Wednesday, July 06, 2022

San Juan Castle in Santa Cruz de Tenerife

Castle of St John the Baptist or Black Castle (Castillo Negro)

Declared Historic Artistic Monument by Decree of April 22, 1949 and BIC (Bien de Interés Cultural "good of cultural interest") by Decree of May 12, 2003.

The military engineer Leonardo Torriani, sent by Felipe II (Philip II of Spain) to carry out a study of the defences of the port of Santa Cruz in 1587, considered that the castle of San Cristóbal should be flanked by two other castles - Paso Alto and San Juan - so they covered the entire coast and prevented any landing.

His proposal to build a castle in Caleta de Negros would be delayed, however, until, in 1640, when the Catalan Revolt and the Portuguese Restoration War forced Captain General Luís Fernández de Córdoba y Arce to request the Cabildo de Tenerife's collaboration to carry it out, so that, in the session held on November 30 of that year, the aldermen agreed to build a castle in Caleta de Negros, bordering the Lazaretto. In order to carry out the works, the salaries of some officials and the expenses of religious festivals had to be reduced.

The castle, which began to be built in 1641 and completed three years later, was formed by a circular stonework tower completely terraced towards the sea, where the battlements were. The rooms for the soldiers were aligned on the land side, as was the powder store. Access to the castle was via a stone bridge, separated from the tower walls by a wooden drawbridge. In 1684 King Carlos II (Charles II of Spain) granted the Cabildo the privilege of being able to name the castle.

The Castle would have to be rebuilt in 1765, due to the threat of ruin produced by the continuous pounding of the sea. The works, carried out according to the project of the Canarian fortification engineer Alejandro de los Ángeles, consisted of a circular tower with walls of basalt stonework and masonry 2.5 meters thick, 30 meters in diameter and 8 meters high. The front was defended by a masonry wall with a wooden stockade, a small moat and a wooden drawbridge.

On its open esplanade, located on the roof which was accessed by a masonry staircase, parapets were built, two sentry boxes for surveillance and five 24-gauge cannons, two 16-gauge cannons and a 1-gauge mortar were placed. The area facing the sea was reserved for an artillery platform.

The garrison, made up of an officer, a sergeant, a corporal and ten soldiers, although in case of war it could be increased to a hundred, had its accommodation in two 47-square-meter vaulted rooms located under the aforementioned esplanade, to the ​​land side, communicated by a corridor. 

Spares and ammunition were stored in two rooms similar to the previous ones, but measuring 12 square metres.

In the aforementioned works, a large number of workers from Tenerife would be employed, directed by the famous Master stonemason Juan Lizcano. The wood was brought from the mountains of La Matanza de Acentejo and the lime stone came from the island of La Graciosa.

This castle would not have the opportunity to intervene during the Gesta of July 25, 1797, since it only fired four cannon shots to dissuade the English boats that tried to disembark at the mouth of the Santos ravine; however, its garrison had been reinforced with 30 French soldiers from the corvette La Mutine, which two months earlier had been stolen by the English in our port.

The castle was called San Juan, although it is commonly known as Castillo Negro (Black Castle). Some historians consider that this name is due to the dark tone of the volcanic stone with which it is built, while others estimate that it corresponds to the name of the cove in which it was built (Caleta de Negros).

The Castle of San Juan was declared unsuitable for the services of the Army on January 2, 1924, although it would not be disposed of until 1948, the year in which it was transferred to the Cabildo de Tenerife, who would proceed to restore it in order to install the Military Museum of Tenerife, a subsidiary of the Army Museum. Although the patronage of the aforementioned Museum was established, the project would not prosper due to the distance from the city.

The Santa Cruz de Tenerife City Council restored it in 1982 and maintains it in a good state of conservation, although it remains closed to the public. The Castillo de San Juan or Castillo Negro, the third most important fortress that the Santa Cruz marina had, is the only one that remains intact.

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