The original inhabitants of Gran Canaria referred to the island as Tamaran, which is close to the Arabic word, tamar for "date palms." The Romans were responsible for naming the island, Canaria.
It is believed that Gran Canaria’s first settlers came to the volcanic island from North Africa in the fifth century. Known as Guanches, they are of Berber descent and initially called the island the "Land of the Brave."
In the early 14th century, Portuguese and French explorers arrived and attempted to invade the Tamarans. However, success was only achieved by the Spanish in 1478, led by Juan Rejon. The Doramas counterattacked but were defeated, and Pedro de Vera replaced Rejon. The Kingdom of Castile (present-day Spain) became successful in conquering the island using a campaign for Christianity under Queen Isabella I. The Guanche chief was converted to Christianity, which was the significant turning point in making the other islanders surrender in 1483.
In 1492, Christopher Columbus arrived in Gran Canaria and settled on Las Palmas to have one of his ships repaired before continuing his journey to the Americas. His stay in the capital is commemorated in Casa Colon in the old quarter, La Vegueta.
Other Europeans attempted to raid Gran Canaria and seize it from the Kingdom of Castile. One attack was led by Francis Drake, a British seaman. His arrival is marked by the Battle of Las Palmas, which started when he and his men attacked the Santa Ana and Santa Caterina fortresses of Las Palmas. Four English ships were damaged during the counterattack, forcing a retreat. The Dutch arrived in 1599 with Vice Admiral Pieter van der Does as their leader. The second raid partially destroyed the capital, making it one of the most significant events in the history of the island.
Gran Canaria started to progress economically in the 20th century after the Spanish civil war. The Suez Canal closed, but the seaport provided ample facilities and a new route for ships passing through to avoid the Arab-Israeli conflict. By the 1960's, Gran Canaria’s economy was being driven largely by tourism.
Most locals of Gran Canaria are Roman Catholic, though an official religion doesn’t exist. People follow traditional Spanish social conventions and culture, but modern values and habits are also being acquired because of the influx of tourists and foreigners visiting throughout the year. Courtesy, chivalry and hospitality are still strong and evident.
It is customary for men to greet one another by shaking hands, while women give a kiss on the cheek. A small gift or token is appreciated when visiting someone’s home. Locals usually eat dinner late, between 9:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m.
Casual but conservative clothing is acceptable, but travelers are expected to dress appropriately for upscale establishments. Beachwear should be limited to the pool, and must not be worn outside of resorts in Gran Canaria. The law bans smoking in cultural centers, hospitals, schools, public transportation, and schools. Some restaurants and bars have smoking permits.
Parties, festivals and celebrations seem to happen everyday on Gran Canaria, particularly in bustling commercial centers and southern resorts. Perhaps the biggest concert event is the Canary Islands Music Festival, which his held every year.