20th CENTURY TO PRESENT DAY
FROM UNAMUNO TO HOLLYWOOD MOVIES
The Canary Islands gained the right to self-govern as an autonomous province for the first time in 1912, and in 1927, both Fuerteventura and Lanzarote became part of the province of Las Palmas.
In February 1924, the famous writer and rector of the University of Salamanca, Don Miguel de Unamuno, was banished to Fuerteventura (back then considered a prison due to its barren nature) by the dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera for his constant verbal attacks against King Alfonso XIII and the military regime of Primo de Rivera. During his exile, Unamuno lived in a small house in Puerto Cabras under the name Hotel Fuerteventura from March 1924 until July of the same year. Upon his arrival, he made friends with many of the island’s locals, among them Ramón Castañeyra, and his house was a common place for gatherings and deep philosophical chats between Unamuno and his newfound friends. This house today is a museum open to the public: the Casa Museo Unamuno.
Unamuno was pardoned by the Spanish government on the 9th of July, 1924, but voluntarily exiled himself to Paris, eventually returning to Salamanca in 1930 with a tremendous reception from the university of which he was rector.
In 1931, the Spanish monarchy was overthrown and the Second Spanish Republic was declared. In Fuerteventura during the years of the Second Republic, a true revolution took place when the radical left-wing republicans received the majority of the votes in and took control of four municipalities and the Island Cabildo. On an island like Fuerteventura, a place which had traditionally been a land of lords, colonels and bourgeois, the fact that the progressive and liberal forces took control of the island democratically is considered revolutionary.
During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), the Canaries were the first territory to be occupied by the Nationalist faction led by General Francisco Franco, and is considered to be the place where the war started. During this period, the people of Fuerteventura and the rest of the Canary Islands suffered tough military repression, and many majoreros were arrested or lost their lives while trying to stand up to the nationalists.
One curious Fuerteventura wartime story tells that after a terrible storm in December 1937, the people of the southern town of Cofete made the strange discovery of a large buoy containing a church bell washed up on the beach after they were alerted to a strange sound coming from the sea, thinking that enemy soldiers were coming. They discovered that this bell was made in Canada, but how it ended up on the beach in Cofete remains an unresolved mystery. The “Canadian bell” can still be found today in the church in Morro Jable.
At the end of the Spanish Civil War, German engineer Gustav Winter, under shady and mysterious circumstances, built a huge villa near Cofete in the south of the island called Villa Winter. The history of the villa is the subject of many dark conspiracy theories involving the Nazis, most of them to do with the fact that Villa Winter has a tower turret with an electric lantern installed which was possibly used to signal German U-boats. The existence of dark rooms similar to prison cells, an operating room and a runway close to the beach only fuel these theories even more.
In 1941, work began on a military airfield in Tefía, but because commercial air travel was starting to gain more demand and because Tefía was at such a distance from the capital, the government decided to build a brand new airport in Los Estancos. The Franco regime transformed the Tefía airfield into a concentration camp for homosexuals and delinquents: the 'Agricultural Penitentiary Colony of Tefía', which was thankfully closed in July 1966. Today, it is a youth hostel.
In March 1956, the Franco regime ordered that the capital of Puerto Cabras change its name. The Council of Ministers approved this change on the 16th of March, 1956, and the town was renamed Puerto del Rosario, its current name. Today, many of the island's locals wish to restore its original name.
During the 1960s, tourism started to grow and Puerto del Rosario expanded due to the arrival of people from the inland villages. Small fishing ports like Corralejo and Morro Jable also grew. Because of this touristic boom, the Los Estancos Airport could no longer accommodate the influx, which led to the search for a location to build a new airport. The authorities finally settled on having the airport in El Matorral, very close to Puerto del Rosario. The current Fuerteventura Airport was inaugurated in 1969, and international flights from Fuerteventura began in 1973.
After Franco's death and with the decolonisation of the Spanish Sahara, the “Don Juan de Austria” unit of the Spanish Foreign Legion, under the command of Colonel Tomás Pallás Sierra, arrived in Puerto del Rosario, remaining on the island until 1995. Many of the island's inhabitants did not welcome the soldiers with much affection. For many years, the majoreros would have to tolerate the sound of military jeeps, marching soldiers and daily bugles.
In 1994, the 'American Star', a 220m long cargo ship, was wrecked off the coast of the island, in the municipality of Pájara. This shipwreck became a major tourist attraction and remained so for many years until it eventually disintegrated.
During the 2010s, Fuerteventura would consolidate itself as an important location for the film industry, with such movies as Sacha Baron Cohen’s ‘The Dictator’, ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’, ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ and ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ being shot here.