Ethnographic Center

Exhibition halls

The Ethnographic Center has several exhibition rooms, all of them located on the Upper Floor of the building. On the map below these lines you can find out their location and consult the explanatory panels available there.

Top floor



Potters, weavers, ceramicists, lathe workers

On Gran Canaria, producing pots and items from clay is a centuries-old craft profession that has survived to the present with few changes. The early Canary Islanders made high quality clay containers entirely by hand, but after the conquest of the island, in the late 15th century, the new settlers introduced turned pottery, bringing new types and sizes of pots, and decorations suited to the new society. European potters set up their workshops in the largest settlements, either in existing locations such as Gáldar, Telde and Agüimes, or in newly-built areas, such as the city of Las Palmas. At the same time, potters continued to make products entirely by hand, without the use of a lathe. Handmade pots were made by the original inhabitants of the island using traditional techniques, and also by the settlers, who used the methods they brought with them from their places of origin. In the 16th and 17th centuries, various pottery workshops were located in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Telde, Arucas and Moya. Over the centuries, lathe turning declined among Canary Islands potters, and from the 18th century, families of potters who made pieces entirely by hand became established in Hoya de Pineda, Lugarejos and Tunte.

In the new pottery settlements, women rather than men were the potters, taking over the task of making clay containers. The men had to combine their agricultural and livestock work with the tasks of gathering clay and firewood, and help prepare pieces for firing in the kiln. The women were in charge of selling their products all over the island, either for money or for goods produced in the areas where they travelled.

By the end of the 20th century, few of the traditional potters remained (Juliana, Rafaela, Panchito, Antoñita, Adolfina, Justo), but their work has slowly been taken up by a new generation of potters who work day by day to keep this ancestral profession alive.

Household furniture and utensils

In addition to providing tools to the rural population and other craftspeople and tradespeople in towns and semi-industrial areas, local artisans took part in building the various types of dwellings that have been used in Gran Canaria throughout the centuries. They also made the basic household furniture and utensils needed for everyday life. The variety, quality and amount of handcrafted items found in traditional Canary Islands homes varied considerably depending on the purchasing power of the people who lived in them. Dwellings ranged from more humble homes, many of them built in caves and furnished only with a cot bed, a box or chest, a mat for sleeping or eating on, a few ceramic containers for cooking food, a tin lamp or two, and a few pieces of clothing for everyday use, to the houses of wealthy families, which contained many quality items.
The three models in this module show, on the one hand, two modest Canary Islands homes, one of them built in a cave, and on the other hand, a doll’s house representing the context and the furnishings of the home of a well-off family. The two modest homes have simple, basic household utensils and furniture, all made by local craftspeople. The doll’s house includes handmade items produced in Gran Canaria, alongside more refined, luxury items brought from continental Europe. The images in the module also showcase items and furniture made by Canary Islands craftspeople.

Animal hides

Shoemakers, saddlers, goat leather tanners…

Animal hides have had multiple uses throughout history. The early Canary Islanders used them to make a range of items, and even the clothes they wore. Although the use of animal skins for clothing declined after the conquest of the island, hides were useful to meet the needs of the new population. The settlers introduced hides of larger livestock, such as cows and horses, using more varied craft techniques and producing a greater range of items, including footwear, horse tack, liquid containers, musical instruments, and utensils for agriculture and livestock farming.
Many animal herders, probably following early traditions, cured goat skins to make implements and containers associated with their work, including various types of primitive rucksacks, collars for dogs, goats and sheep, and watch pouches. These items were made by tanners of goat leather (zurroneros), whose testimony survives today in rural areas of the Canary Islands. Bags made from whole goat hides (zurrones), one of the most distinctive elements of Canary Islands rural culture, were used to knead gofio (ground, roasted grains). When these bags were large enough, herders used them as rucksacks to carry their belongings in when they were pasturing their livestock.

