“La Casa Fuerte” of Adeje
By Alastair Robertson
La Casa Fuerte de Adeje (the Strong House of Adeje) is an absolute gem so far as Tenerife is concerned.
The cultural history of the island jumps from the never-changing Neolithic Age of the Guanches to the Spanish Conquest in 1496, with nothing in between. This means that there are no buildings over 500 years old, so at 450 years of age La Casa Fuerte is one of the oldest edifices on Tenerife and, in the main, it is unaltered.
La Casa Fuerte, with its tower and its gun platform, is the icon of Adeje. It stands up the hill at the highest part of the old town. Today it is reasonable to say that La Casa Fuerte is out of the way and barely visible from a distance among modern blocks of flats, but for centuries it was a landmark, the tallest building for miles around. As such it featured in several engravings of Adeje.
It’s worth a visit to walk around the three sides of the estate complex that are accessible, the ruins speak volumes. To find your way there is simple, drive to Adeje and head up hill, you can’t miss it. Or take the 416 or 417 bus to the stop at Los Olivos in Adeje and walk uphill.
La Casa Fuerte and the de Pontes
In the middle of the sixteenth century Adeje was repeatedly raided by pirates. Pedro de Ponte, the first Lord of Adeje and Count of Gomera, repeatedly requested from Prince Philip the authority to build a fortified house and finally, on 2nd May 1555, a certificate of authority was signed by Princess Juana. Construction began in 1556 for the home, the agricultural hub and the administrative centre for the productive land and estates of the de Ponte family. Pedro de Ponte, incidentally, was a friend of the English hero, seaman, privateer and slave trader (a mixed bunch of attributes by today’s standards), Sir John Hawkins, a relative of Francis Drake.
The lordship of Adeje continued through several generations of the de Ponte family. Then Niculoso de Ponte-Ximenez y Castilla, the son of Maria Ana de Ponte and Diego de Herrera Xuarez de Castilla y Van dale, who was born in 1650 in Garachico, renounced his title in favour of his eldest son, Gaspar Alsonso, who died in 1719.
The last marquis of Adeje to live in La Casa Fuerte, don Domingo de Herrera y Rojas, who was also the count of Gomera, made his will in 1766, in which he listed the sizeable expenses he incurred in running La Casa Fuerte.
The Gun Tower
The fortified part of La Casa Fuerte is basically a tower supporting a high level gun platform located at one corner of the large complex of buildings. Whether the cannons or the muskets of La Casa Fuerte ever fired in anger is doubtful, but nevertheless they meant business. An inventory of the armaments was made on 28th August 1651, which included 56 muskets, 46 pikes, nine or ten cannon, and a trumpet. Despite its rather unmilitary appearance, at La Casa Fuerte in 1655 there were seventeen cannon and 400 cannon balls. By 1737 La Casa Fuerte had been downgraded to five cannon, although it is possible that technology had improved so much that each of the newer cannon fulfilled the same function as several ancient ones. A few years later, in about 1750 when the marquis and his family ceased to live in La Casa Fuerte, the tower still held a large store of assorted armaments and it was garrisoned by a sergeant with four villagers as militiamen. There was also a dungeon where any rebels could be held, or miscreant slaves for that matter. In the census of 1779 there were two captains in residence but no other military personnel and the last castellano, or constable, died in Madrid as late as 1842.
La Casa Fuerte
Floor plans survive to show the complex of buildings that was La Casa Fuerte. It included a mansion for the owners, the agent, guest rooms, servants’ quarters, slaves’ quarters, gardens and offices for the estate, all set around a central courtyard.
The flat-roofed building by the roadside today is a fairly recent addition, built in concrete block as a fruit packing and exporting warehouse. In former days there was an open yard where the sugar cane was pressed and pulped and at another time the space served as a paddock or corral. To the left side of the yard was a prison cell.
On the east or right hand side of the main entrance gate was a room occupied by the water warden, the ownership and operation of water mines being all important. Above this was a kitchen and rooms where the slaves were housed. Food was prepared for them here.
Inside the gate was a small fore-court with a raised pool or large trough for the livestock, near to which was a bread oven, two stables and the blacksmith’s workshop. On the other side of the gate to the left were rooms for the porter. Continuing in that direction, the lower floor of the tower served as the armament store, while the top of the tower housed the water cistern.
On the south side, towards the west, were the granaries and stor-es, followed by rooms for the accountants and the estate archi-ves. Beyond them was a private chapel with a watch tower adjacent. At the western corner were the private quarters of the marquis, that gave the best views over his the fields and across the sea to Gomera. A gallery then led north to more apartments for the marquis and for the governor, from which the central patio could be viewed with its ornamental garden and central fountain.
On the west side there was a range of buildings that housed the kitchens and stores. The grand block that is referred to as ‘La Cocina’ (the kitchen), is actually the lord’s hall on the first floor with what appears to have been a private room at one end. The northeast corner of the block housed the administrator’s office, while further to the north of this western section was a passage that led to the vegetable gardens and flower gardens. This was also where the wine presses were located.
For about 150 years, after the time of Juan Bautista de Ponte, the first marquis of Adeje in the mid 17th century, La Casa Fuerte remained intact, then from the early 1800’s the buildings were progressively abandoned and deterioration set in. At the end of the 19th century the buildings to the south and west of the site, with the exception of the kitchen, were destroyed by fire. Then in 1904, there occurred another fire that destroyed most of the northern end, including the kitchen.
The buildings were never repaired and the site became used, officially or unofficially, as a stone quarry, in much the same way that Roman ruins in England were used. New terraces were formed on the site of the old buildings but the rest of the complex was left as one of the few remaining large ruins in Tenerife – and none the worse for that because it has its own poignant, aesthetic, even poetic, appeal.
Oddly enough it is the recent history of La Casa Fuerte that is least known. It would be a good research project to find people of Adeje who used to work there and interview them for their reminiscences. Today La Casa Fuerte is in the ownership of the extended family of the last businessman, Senor Curbelo. It is not open to the public, but, as well being able to view the frontage to the street, there is a path on open ground around two sides of the high, ruined walls that can tell their own story. Nearby on a traffic island there is a large cannon beside an illustrated information plaque in Spanish and English.