A tour of the fortifications of Tenerife (Part IV)
This time, on our clockwise tour of Tenerife, we’re travelling from Puerto de la Cruz towards Santa Cruz, but before we get to the capital there is (and hold your breath) :
El Torre de San Andres
We leap-frog now over Santa Cruz to catch the 910, 945, 946, or 947 guagua to El Castillo de San Andres, or El Torre Roto, the Broken Tower.
San Andres was built to circular plan in 1706 as the most distant of the defences of Santa Cruz, eventually with a battery of six or seven cannon. On three occasions the fort was severely damaged by flooding of the adjacent barranco. The first occasion was in 1740 and the next was in 1769, when the reconstruction led to San Andres being designated a castillo. In 1878 the guns were removed, then during a storm in 1896 the foundations of the tower were undermined causing it to split in half, but this time San Andres was not repaired. In 1924 it was finally declared of no use for military purposes. Surprisingly the tower was not demolished for its building materials and so it remains today as a romantic ruin.
Standing inside El Castillo de San Andres is quite an emotional experience. It is almost painful to look at the contorted, ruined walls that collapsed and broke so long ago, twisted and disappearing into the ground. Sadly, this broken survivor is in a state of neglect. Among the detritus of weeds, bottles, cans and broken glass there is even a heap of builder’s rubble. The entrance gate hinges have seized, leaving the gate in a half open, half shut position, asking the question – is the tower of San Andres officially open to the public or not? A little bit of effort, perhaps voluntary, to tidy up the enclosure regularly would keep this fortification in the revered condition that it deserves.
El Castillo de San Joaquin
El Castillo de San Joaquin in La Cuesta is a fort for the real enthusiast simply because it’s so difficult to find. This makes the first part of the trip an exercise in urban exploration. The fort is located in what is now a modern residential area just off the main road between Santa Cruz and La Laguna, between Calle Irene and Calle Andres Orozco Batista. There are buses to Calle Irene but I don’t know anything about them to offer advice. If you’re in a car the sat-nav might help, otherwise the nearest Tranvia (tram) stop is La Conservatoria, near to the brewery, after which, having already looked at Google Flash Earth, then searched long and hard to find San Joaquin and then mapped out your route through the streets, you set off to walk uphill.
There are photographs of El Castillo de San Joaquin on the internet but even so the fort comes as a surprise – it’s big – every bit as big as the Military Museum at Almeyda. Set in its own extensive grounds on the edge of a barranco, or ravine, in essence the fort is a square block with cylindrical towers at each corner, quite different from anything else on the island. It is a powerful looking building in a dominant position and with the eye of the imagination one can appreciate that it would have been even more imposing a hundred and fifty or so years ago. Without the surrounding houses El Castillo would have stood alone on a shelf of land projecting from the hillside, securing the approach to La Laguna on the hill from Santa Cruz.
Although the building is empty it is in very good condition. The original fort was one of the earliest built on the island, initially constructed as a gun platform in 1587 to a design by the Italian engineer Leonardo Torriani, then, after a sequence of short-lived defences, it was abandoned until it was rebuilt as a castillo in 1780. The subsequent history of San Joaquin is rather diverse. The guns were removed in 1850 and it became a munitions depot. Between 1898 and 1913 it was a home for military carrier pigeons(!), after which time it was an equipment store for the military training school and it was finally declared inadequate for military use in 1924. The fort became a military prison in 1944 before being sold in 1949. El Castillo de San Joaquin is now in private ownership and I believe there was once a plan to turn it into a restaurant or a hotel, but it’s hard to see how it could be realistically be used as a public venue because the approach roads are little more than narrow twisting lanes.
El Bateria de Bufadero
Travelling back from San Andres towards Santa Cruz, this 19th century gun battery, situated behind a row of trees and only a pavement width away from the main TF-11 road, is easily missed while driving or on the guagua because it looks like an old warehouse.
When construction started in 1897, El Bufadero was part of the last phase of development of fortifications for Santa Cruz, but for some reason it was not equipped with artillery until 1914. Like the gun batteries of San Francisco and Almeyda it must have been an imposing and cautionary presence for ships approaching the port.
El Bufadero was basically a raised oblong gun platform with munitions stores beneath, the doors of which have been bricked up to prohibit intruders. I was surprised to learn that no plans survive for El Bufadero, or for any others of this late, relatively modern phase of fortifications, whereas there is no trouble finding plans for the older castillos and gun batteries. The structure has been partly demolished at some time, probably when the new roads were built, but its future is now secure in the care, I believe, of the port authority.
There is not much to see of interest. One side, the plain side, of El Bufadero can be viewed from the main road but the other side, with the curved gun platforms, is in the private port authority area.
With regard to public access and awareness, with the best will in the world I can’t see how this fortification could be made into a visitor attraction. There is no available ground for car parking; there is only the ground the platform stands on and no outside space. On one side there is the busy main road, where even pulling in to the kerb is not advisable, and on the other is the private internal road system of the port. Also, there are no vistas. There is a small public area at one end with keep fit equipment where an information plaque could be placed, but El Bufadero, it has to be said, is not an interesting sight except to the collector of fortifications. Nevertheless it is worth looking after as part of the network of monuments to Tenerife’s military past.