Plant fibres

Makers of baskets, mats, espadrilles, cages…

Archaeological remains show that the early inhabitants of Gran Canaria became highly skilled in working with plant fibres, such as reeds and palm leaves, to make various items and clothing. Fibres were still used after the conquest of the island, but the weaving techniques, types of items produced, and the addition of new, semi-hard materials such as palm spine, willow and reeds brought substantial changes to Pre-Hispanic methods. The technique consisted of weaving or intertwining plant fibres that had been treated so they could be bent without breaking, and making the piece in the desired shape. Craftworkers needed only a few, simple tools for this work: a wooden or metal splitter, a knife and a mallet. The plant fibres they gathered were mainly cane, palm leaves, palm spine, willow, reeds, rye, bulrushes and broom. After the American aloe was introduced, its fibres were commonly used by artisans to make yoke pads for draught animals, espadrilles, and ropes and halters. Cane was the most commonly used fibre in basketwork, by itself or combined with willow stalks or thick strips of palm branches (the central spine of the leaf of the Canary Islands palm tree). The type of fibre used to make a basket depended on the intended use and size of the finished item.

Los cestos para cargar mercancía pesada o que van a sufrir una constante manipulación (labores agrícolas, transporte, industria, construcción) eran elaborados
(integramente o parcialmente) con fibras duras, como el pírgano o el mimbre (cestos, serones, cestas pedreras, etc.). Los objetos domésticos o de uso más delicado eran elaborados con fibras blandas como el junco, la palma, centeno o caña (pequeñas cestas, sombreros, cestas hierberas, barquetas, costureros, hueveras, esteras, etc.)
La cestería se desarrolló en Canarias como un oficio complementario pues gran parte de los cesteros y cesteras eran a su vez campesinos o jornaleros. Estas personas empleaban las horas libres que les dejaban las tareas agrícolas para elaborar productos que, tras su venta, les permitían obtener un ingreso extra para mejorar la economía familiar.


Quarrymen, stone carvers, stonebreakers, ledgemen…

Due to the region’s volcanic origin, the rock found on the Canary Islands ranges in hardness, colour and particle size. The early inhabitants used stone to build their dwellings and make walls, steps, and animal pens. Because the Islands had no metals, stone was also used to make tools and other items such as quern stones, picks, hammerstones and cutting tools. After the conquest of the islands and the arrival of metals, stone was no longer used to make tools. Stonework was mainly found in masonry and carved features of a construction or building. Some artisans specialised in building houses entirely from dry stone taken from nearby ravines and the immediate area of the construction site. Others built stone walls to create, enlarge or improve cropping areas, using terracing on steep slopes.
The use of ornamental stone, taken from quarries, was infrequent at first because of the high cost of quarrying, transporting and cutting it. Over the years, as towns grew, ornamental stonework became more frequent, especially in the construction of stately buildings, both for administrative and church use, or features such as fountains, town squares and gardens. The quarrying profession passed down through families. Boys typically began to work in quarries around the age of 10, helping with the simplest tasks, but by 14 they were considered to be quarrymen and worked as hard as everyone else, for the same wages.

Canary Islands knives

These local knives are characterised by their handles, made from rings of cow or ram horn joined together and decorated with metal inserts in geometrical patterns. Knife makers worked solely on the handles, while skilled metal workers made the blades. The Canary Islands word naife, from the English “knife” or possibly the Portuguese naifa, is traditionally used to refer to these knives that are typical of Gran Canaria. They originated in the second half of the 19th century, when they were made in various parts of the island (Arucas, Gáldar, Guía, Telde and Teror). Canary Islands knives were mainly used by agricultural and livestock farmers for their daily tasks. They were often passed down through families because of their high symbolic value, and are still made today.


Carpenters, carvers, woodworkers…

Early texts and archaeological findings show that wood was used by Gran Canaria’s first inhabitants. Wood was hewn with stone implements to make beams and lintels for their dwellings, small household items, and tools and weapons. Wood was widely used after the conquest and colonisation of the island, and the professions associated with it, such as sawyers, carpenters and coopers, flourished. Gran Canaria’s plentiful supply of this raw material was essential to meet the needs of the new population, to build homes, sugar mills, hydraulic constructions, windmills and presses, and produce furniture, household utensils and numerous items necessary for everyday life. Furniture and everyday items were made by carpenters who used hard woods to make furniture, agricultural implements and tools. This group also included boat builders, who were commissioned to make handcrafted boats, and more professional and skilled workers such as luthiers, who made musical instruments. Carvers and makers of religious images produced pieces both for churches and private worship, as well as altarpieces for churches and chapels.


