A tour of the fortifications of Tenerife ( Part II )
In the previous issue of ‘Tenerife News’ the scene was set for an armchair tour of the interesting and often picturesque fortifications of the island, beginning with the excellent Military Museum in Santa Cruz. Today we start the tour in earnest, beginning in Adeje. “Adeje?” I hear you cry. Yes, Adeje. And I must remind readers that mistakes and opinions here are all my own work and nothing to do with the management.
La Casa Fuerte de Adeje
La Casa Fuerte de Adeje (the Strong House of Adeje), is almost at the highest part of the old town and is one of the most challenging of our destinations to approach. If you are starting your journey from Santa Cruz, take the 110 express guagua to Costa Adeje bus station then change to the 417 to the town of Adeje. From the north west, catch the 460 from Icod to Guia Isora and then the 417 going south. Either bus will drop you off at the foot of one of the two main streets. As you walk up the hill it is reasonable to say that La Casa Fuerte is out of the way today, but in days of old the building was a prominent feature in the town, as several old engravings show. By the way, there are several pleasant watering holes to keep you sustained en route. At the top of the town both main streets join up, so you can’t get lost, and there you’ll find La Casa Fuerte. There is a large cannon nearby with an information plaque in Spanish and English.
La Casa Fuerte de Adeje was built in 1556 to protect the productive land and estates of the de Ponte family, who were friends and associates of that English hero, seaman and slave trader (a mixed bunch of attributes by today’s standards), Sir John Hawkins (1532-1595). The ‘fort’ itself is basically a tower supporting a high level gun platform located at one corner of a large complex of buildings that consisted of a mansion for the owners, guest rooms, the servants’ quarters, slaves’ quarters, gardens and administration buildings for the estate, all set around a rectangular courtyard with an ornamental garden. Despite its rather unmilitary appearance, in 1737 La Casa Fuerte possessed five cannons, then an undated nineteenth century engraving shows four old cannons on the gun platform. There were no military personnel present in the census of 1779 but the last effective castellano died in Madrid as late as 1842.
My impression is that this slight fortification with its array of cannon was intended to impress rather than deter, after all, it is located so far inland and so high uphill that any invader from the sea could have landed in safety and done as he pleased on the coast without coming near the tower at Adeje to be shot at. Perhaps the de Ponte family did fire a shot now and again but only to remind their one thousand African slaves who was the boss.
A disastrous fire in 1904 destroyed most of La Casa Fuerte. The outbuildings were never rebuilt, leaving it as one of the few large ruins in Tenerife – and none the worse for that because it has its own poignant, aesthetic appeal. The building is in private ownership and not open to the public, however there is a path on open ground to view two sides of the high, ruined enclosing walls that add to the mystique of the place (but take care to avoid the quantities of dog dirt – which do not add to the mystique).
El Castillo de San Miguel
Continuing our journey clockwise from Adeje, in the north west of Tenerife El Castillo de San Miguel in Garachico is the second furthest fort from Santa Cruz. If you’re setting out from the capital, you can catch the 107 guagua direct to Garachico, or from the south catch the 460 from Costa Adeje to Icod, a route with spectacular views, then change to the 363 to Garachico. But be warned, in the north you might encounter large groups of wandering Germans who, without exception, know nothing of the etiquette of queuing. If you are first in the queue make sure you’re first on the bus and don’t be too subtle about it.
El Castillo de San Miguel never fails to delight. Situated right beside the sea it is in excellent condition, unaltered since its military use, its compact, square strength inspires confidence. The fort is immaculately kept with informative displays for those who speak Spanish and plenty of illustrations for those who don’t. Displays also include natural history and social history. There is access to the gun platform on the roof that provides views of the sea front, and the guides are very helpful.
El Castillo de San Miguel was first built 1552 by the mayor of Santa Cruz, Captain Diego Perez Lorenzo, at the time when Garachico was the main port of the island serving the rich agricultural hinterland. The fort was authorised to be rebuilt in 1575 and reconstruction began in 1577. The coat of arms over the door honours King Carlos V, the del Hoyo family, the Isle of Tenerife, and Governor Alvarez de Fonseca of Santa Cruz, but the other is too weathered to identify. Sadly for Garachico, by the volcanic eruption of 1706 the town lost its important status to Santa Cruz. Yet, in an inventory of 1788 the castillo still boasted eight cannon and one mortar, with a garrison of one officer, one sergeant, two corporals, and thirteen soldiers. These forces were augmented in war time to three officers, three sergeants, five corporals, and eighty soldiers. Conditions at times of war must have been rather crowded. The last castellano departed in 1849 and the fort ceased to be of military use in 1878. It was finally disposed of by the army in 1905.
I should point out that the castillo guides I’ve met don’t speak English, which I see as an opportunity to hone my linguistic skills. There is a bonus in Garachico with the choice of cafes nearby to add to the pleasure of the visit; one in particular serves exceptionally delicious cakes.