airport). Although some areas look a little longer to establish themselves, with much of the journey to the Robinson Resort in Jandia being a long and bumpy dirt road and Corralejo not even joining in the tourist boom until the early 1970’s.

Despite its large size (the second largest in the Canary Islands), Fuerteventura’s population is still relatively small when compared to the other larger islands of the archipelago. The main reason believed to be the desertification of the island and thus minimal primary sector work, with a high level of jobs created or heavily linked to the islands tourism sector.