The textile sector was one of the most important activities in the island’s economy after it became part of the kingdom of Castile. In the first centuries after the conquest, weaving was done mostly by men, although in traditional rural society it was almost exclusive to women. Today this craft is done mostly by women. Various artisan professions on Gran Canaria were associated with the preparation and processing of fibres and threads to make fabrics for household items and clothing. In particular, work with sheep’s wool (spinning and weaving) and pulled thread embroidery and needlework were crafts that were deeply rooted in traditional society, and over the years they acquired their own identity that distinguished them from these crafts on the other islands and the rest of Spain.

Pulled thread embroidery and needlework

Needlecraft has a long tradition on Gran Canaria, especially in the southeast of the island. Pulled thread embroidery is mainly used in household linen, featuring in tablecloths, table runners, napkins, bedspreads, sheets, towels, bread bags and curtains. It is also used in items of clothing such as aprons and blouses, and traditional costumes. The technique consists of removing threads from a fabric and bundling them together to create decorative patterns, often based on plants and flowers, or architectural motifs similarly taken from shapes occurring in nature. The materials used for pulled thread embroidery are linen cloth and cotton threads. Pulled thread embroidery appears to have originated in areas near the Portuguese border in the provinces of Andalusia and Extremadura. In the early 20th century the quality was so high that embroidered items were exported to England and the United States, and to a lesser degree to Germany and France.
Needlework adds all kinds of decorative motifs to traditional costumes, clothing, tablecloths and church and household linen. The process involves the phases of drawing, cutting the fabric, marking, choosing the frame, mounting the fabric, preparing the threads, and finally embroidering using the chosen stitch or stitches. Canary Islands needlework enjoyed considerable growth and financial success in the early 20th century, but gradually declined for various reasons such as war and shortages of fabrics. Few embroiderers continue this craft today.

Hat making

The craft of hat making began on Gran Canaria in the 17th century and reached a height in the 18th and 19th centuries, when hats were exported to all the islands. A hat was an essential piece of clothing for men, women and children, and the locally-made hats they wore were known as cachorros canarios. Hat makers mainly used rabbit or camel hair as their raw material. The hair was felted then moulded into shape, using fish glue, almond resin or gum arabic as a stiffener. Hat makers had their establishments in Firgas, Gáldar, Arucas, Guía, Moya, Telde and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.


The first craftspeople


Gran Canaria’s first settlers came from North Africa. They arrived on the island intending to colonise it, bringing domestic animals, seeds and plant cuttings. It was probably a small, but sufficiently large, population group, with its own cultural baggage of clear Amazigh (Berber) origin. The dates currently estimated for their arrival range from around 2500 BP (Before Present) to the 2nd or 3rd centuries of the present era. We don’t know the reasons for the initial colonisation. Some hypotheses associate it with protohistoric contacts from the Mediterranean, or with the Roman Empire using the Islands for a trading settlement to take advantage of their resources, or as a place of exile for tribes from North Africa. Known as the Canarii, the population was most likely isolated for around a thousand years and developed its own culture adapted to the island context of Gran Canaria, based on its origins in North Africa.

Traditional artisan trades

Many of the settlers who arrived after the conquest of Gran Canaria, in the 15th century, were artisans who came to meet the demand for items and tools needed by the new society for their household tasks and burgeoning economic activities. Very few of the trades carried out by the island’s original inhabitants survived after colonisation (pottery, basketwork, hide tanning). European artisans, with their technical knowledge of stonework, carpentry, weaving, shoemaking, hat making, blacksmithing, metalworking and pottery, became established as artisans in the Canary Islands market. Over the years, these professions and their products took on a local identity and became distinct from their counterparts in the rest of Spain, due to the use of local raw materials and the specialisation required to meet the emerging social and economic needs of the island’s population.

