If you live in any European city you will be used to seeing statues, monuments and even grave sites of famous people. This has never happened here and though occasionally the house of a celebrity is preserved, it is very unusual.
An Article by Bernie Power with The Voice Fuerteventura
Cemeteries & Secrets
As a frequent visitor to cemeteries, I am aware of the information that can be gathered regarding former lives, just from studying these sites. One of my favourites is the large angel that can be seen popping its head over the wall of the cemetery in the village of La Oliva. You can see it opposite the Disa petrol station. Nowadays, the remains of the deceased are cremated or placed in a cavity in specially designed walls and bricked up. However, I find the angel of particular significance, as one of the most interesting dignitaries lies beneath that angel.
The Guardian Angel
The angel is a replacement monument for a V.I.P. The original memorial lays broken, just to the right of the new one. It is the tomb of the very last colonel of the island, Cristobal Manrique de Lara Cabrera. He died on 5th September 1870. He had had his hereditary right to rule the island taken away in 1856 but retained ownership and control of virtually all of La Oliva right up until his death. This finally saw the end of the iniquity of the rule of the hereditary military dictatorship.
Birthright & Power
Since they assumed control in 1702, the Cabrera Bethancourt family passed military and political rights from father to son. Around 1700, Gines Cabrera Bethancort started to build his grand house. We know it as ‘Casa de los Coroneles’ and it was to be a symbol of their wealth and power for 150 years. It was finally completed by his grandson, the 5th colonel, Augustine Cabrera Bethancort Umpierrez. However, when Augustine died in 1828, things were changing for both the Colonels and their power base in La Oliva. By the 1850’s, the capital and commercial centre was moved to Puerto del Cabras ( Goat’s Port ) which is now the capital of the island and renamed Puerto del Rosario, after the virgin who has her church in the town centre.
If you look at the position of the angel on the tomb, you will notice that she seems to be looking directly at the location of estates of the former rulers of the island. When Cristobal died in 1870 the house was a serious financial burden. As well as being home to a large extended family, it also employed up to 100 retainers, butlers, grooms, cooks, maids and all the retinue of a powerful head of military government. The costs to keep the estate running could no longer be met through taxes and tariffs that were previously available, so money became a serious issue.
Maria De Las Nieves
The last inhabitant of the estate was his youngest daughter, Maria de Las Nieves, who had married and become the Marquessa of an aristocratic house from Tenerife, Marquessa de la Quinta Roja. Her husband died suddenly at the age of just 39 and although heartbroken, she was shunned by his family. She came to stay at the house in 1880 and remained there until she died in 1921. For 40 years the house was called the Casa de la Marquesa and she was a great help to the impoverished inhabitants of the area, during long and arduous periods of drought and famine. It was her who arranged and organised the building of the angel, in order to create employment in the village.
Disrepair & Decay
After she died, the house was already in disrepair and far too expensive for anyone to use it, so it was slowly stripped of the grand furniture, tapestries, paintings and artworks that the family had been collecting since the 1600’s. The workers were long gone. They had moved to the port town in order to seek employment. Over the years, the house was continuously stripped and robbed and slowly it decayed until all that remained was a shell. It remained that way until 2000.
A restoration project was proposed and over the years, the necessary funds were cobbled together to try and restore the house back to its former magnificence. It was a very long, drawn out process but now, once again, possibly thanks to the Angel that watches over it, The Casa de los Coroneles stands proud once again. It is currently open to the public, according to the official website, Tues to Sat from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Entrance fee is 3€ per person, 2€ per person (group of more than 15 people) and 1€ for residents with the necessary paperwork. The casa de los Coroneles, is not to be confused The Casa del Coronel just around the corner, where they hold the local food market once a week. That has its own story to tell. And if you want to find out more about that, the island and its history, then I hold a weekly lunch, where this and many other subjects can be explained.