Casa Fuerte, an essential place to visit in the south of Tenerife, full of local history
Casa Fuerte, in the heart of Adeje, had a modest beginning: a sugar mill built by the Genoese Ponte family. This would change when a few years later the family were forced to defend themselves from pirates. They requested permission from the King to construct a Fort and in 1555 they built a tower where they could take shelter.
Over time, the Adeje sugar mill prospered and until 1811 it was the longest-running sugar mill in the archipelago. Sugar cane was packaged and exported in the shape of loaves of bread, creating a source of thriving economic growth for Casa Fuerte.
The Ponte family, already the Counts of La Gomera and Marqueses of Adeje, became even more powerful and ruled Adeje for almost three centuries. An impressive family archive has been preserved with various documentation from the time including wills, dowries, land purchases, and inventories of goods.
Little is known about what was built inside the Casa Fuerte between the 16th and 19th centuries, since we lack general plans of the castle and palace until 1873. During this time, it became immense with an oratory, granaries, stables, a boiler house, an infirmary, a bagasse store, a tank, a cellar for honey, wine, and brandy, a bakery, an accounting office, and a sugar room. In short, the world of Casa Fuerte was very complex - a bustling place of work and activity.
As of 1766, when the last Ponte died, the owners moved to Madrid. Even so, in 1779 there were 57 people living in La Casa Fuerte, and from this point, the administrators in Madrid became accountable.
In 1811 the condition of the land became worse and a plague of worms affected the production of the cane fields. This forced Casa Fuerte to change course, focusing on fruit plantations and vineyards.
The most disastrous event occurred at the dawn of the 20th century. On April 9th, 1902, a virulent fire almost completely destroyed La Casa Fuerte. Its main buildings, the palace, and the granaries were lost forever. Paradoxically, the old tower fortress remained standing. It will never be known if the fire was started intentionally or not, to lower the value of their land as the great mansion disappeared. It is part of the sad legend and the decadence of Casa Fuerte.
Fortunately, the magnificent archive was saved along with the furniture, family portraits, weapons, and chain mail, as they had been transferred to Madrid many years before.
It would be unfair not to mention Mr. Henry Wolfson, an Englishman of Jewish and Russian origin, as promoter of the agricultural exploitation in Tenerife of bananas and tomatoes for their subsequent commercialization in Europe, especially England.
Both Mr Wolfson and the Fyffes company had purchased numerous lands, which were once linked to the Ponte family, the former residents of Casa Fuerte. With them and other cooperatives, a time of agricultural heyday was reached that culminated in 1887.
A new family, the Curbelos from Gran Canaria, settled in the Casa Fuerte from 1904. They modernised it by building new constructions inside and on the façade. In the left wing, entering through the main door, the packaging factory was built, and in the right-wing to the north, the compost and fertilizer room.
Crops were grown, transplanted, the fruits were collected and taken to Casa Fuerte, where they were separated by quality and size for later shipment through the Valito dock. From there, they were exported to mainland Spain and Europe. A similar process was undertaken with bananas and to a lesser extent with aubergines, oranges, lemons.
They brought much prosperity to Adeje and its surroundings, and workers came from other islands, such as La Gomera and Gran Canaria. When they finished their work in the garden, many continued to go to the packaging factory to help. The number of workers depended on the harvest but it is estimated that there were around 40 or 50 workers, about half were the women in the packaging of the tomato crates.
With the passage of time, the subsidies stopped and the competition from the mainland, and the cheaper Moroccan tomatoes, could not be overcome. The packaging was closed in the 1980s. However, tomato growing lasted until the beginning of the second decade of this century!
We encourage you to visit one of the oldest monuments on the island with one of the most interesting stories on the island, and find out more about this amazing piece of local history for yourself.
Casa Fuerte is open to the public from 10am to 1pm every Monday to Friday, and it is free to go in. Find out more at www.cafutenerife.com, or call or whatsapp +34 623 047 041.
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