Los saberes técnicos de estos oficios se fueron transmitiendo, en la mayor parte de los casos, dentro del contexto familiar; los padres y madres enseñaban desde muy pequeños a sus hijos e hijas, las labores propias de estas actividades con el objetivo de que pudieran continuar ejerciéndolas en el futuro.
Con el paso de los siglos muchos oficios artesanos han ido desapareciendo ante el avance de nuevos procesos industriales. Las labores artesanas que continuaron ejerciéndose, los que conocemos como oficios tradicionales, quedaron relegados a zonas rurales, desde donde todavía se demandaba su producción. Por ello, la mayoría de los artesanos, hasta hace muy pocas décadas, eran también campesinos o pastores, que ejercían estos oficios durante los periodos de descanso vegetativo o de poca actividad en los campos. En el marco rural, no eran considerados individuos ajenos o extraños a la comunidad de agricultores.

The conquest

The way of life of the early inhabitants changed drastically after 1483, when Spain’s Catholic monarchs, Isabel and Fernando, conquered the island. The culture of the new European colonists pervaded every aspect of their lives, from the construction of settlements and buildings to the way people dressed, their beliefs, the justice system and the introduction of new implements and tools, a new economy and new professions. However, the Canary Islands were known to classical antiquity long before they were conquered, as confirmed by occasional findings of Roman archaeological in the sea and on some of the islands. They were also mentioned in Greek and Latin texts. Writing in the 1st century AD, Pliny the Elder told of a journey or expedition made decades earlier by Mauritanian king Juba II to the Fortunatae Insulae.
Seemingly forgotten about for centuries, the Islands began to receive visitors again in the 14th century, during the European expansion in the Atlantic by voyagers from Genoa, Catalonia and Aragon, Portugal, and Castile. The Canary Islands began to feature in nautical charts, maps and portolan charts, and were depicted in the planispheres of Angelino Dulcert (1339) and Abraham Cresques (1375). The first attempts to evangelise the population were made in the same century, with the founding of a bishopric (La Fortuna) in Telde, in 1351. The bishopric continued its work until 1391, when the 12 Majorcan monks posted there were killed by members of the local population.


After the conquest of the island, in 1483, a new society emerged, characterised by racial mixing. The original inhabitants were joined by colonists from Hispanic and Portuguese kingdoms in the Iberian Peninsula, and Italy and Flanders. Black African and Arabic inhabitants were used as slave labour.

Land and water resources were divided among the conquerors and the colonists who came to the island drawn by the opportunity for a better life. The economic structure of the island’s first inhabitants disappeared, and Gran Canaria joined the European trade route after sugar cane became established as its first export crop.

Sugar cane and its associated processing industry was the basis of Gran Canaria’s economy until the early 18th century. Competition from American sugar devastated sugar cropping, which gave way over the centuries to a succession of highly profitable crops such as grapevines and cochineal and, from the late 19th century, bananas and tomatoes.


String instruments such as the guitar, the lute, the bandurria, and especially the timple, have become the acoustic foundation of Canary Islands popular music, and are always played in local groups. Although some instruments were imported, Gran Canaria has a long history of artisan instrument makers. They used wood as their main raw material, cutting and seasoning it themselves until the mid-20th century.

The timple is an essential part of Canary Islands music and represents it like no other instrument. No other part of Spain has an instrument like the Canary Islands timple. Ideas on its origin vary: some academics believe the timple could be a Baroque vihuela, because of its long rounded case and the tuning of its strings. The timple arrived in the Canary Islands with the colonists and has survived as a relic of the past with few changes.

Unlike the fate of other artisan professions, the tradition of making string instrumentshas continued and even grown, although normally as a sideline rather than a full time occupation. The craft has changed with the times, particularly in the case of the timple, which has undergone morphological changes. Electric acoustic versions of the timple are now made, and it is played as a solo instrument.

Makers of livestock bells

Livestock bells were typically made by herders who specialised in making this essential item for free-ranging livestock in the Canary Islands. The pyramid-shaped bells were made from sheet metal and had a circular piece of wood, called the clapper, inside them. The wood for the clapper was sourced from local trees known for their hardness and density. Artisans made different types of bells, depending on herders’ requirements and the livestock they were intended for, known as the grillote, grillota, cumplida, llorona, habanera, redonda and vizcaína.

Cage makers

Trade in birds, particularly the Atlantic canary (Serinus canaria), flourished from the time European traders and sailors visited the Islands in the 14th century, until the species was successfully bred in captivity, in the 18th century. This activity went hand in hand with the rise of cage makers, who also specialised in capturing and breeding birds.

