Isle of Tenerife

Vacation in Santa Cruz de Tenerife

Capital City of the island Tenerife

Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the island capital, is also the administrative centre for the western Canary Islands of El Hierro, La Palma and Tenerife and is the second biggest city in the archipelago.

The harbour is one of the busiest in Spain, providing docking facilities for container vessels, cruise ships, hydrofoils and the many ferry services that run between the mainland and the other islands.

Situated in a large natural bay, the city is set against the towering peaks of the Anaga mountains.

While on the face of it the city may not appear to offer much for the sightseeing tourist, it is nevertheless a busy and bustling metropolitan area offering a variety of cultural and retail experiences.

It also has a number of splendid Spanish colonial-style buildings. Santa Cruz itself has a population of just over 220,000, but with its neighbours La Laguna, Candelaria and Tegueste forms a metropolitan area of over 420,000.

The city's annual carnival is regarded as Europe's best and is ranked in world terms second only to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. It has been estimated in recent years that as many as 280,000 people from all over the world have been on the streets of Santa Cruz at the height of the celebrations.

The Plaza de España is the focal point for the revellers dancing to an array of bands performing simultaneously on stages dotted around or to a cacophony of rock music reverberating from the many kiosks lining the streets.

Carnival celebrations in 2007 begin on January 29 and draw to a close on February 25.

Initially a simple fishing village, Santa Cruz's excellent deep-water harbour made it a natural successor to the island's earlier main port, Garachico, which was devasted by the lava flows of a volcanic eruption in 1706.

Santa Cruz became the major port of the island and, after becoming independent from the then island capital, La Laguna, was declared by King Ferdinand VII the capital of the Canary Islands province in the 19th century.

These days, the economy of Santa Cruz centres around its port, which serves as a crossroads for trade between Europe and the Americas.

In recent years, the city has seen widespread redevelopment, with some revolutionary new buildings such as the eye-catching new concert hall and opera house, the Auditorio, designed by the celebrated Spanish architect and engineer, Santiago Calatrava Valls.

The city is also eagerly anticipating the opening of its new metropolitan tram service later this year (2007), which will initially run from the Plaza de EspaÁa to Avenida Trinidad in neighbouring La Laguna.

Plans are already in place to extend the tram network to the north airport at Los Rodeos and to other parts of Santa Cruz and La Laguna.

Plans are also in hand to begin an island train network, starting with a link between the capital and the island's main airport, Reina Sofía, 75 km south of Santa Cruz. Work is due to start next year (2008).

Due to its strategic location Tenerife has been attacked many times, particularly by the British and the Dutch, and Santa Cruz Bay was the scene of two notable naval engagements involving two of the most famous British admirals.

In 1656, Admiral Robert Blake destroyed a Spanish silver fleet of 16 ships for the loss of one of his own, despite being under fire from shore batteries and attacking and withdrawing on the tide.

Fifty years later, the British under John Genings were defeated when they attacked the island on November 6, 1706 during the War of the Spanish Succession.

In 1797 Admiral Horatio Nelson had his arm blown off in a bloody attack on the city.

In an action still annually celebrated to this day, the garrison and citizens of Santa Cruz repelled an attack by a flotilla of seven British ships led by Nelson, who was planning on capturing a Spanish treasure ship lying up in the harbour.

It was a costly action for the British, resulting in the deaths of 153 sailors, many of them drowned.

Nelson, the hero of Trafalgar eight years later, lost his right arm in the engagement before the ships of the Royal Navy were forced to withdraw.

A first attack by British troops was foiled on July 21. But Nelson persisted with the operation and planned a second assault on July 24, this time focusing the attack on the harbour.

The 1,000 men who landed were met with heavy fire from local defences.

Nelson's right elbow was hit and his stepson, Josiah, applied a tourniquet to his arm.

Nelson returned to HMS Theseus to have his arm amputated by the ship's surgeon Thomas Eshelby.

Officers of the remaining British troops negotiated a surrender with the city defenders and returned to their ships.

Captured British flags can be seen in the Church of Our Lady of the Conception, while El Tigre, the giant cannon that caused such devastation to the attacking force, can be seen at the military museum, the Castillo de Paso Alto.