Gran Canaria and the rest of the Canary Islands were once part of the Roman Empire, but after the fall of that empire, they were mostly forgotten about and the native people who remained on the islands went about living the island life until the 14th century when Spanish explorers rediscovered the archipelago. The native people of Gran Canaria were known as Gaunches or Canarios and they resisted the sudden incoming flux of the Spanish, but by 1483 the conquest was complete and the Canary Islands became part of Spain. Many Gaunches were killed or forced into slavery.
In the 19th century, a call for independence or a different political setup for the Canary Islands began. In 1927, the archipelago was divided into two separate provinces: Tenerife and Las Palmas (Gran Canaria is part of Las Palmas) and in 1982, the Autonomous Government Statutes were passed, which let the Canary Islands operate its regional government with little input from Spain, though the islands are still not completely independent of Spain.
The culture of Gran Canaria is vibrant and colorful – literally if you happen to be there during a festival. The Canary Islands are known for their grand festivals, and on Gran Canaria, these festivals take place in the form of carnivals or fiestas. The streets are filled with locals dressed in colorful costume who dance through the streets and perform traditional songs that are sometimes humorous and sometimes make a political point. During fiestas there will also be markets set up with stalls selling local crafts and delicious street food. Fiestas are family-friendly with games set up for children to keep them entertained, while adults can enjoy a drink and watch the fun.
Another cultural event that takes place on Gran Canaria each year are the religious pilgrimages, during which locals and visitors who have come for the pilgrimage dress in traditional clothing and walk through the town while singing and playing musical instruments in order to honor a saint.