Although this craft is dying out, it was once carried out all over Gran Canaria. A cage maker’s materials included cane, wood and wire, and very simple tools: a knife, a measuring compass, a wood auger and a hole punch. The size and shape of a cage depended on its purpose and the type of bird it was intended for. Rectangular or oval, for one bird or more, cages could be designed with towers or walkways and include a trap door.


Smiths, tinsmiths, cowbell makers…

After the Islands were colonised, smithies became a constant feature in the growing settlements, until their decline in the 1960s. As well as making parts for sugar mills, presses, windmills and wells, smiths made a range of items and tools. In addition to shoeing animals, they made tools for working the land, such as hoes, planting sticks, sickles, pruning sticks and winnowing forks, and all the tools and items needed for construction, including stonecutters’ hammers, sledge hammers, chisels, hinges, locks, nails, tie rods and railings. Metal workers were also needed to produce items for household and professional use, such as buckets, knives, axes, weighing scales and bridles.

Alongside blacksmiths and locksmiths, other trades associated with metalwork were documented in the 16th century, including tinsmiths, coppersmiths, and founders of bells and artillery pieces, who worked with bronze. Other artisans that were documented include the goldsmiths and silversmiths who produced liturgical and luxury items, andswordsmiths.

Over the centuries, three craft professions associated with metalwork have survived to the 20th century virtually unchanged since they first arrived in the Islands: blacksmithing, tinsmithing and cowbell making. These professions were carried out only by men, who handed their knowledge down from father to son. Blacksmiths and tinsmiths worked full time, as their products and services were in constant demand.

The lighthouse jetty

The jetty was the first part of the Maspalomas Lighthouse complex to be built. Because materials could not be hauled over land, the jetty was essential to the construction of the tower. When the lighthouse was built, in the late 19th century, land access to the dunes in the south of Gran Canaria was limited. Maspalomas was described as a deserted, desolate area. The jetty was designed by engineer Juan de León y Castillo, who also drew up the plans for the lighthouse. León y Castillo took advantage of a dip in the area to build two retaining walls. The walls were joined off in the sea, and the structure was filled with rocks and covered with concrete and stone paving. Until the road was built in the 20th century, the jetty was the lifeline between the Maspalomas Lighthouse and the outside world, ensuring that the keepers received provisions and the lamp had a steady supply of fuel.

Maspalomas Dunes

The dunes lie at the mouth of the Fataga ravine, known as the Maspalomas ravine in its final stretch, where an alluvial fan was formed. Changes in the sea level flattened out the fan, and the dune field formed on top of it. The formation of dunes is a process involving sediment, sea currents and plants, resulting in a shifting dune field. The process starts with the erosion of volcanic rocks and the decomposition of marine organisms. These sedimentary sands are deposited on the shore by the sea current. When the sands dry, the wind pushes them inland, where they come up against plants like the balancón (Traganum moquinii). The plants are surrounded by sand, and a mound forms behind them. This is the origin of the dunes, which continue to shift as the wind pushes them. Around 50 species of flora are associated with the dunes, including native Canary Islands plants such as glabrous samphire (Schigozyne glaberrima). The distribution of a species depends on its ability to withstand burial in the sand, its salinity tolerance, and the availability of water. Plants that grow on the dunes include balancón, tamarisk, nutgrass, shrubby sea-blite, reeds, sea lavender and spiny lettuce.

Maspalomas pond and dunes

The Maspalomas pond is the most important wetland on Gran Canaria. The final refuge of a marshland that once extended over the mouth of the Fataga ravine, the wetland is now confined to the area of the pond where the ravine meets the sea.
The water in the pond comes from ravine run-off and sea water that enters with the spring tide. This process renews the fish population, bringing fish eggs and fry. At highest inflow of water, the pond can cover four hectares.
The west side of the pond is home to one of Gran Canaria’s most significant coastal palm groves, known as the oasis. Despite the tourist infrastructure that has been built around it, the oasis remains an area of environmental and scenic interest, along with the pond and the dunes.

