History of the Canarian Museum

On the initiative of a group of intellectuals led by Dr Gregorio Chil y Naranjo, the Canarian Museum was founded in 1879 with the aim of encouraging the cultural and scientific development of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, becoming in the process one of the city's earliest tourist attractions.

Two circumstances explain this initiative: on the one hand, the widespread interest in “Canarian antiquities” among the local bourgeoisie, who towards the midddle of the 19th century had grown keen on going on expeditions and informal explorations to gather vestiges of aboriginal life and culture; and on the other hand, the development of French anthropological research, since several of the founders of the Canarian Museum had close scientific links with some of the French pioneers in this discipline, such as   Verneau, Broca, Quatrefages, Hamy or Berthelot. The Museum thus counted with a scientific endorsement of the first rank.

Additionally, the discovery of Cro-Magnon man in 1868 fuelled interest in the prehispanic population of the islands, since certain physical features led to the mistaken belief that there was a close relationship between the ancient Canarians and European paleolithic populations. Although this belief has long been superseded, it did at the time contribute to the social and cultural climate that eventually brought about the foundation of the Museum.
Prehistory and anthropology were not, however, the only interests to spur the Museum's founders: from its very foundation, it was conceived as a society for the advancement of  sciences, letters and arts in general, but with a particular focus on the Canarian Archipelago.    Its very first exhibition, set up on 24 May 1880, included, apart from prehispanic items, a wide-ranging display of geological, zoological and artistic collections, and thanks to contributions from the its members, the Museum's library was also at that time in the process of becoming the city's most important library. Over the  years it has, in fact, become the most important documentary collection on Canarian matters anywhere.

The Museum's first premises were located on the top floor of the city hall of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, which had generously ceded a number of rooms, but the collections grew so rapidly that an alternative site soon became necessary.  Dr Chil proved again instrumental in the development of the Museum; on his death he bequeathed his house to provide the Museum with larger premises, as well as other properties, his extremely valuable archeological and natural sciences collections and his 7,500-volume personal library, thus ensuring the future of the institution. 

Although Dr Chil died in 1901, his legacy was not received by the Museum until 1913, when his widow passed away. The actual relocation of the Museum to its new premises in Vegueta, however, did not take place until 1923, partly due to the severe economic crisis that hit the islands after the First World War, and it did not finally reopen until 1930.

Despite the sociopolitical upheavals and economic difficulties of this time, the reopening of the Museum marked the beginning of a culturally fertile period, characterized by the holding of public events, scientific as much as artistic or literary, and by the Museum's growing contribution to the expansion of knowledge of the history of the Canary Islands. It is a period when the Museum made up for the absence in the whole of the archipelago of other institutions, public or private, that would support the promotion of scientific and cultural activity, a time when it became the meeting point of  all kinds of intellectuals and researchers. This active role was acknowledged in 1944, when the Canarian Museum was incorporated to the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) -the Spanish National Research Council.

The fact is, however, that the Museum's financial situation worsened steadily over the following decades, and although both the city council and the cabildo (the island's local government) started to provide some funds during the 1950s, economic difficulties were not overcome until 1973, when the cabildo agreed to take control of the Museum's economic affairs and a  governing board was set up made up of representatives of the cabildo itself and of other cultural institutions and bodies.  As a consequence of this, a new stage in the history of the Museum started, in which it enjoyed both some tax advantages and the favour of civil society. In 1962 it was declared Historic Artistic Monument, and in 1980 it was distinguished with a Gold Medal for Merit in the Field of the Fine Arts.

In 1984, coinciding with the constitution of the Canary Islands as one of Spain's 17 autonomous communities and with a stable economic situation, the Canarian Museum undertook a programme of modernization and specialization, focusing mostly on the island's prehispanic archeological collections, which involved a series of reforms that rearranged the exhibition area and which brought about a spectacular increase in the number of visitors. It is in this context that, in 1987, the Canarian Museum was incorporated into the Spanish Museum System; in 1993 it was granted the Gold Medal of the City of Las Palmas; in 1995 it was declared an Institution of Public Utility and in 1996 it was awarded the Premio Canarias (Canary Islands National  Award) in recognition of its importance to the Islands' historical and artistic heritage.  

During this first decade of the 21st century the Canarian Museum has focused on meeting the needs of its three main groups of users: visitors to its permanent exhibition, prehistory specialists, who enjoy access to an unmatched collection of remains to help them understand our past; and researchers, students and other interested  Museum visitors who make use of an extraordinary documentary collection that has not stopped growing for a single day since the Museum's foundation.

This has led to the need to extend the Museum's premises, a process that is already under way with the acquisition of adjacent properties which will in due time enable the institution to widen its range of exhibits and services. A hopeful future seems thus to lie ahead of the Canarian Museum, an institution determined to meet the demands of the society it was born to serve.

There are no translations available.

Historia de El Museo Canario :: Dr. Gregorio Chil y Naranjo ampliar +

Dr. Gregorio Chil y Naranjo

Historia de El Museo Canario :: Exterior de El Museo Canario ampliar +

Exterior de "El Museo Canario"


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