Fuerteventura has certain natural characteristics that have allowed for centuries, both invasions by sea and attacks by corsairs and pirates.
Among these singularities we could name:
- It’s a very long island. From end to end it measures almost 100 km. It is the longest island in the entire Canary archipelago, which complicates the defense of its coastline.
- Its orography, with smooth coasts and hidden coves, made it easy for enemy ships to anchor at almost any point in Fuerteventura without being detected, and thus start an incursion. The invaders could enter even the most unprotected populations that, in general, were found inland.
It is common to believe that the bastions were only built after the Franco-Norman conquest and the subsequent Castilian colonization. However, the mahos already had a wide network of surveillance points and defensive buildings. Let’s start with them.
Watchtowers and other defensive constructions, in pre-Hispanic times.
During pre-Hispanic times, the mahos built a good number of watchtowers that dominated the coast. These lookouts were located at strategic points. From them, one had a good view of part of the coastline, and they were generally located on peaks near the coast. In addition, they must not have other mountains in front of them that would block their vision. Escanfraga, La Atalayita, Montaña Blanca de Arriba, Montaña de Tao, or Cuchilletes de Buenavista are just a few examples of where these watchtowers were located.
But, the mahos not only stationed themselves in enclaves to watch the coast, they also built small bastions that served as support during the attacks by land. Let us remember that Fuerteventura, at the time of the conquest, was divided into two tribal chiefdoms: Ayose and Guise. Defenses were erected in border areas of the two chiefdoms. There are still remains of some of these fortresses, such as the one in the Torre ravine and the Muley ravine.
With the arrival of the conquerors, Gadifer de La Salle and Jean de Bethencourt, the defensive constructions increased. The Franco-Normans built their small bastions, which offered protection against the attacks of the mahos. Today we know them as Betancurian Castles. Among them, the Valtarajal tower, the Riche-Roche Castle, and the Lara Castle stand out.
Fortifications after the conquest
After the conquest, and for a time, the key surveillance points that the natives of Fuerteventura had conditioned continued to be used. These points worked in a similar way to how the Arab watchtowers of the Iberian Peninsula did. They were visually connected, at least with two others, and through smoke signals during the day and the light of the bonfires at night, they allowed warning of any imminent danger.
Until the middle of the 18th century there was no fortification in Fuerteventura to defend the island from the continuous attacks of Barbary, British and French pirates. The towers built by the conquerors were destroyed long ago and, although a fortress had been thought of to defend Betancuria, everything remained a project that never materialized.
In 1741, 3 defensive bastions were projected: one in El Cotillo, another in Caleta de Fuste and the last one in Tarajalejo. The one from Tarajalejo did not get up.
The Tower of Our Lady of Pilar and San Miguel, better known as Torre del Tostón, stands on a rocky escarpment to the south of El Cotillo.
The fortification was designed by the engineer Claudio de Lisle in the mid-eighteenth century. The function of this bastion was to defend the coast and protect the ships anchored in the port of Cotillo from attacks by Barbary, British and French pirates.
The Toston Tower has a circular floor plan, with a frustoconical development, with two floors in height and a platform with a parapet. Its interior is accessed through a stone staircase that leads to a drawbridge with iron chains, the door being located a couple of meters above the ground.
To fulfill its mission, the terrace of the tower would be armed with 4 cannons. The bastion would also have a gunpowder store and rifle support.
The Castle of Saint Bonaventure
The Tower of San Buenaventura is located in the municipality of Antigua, at the eastern end of the bay of Caleta de Fuste. Unlike its sister tower, Tostón, it is not located in a steep area but at sea level.
Caleta de Fuste is also known as “El Castillo”, as the tower of San Buenaventura is the most emblematic building in the town.
Although the project for the two towers: El Tostón and San Buenaventura was the same, the bastion of Caleta de Fuste underwent more significant modifications. The tower of San Buenaventura has spaces designed to install small cannons. This tower also has a sentry box, which the Tostón tower does not have, and which covers the exit of the stairs to the upper terrace.
But, as telling it is not the same as seeing it, we suggest you visit these military places.
Another interesting fact! In the 18th century, pirate attacks decreased, the Torre del Tostón and the Torre de San Buenaventura did not have a very active service and both were used as a prison.