Brief history of Santa Cruz de la Palma

Throughout the years Santa Cruz de La Palmas has became one the most beautiful urban centers in the Canary Islands; nevertheless, in 1975 was declared a historic and artistic site. Linked to those monumental values, La Palma’s capital holds a remarkable past, splattered with milestones that trascends the island’s boundaries and are part of the History. Moreover, nowadays, this atlantic city exhibitis an outstanding intangible material, manifested through its suggestive calendar of events.

The city of La Palma, as its known within the island, was founded on May 3rd of 1493 (the onomastics of La Invención de la Santa Cruz) and from that its takes its name. It is located in the center of a large harbour, surrounded by steep clifs that, have difficulted its expansion, have also provide the streets and squares with high plastic content. The old city was built over Timibúcar, a location attached to the pre-Hispanic jurisdiction of the Tedote canton. Once the conquest process was finished, the Spanish colonists chose this area of the old Benahoare for two reason of vital importance: the magnificent oceanic cove, that soon will favour the start of a productive commercial habour; and for providing a constant water flow (through the ravines of Las Nieves towards the North as well as Nuestra Señora de los Dolores). The place of the Primitive Spanish seat still preservs  elements from this period, such as cueva Carías, home of ancients indigens chiefs and original headquarters of the island. La Encarnación’s hermitage, second temple erected in the island , whose dedication refers to the birth of a new population, under the  auspices of the Castile Crown.

Quicky, La Palma’s capital reached a noteworthy development. Its strategic position, in the middle of the Atlantic routes, as well as exportation agriculture, based on the lucrative sugar business (from Valle de Aridane and Los Sauces), and wine cultivation, especially the popular Malvasia, encouraging its growth. In 1541, Santa Cruz de La Palma was distinguished with the title of “Very Noble and Loyal City”. Travellers from the XVI century describe an splendid and cosmopolitan city. Likewise, it is worth mentioning the fact that in 1564, and in order to control the intense transatlantic traffic, the Crown established in Santa Cruz de La Palma the first Juzgado de Indias delegation in the Canary Islands. That goes to show that the capital was, without question, one of the most importants port settlements both in Europe and the New World. Thus, and with the support of the Spanish empire, Santa Cruz de La Palma was established as the perfect maritime framework. On the one hand, the two public squares and on the other hand the three castles that formed a battlement as well as a bastion system to protect the city from naval attacks. That was necessary due to the greed of some of the Crown’s enemies like the french François Le Clerc or the british Francis Drake. 

This is how Santa Cruz de La Palma absorbed, over the years, multiple external ancestry from multiple places in mainland Spain shaped the nature of its people.Once in the XVII century and eith the influence of Baroque culture, Santa Cruz de La Palma creates its own maners that will be shown in its fine arts and popular celebrations. Certainly this reflects in the nowadays society of La Palma in their taste for the pompous and exuberant (as a transcript of the landscape of the island itself) or the theatrical pose displayed in most its public manifestations. 

However, economic decline and social isolation ended corrupting political behaviour. Although in the XVIII century, Cabildo de La Palma was formed by a closed , the arbitrary and despotic actions of these rulers led to to is overgrowth and the election, in 1773, of the new senate through a system based on census. This fact constitutes one of the first proto-democratic elections in Spain, as well as one of Constitución de Cadiz’s precedent. In 1773 Santa Cruz de La Palma became one of the most advanced and liberal cities of its time. 

This progress was continued in the next century by a group of dignitaries who threw themselves into the improvement of La Palma’s welfare. It is worth mentioning the impulse of education, advances in health care as well as the initiatives in the agricultural, industrial and cultural environment of the island. Shipbuilding, the installation of the first public electric lighting system in 1893 and the largest telephone line 1894  in the Canaries are good examples of this improvement. In the cultural field, numerous headlines proliferated, scientific and economic institutions such as Real Sociedad Cosmológica (founded in 1881) changed the way people contemplated the world. 

The XX century, marked by enormous advances in all aspect of human life, helped with the social homologation in Santa Cruz de La Palma. In these circumstances the city reinvented itself and exposed its roots in festivities such as Bajada de la Virgen de las Nieve and Carnival, that includes the recreation of Los Indianos arrival.

In its five years of history five clear lines have marked the course of Santa Cruz de La Palma: firstly, an open society full of intense commercial exchanges; a taste for baroque aesthetics; the establishment of democratic behaviour opposite to the ones in the rest of  Spain, the launch of new ideas and advances, and finally, and most recently, the staging of a unique festive program, of profound richness and originality. Having said all that, what is not to be questioned is that the future will be more fascinating than this longed past.

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