Oasis and pond fauna

Fotografía: Proyecto Masdunas
The ecosystem complex formed by the oasis, the pond and the dune field are an area of considerable interest in terms of fauna, particularly birds. The area is home to the Eurasian hoopoe (Upupa epops) and Berthelot’s pipit (Anthlus bertheloti), and more common species such as the great grey shrike (Lanius excubitor) and the speckled warbler (Sylvia conspicillata). Four species of aquatic birds nest at the pond: the Kentish plover (Charadrius alexandrinus), the little ringed plover (Charadrius dubius), the common moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) and the common coot (Fulica atra). The area includes two of Gran Canaria’s three endemic reptiles, mainly the Gran Canaria giant lizard (Gallotia stehlini), and a large number of invertebrates, notably the darkling beetle Pimelia granulicollis, which is endemic to Gran Canaria and in danger of extinction.
Proyecto Masdunas. Autor: Antonio Ignacio Hernández Cordero.

Tomato cropping

By the middle of the 20th century, the coastal area of San Bartolomé de Tirajana was the main tomato growing area on the island of Gran Canaria. More than 500 hectares were planted with tomatoes, one of the island’s main agricultural exports since the late 19th century. The need for workers for this labour-intensive activity led to the first coastal settlements in the south of the island, in places such as El Doctoral and El Tablero de Maspalomas. Production was based on sharecropping agreements, where growers entered into debt with the landowner to grow tomatoes until they delivered their produce after harvest. Sharecroppers lived in very basic temporary communal quarters provided by the landowners. The rise of tourism brought an end to tomato cropping in this area.

Tourism in Maspalomas

Until the 1960s, Maspalomas was a deserted, isolated area with poor access, cut off from the island’s economic activity. Tomato crops were one of the few indications of human life on the coast.
In 1962, an international call for proposals to create a tourism hub was announced by the owner of the area, the Count of Vega Grande, in a bid to attract quality tourism. In just 10 years, Maspalomas received more visitors than the city of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the island’s main tourism destination until then. The success was due to the outstanding climate, which ensured considerably more sunshine hours than the island’s capital city enjoys, and the beauty of the coastline, especially the complex formed by the pond, the oasis and the dune field.
The rise of tourism began in San Agustín, followed by Playa del Inglés and later Meloneras, at the end of the 20th century, extending beyond the Maspalomas oasis and pond. The growth of tourism preserved the dunes and the lagoon, along with their palm grove, creating a tourism enclave alongside an environmental jewel.

The early inhabitants

Evidence of the early population of Gran Canaria has been found in the area of Maspalomas. The Punta Mujeres archaeological site includes the remains of an early coastal population very near the lighthouse. The early Canary Islanders settled in this area because of the availability of water in the pond and the plentiful hunting, fishing and seafood gathering. The site comprises six domestic structures that most likely formed part of a larger settlement. Carbon 14 dating places the settlement in a time frame from the 7th to the 9th century of the present era to the late 15th century. San Bartolomé de Tirajana is the borough with the highest number of archaeological sites on the island, with more than 160, including the sites in Lomo Perera and the Maspalomas Necropolis. One of the main sites is Arteara Archaeological Park, a large burial mound cemetery with more than 1,000 tombs built on an extensive lava flow. The necropolis covers an area of two square kilometres and was once enclosed by a dry stone wall.

Christopher Columbus in Maspalomas

Maspalomas was Christopher Columbus’ last stopping place on his voyages to America. The great explorer anchored off Maspalomas in 1502 on his fourth, and final, voyage. The four ships (two caravels and two carracks) called in at Maspalomas on 24 May and left for the Caribbean the next day. Maspalomas was an ideal place to take on water. The anchorage was sheltered from the wind, and the readily available brackish drinking water lasted well in wooden barrels during the crossing. Tamarisk wood, very useful as firewood, was also available on the coast. Other explorers apart from Columbus stopped in Maspalomas. In 1504 a fleet of four caravels commanded by Juan de la Cosa anchored off the coast of Maspalomas to stock up on meat and take on water and firewood. Later documents, such as a report on problems with a ship in the waters of Gran Canaria, mention Maspalomas as one of the island’s ports. In 1599, Dutch explorer Peter Van der Does stopped at Maspalomas to take on water and bury his dead, after his assault on Las Palmas de Gran Canaria was defeated and he failed to take the island.


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Pl. del Faro, 15,
35100 Maspalomas, Las Palmas