What’s in a Tenerife Name?

Wed, October 12th, 2011 - By Andrea Montgomery

Have you ever wondered what the exotic-sounding name of your Tenerife resort means in English? Sometimes the answer can be disappointingly mundane, like Playa de la Arena which simply means ‘sandy beach’, or it can evoke a certain irony, like Costa del Silencio which means ‘the silent coast’ despite it being in the flight path of South Tenerife airport and Playa Paraiso which means ‘paradise beach’ even though the only beach is newer than the resort and neither can it realistically be described as paradise.

A name can reveal more about its history than about its present and can give us an insight into how Tenerife must have looked prior to the advent of tourism or the peaks and troughs of world trade and production. The little town of Los Silos is named after the grain silos around which it grew up when production of cereals was the mainstay of agriculture, and the lovely northern town of El Sauzal near Puerto de la Cruz took its name from the abundance of willow (Spanish – sauce) that covered its slopes before the advent of vines, then prickly pear and finally bananas elbowed the willow out.

It doesn’t take a fluent Spanish speaker to deduce that the name La Laguna means ‘lake’ yet a visit to the former capital city won’t uncover any major body of water. That’s because the lagoon on which the city was originally founded was robbed of its seasonal rain supply by the farming demands of the rapidly expanding population. The lagoon became choked, stagnant and pestilent and was finally drained in 1837.

I guess most people who stay in the west coast resort of Los Gigantes are aware that the resort takes its names from its towering cliffs, the giants. But how many people visiting Santa Cruz know that the city is named after two pieces of wood?

When the conquering Spanish army arrived on the shores of Playa de Añazo in 1494, their commander, Alonso Fernandez de Lugo constructed a cross from two pieces of wood and held a mass around it, claiming Tenerife for the Spanish and for Christianity. The cross became known as Santa Cruz (holy cross), as did the city that grew around the spot where mass had been held.

Some names that have a more romantic, if tragic, origin. When a Captain of the Spanish conquistadores laid eyes on a beautiful Guanche maiden it was love at first sight but his attempts to find and woe her failed and the Captain went to his deathbed still yearning for his love. His final words are said to have been “Vi la flor del valle” (I have seen the flower of the valley). The place of the sighting was named Vilaflor in his memory.

And beauty inspired the name of La Guancha, near Los Realejos, when a young native girl was seen drawing water from a fountain. Mesmerized, a group of Spanish conquistadores tried to track her through the forest but she feared the soldiers and fled, choosing to throw herself down a ravine rather than be captured. The town was named in her memory, simply ‘the Guanche girl’.

And some names are just puzzling, like Las Galletas which means ‘biscuits’. I feel sure there must be a story there. Any ideas?

Posted : Wednesday, October 12th, 2011 at 8:36 am
Category : about tenerife
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