A tour of the fortifications of Tenerife (Part III)
So far on our clockwise tour around the island we’ve seen the Almeyda Miltary Museum in Santa Cruz, La Casa Fuerte de Adeje and El Castillo de San Miguel in Garachico. Today we’re heading east from Garachico to El Fortin de San Fernando at San Juan de Castro near San Vicente.
To get there you can catch the 363 guagua from either Garachico or Puerto de la Cruz and get off at San Vicente (it will help if you have a map), or, if you’re starting from Puerto de la Cruz, there’s a beautiful and dramatic coastal walk to the viewpoint of Mirador San Pedro.
The ‘fortin’, or fortlet, of San Fernando is located on an estate known as ‘la Rambla de Castro’. The walk starts from a lay-by down a steep cobbled road to the house of the former owner. The house is worth a visit because it is a traditional Tenerife building in original condition, undergoing a programme of conservation works. Entry is by donation and – this is always useful to know – there are toilets. A little way along the coastal path, passing a shady ravine with a spring called la Madre del Agua (the Mother of Water) is El Fortin de San Fernando. As forts go, this tiny little toy fort is quite ridiculous, like having a Chihuahua for a guard dog, but it has wonderful vistas.
The half-moon shaped gun platform looks high out over the sea and it has an open shelter to the landward side. It was built, according to the date on the shelter, in 1808 (very late as island fortifications go) by Hernando de Castro for the defence of the rich farming area around. It is in a very good state of preservation, although the restoration is a bit ‘over the top’, the timber palisade is a modern addition, probably installed as a safety precaution for the cliff on the other side of the low wall. The real value of the fort was probably as a signal station, its pop-gun cannon warning any potential intruders that they would receive a hostile reception if they landed, and to warn local people to be on their guard. But it would have to be an extra tough pirate to attempt to climb the cliff from the sea and then storm the little fort. Today San Fernando is home to three small cannon and without this clue we might not know it had ever been a fortification.
Next we move on to Puerto de la Cruz, once the Port for Orotava.
The town was home to four fortifications, three of which remain, and a collection of cannon.
At the west end of the town is El Castillo San Felipe. A small fort was proposed here in 1588 but it was not until 1643 that the Castillo San Felipe was constructed. The fort was built to a pentagonal plan, possibly to fit the outcrop of rock on which it stood, and the first captain was appointed at the end of November 1644. In 1788 its armaments comprised fourteen cannon and three mortars. The fort was manned by two officers, two sergeants, four corporals, and forty soldiers, but in the event of war this number was increased to seven officers, seven sergeants, twelve corporals and 160 soldiers. Where they all were stationed in the small fort, goodness knows, because there was accommodation for only twelve men on the ground floor and thirty on the first floor.
The Castillo de San Felipe is in excellent condition, although much altered from the original design, in fact it’s hardly recognisable. When it was in military use the appearance of the fort was very different from today, there were no crenellations and it had only a single-storey gun platform facing the sea with a two-storey section at the landward side. If you look closely at the outside walls the lines of different stonework that show the alterations can just be made out. And as you cross the bridge imagine that there is sea-water beneath you, because the moat held water before 1826, but since 1843 it has always been dry.
San Felipe was decommissioned in 1878 and declared inadequate for military use in 1924 when it was offered for sale. For a time it was a restaurant and now it is a venue for cultural activities. It’s worth looking inside and the custodian is a well-informed and welcoming host who speaks English.
At the other end of the town, at the Martianez beach, El Bateria de San Carlos was built near the Martianez barranco in 1770 but it was destroyed in a torrential flood one night in November 1826. The three soldiers that made up its garrison were killed in the inundation.
La Plataforma de Santa Barbara del Muelle and El Bateria de San Telmo still stand on the sea front. Santa Barbara is barely distinguishable from the Plaza de Europa. It was originally commissioned as part of a fortified pier in the 18th century for the Frenchy family to protect the harbour against pirates, but the gun platform that we see today was built between 1817 and 1836. The platform is part of a wall walk that provides a good view over the harbour and, as a bonus, there is an interesting collection of 18th and 19th century cannon.
Not far away along the sea-front walk is the battery of San Telmo. Here, however, attention is focused on the 18th century chapel so that the two cylindrical sentry boxes and the low perimeter wall topped with wooden palings that encloses the
original gun battery are easily overlooked as military structures. Not much is known about the origins of the San Telmo battery, the first reference seems to be in 1701. I’m ashamed to say that it was only after about four or five holidays in Puerto de la Cruz that I realised San Telmo was a fortification at all. An information plaque would be helpful for the hundreds of daily visitors.
Next time we’ll be moving east again, nearer to Santa Cruz but not quite there, and we’ll see one of the biggest surprises of all the fortifications in Tenerife.