The Carnival of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
15th to 18th Centuries
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria Carnival is one of the oldest, most deeply rooted and unique festivals of the Canary Islands capital. For over five centuries the city has celebrated with masquerading, tomfoolery... and flesh.
Its origins go back practically to the dawn of history. The Gran Canaria capital, founded on June 24, 1478, soon became known for its ability to bring together cultures, with the presence of settlers of various origins.
The Historia de Canarias (the 'History of the Canary Islands') by José de Viera y Clavijo, recounting the arrival of the field marshal Íñigo de Brizuela at the islands in February 1635, reveals: “a great dinner was served that night, and three banquets on the days of Shrovetide...”
In addition, various 16th-Century documents allude to the presence of Italians in the city and their fondness of masked balls.
The festival made its first significant leap in the mid 19th Century with the emergence of sociocultural institutions with the faculty to organise parties for various occasions, complemented by the first parades of allegorical floats and carriages accompanied by masqueraders. This was the time of the Círculo Mercantil (the 'Merchants' Circle'), the Gabinete Literario (the 'Literary Bureau') and Club Las Palmas, all based in and around the city's historic centre, where the Pérez Galdós Theatre witnessed numerous scenes of dancing and carnivalesque entertainment.
20th Century - The Winter Festival
By the 20th Century, the emergence of institutions like the Club Náutico (the 'Sailing Club') and Club Victoria added the city's wharves and the La Isleta neighbourhood to the carnival map. State repression prevented the development of an event that was disguised under the name Fiestas de invierno, or 'Winter Festival', which locals kept alive in secrecy, at events almost always hosted by the most notable social and sports clubs. They organised dances and parties that were attended by local residents who hid their costumes under sheets until they reached the premises.
20th Century- 1976: The recovery of the street carnival
The modern carnival took on its current format from 1976. This was when the party on the street was recovered. A few months after the death of Franco, an Isleta resident, Manolo García, called the civil governor of the province and obtained authorisation to bring the carnival back onto the city's streets, and a costume parade was held after 40 years of prohibition. La Isleta residents formed the first Patronato del Carnaval, or Carnival Trust, and took charge of organising the event in these early years.
In the 1980s, the carnival organisers had to professionalise and specialise. The Carnival had taken over the entire city and required a bigger budget, more activities and municipal planning. This sowed the seeds for the agreement that was reached between the Carnival Trust and the Municipal Council. The mayor Juan Rodríguez Doreste played a pivotal role in this process as a true carnival-lover who backed the creation of a Mixed Commission that would organise the event.
In 1986 another step was taken in the organisation of the Carnival with the creation of the Las Palmas Carnival Foundation, which included representatives from the municipal council, the political parties, the residents' associations, carnival groups and other social groups. At this time a Venetian party was organised in Vegueta which is still remembered today.
The 1990s started with some changes to the structure of the festival and the Fiestas del Carnaval de Las Palmas limited company was created. In 1995 the main events returned to Parque Santa Catalina, which was established as the focal point of the carnival.
1998 marked a turning point in the recent history of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria Carnival as the year of the first Drag Queen Gala, which surpassed all expectations and has since established itself as a flagship event and the festival's calling card overseas.
The 21st Century - The outward expansion of the carnival
Over the last thirty years, the carnival has gone on to become the most socially and economically important festival of the island of Gran Canaria and one of its main tourist attractions. It is a celebration that has known how to adapt to the new demands in leisure and entertainment of a mass media society, while preserving all its traditional flavour.
In 2001 the Promoción de la Ciudad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, S.A. company was set up to manage and organise the carnival parties.
The Gran Canaria capital's carnival has a history peppered with worthy contributions from many well-loved popular celebrities like Juanito El Pionero or the unforgettable Charlot (a perennial masquerader of the brilliant Charlie Chaplin).
At the same time it has become a festival capable of reinventing itself with the times by incorporating new acts and events.
Now, with its anthem Invitación al Carnaval ('Invitation to the Carnival') by Sindo Saavedra, the festival is a true popular phenomenon whose only goal is revelry in a carnival city.