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THE FORT OF SAN CRISTÓBAL

THE FORT OF SAN CRISTÓBALTHE FORT OF SAN CRISTÓBAL

 

San Cristóbal and La Muela are twin hills located one opposite the other and separated by the river Guadiana. The fort stands out on the first one while the city of Badajoz spreads across the second one.

  The fort was built during the war with Portugal (Restauração, Aclamação or Portuguese War of  Independence, 1640-1668). When the war broke out, fire arms had reached such an important technological development that the medieval walls  which protected the city of Badajoz would eventually prove useless. For this reason it was necessary to strengthen the wall with the provision of a newly designed bastioned system as well as to fortify San Cristóbal Hill to prevent the Portuguese army from taking over it, since if that happened the city and the walls around it would be left at their mercy and consequently the city would be utterly imposible to defend.

Krigsarkivert layout of Badajoz, S.XVIIKrigsarkivert layout of Badajoz, S.XVII

Krigsarkivert layout of Badajoz, S. XVII

 

  It was not until May 1641 that the construction work on the fort was carried out  just around the site of San Cristóbal Hermitage, which precisely sat on the hill at the time. Nevertheless, rough weather ruined the first works causing the reconstruction of the fort, which started in 1643, to spread over the following years. On the Krigsarkivert layout of the city of Badajoz, dated in the mid-17th century, we can see a first picture of the fort, whose ground floor original design has been preserved throughout the years.

     As stated above, San Cristóbal was the key to the city of Badajoz and the Portuguese kept failing to take hold of it, being the most threating attempt the one carried out during the 1658 siege, which eventually failed despite the severe artillery attack that the fort underwent on that occasion. After that siege, new works were accomplished so as to make the fort a more solid and better defended buliding, as shown in Lorenzo Possi´s layout (dated at the end of the war). 

 

Lorenzo Possi´s layout, 1668Lorenzo Possi´s layout, 1668

Lorenzo Possi´s layout, 1668

 

 During the 18th century a number of design projects to make improvements on the fort were submitted. However most of them never materialized. One of the few works completed was the reconstruction of the southewestern half-bastion in 1741.

    As a result of the 1808-1814 Spanish Independence War, fortresses on the right bank of the river (the bridgehead around the end of Puente de Palmas and San Cristóbal fort) were of vital importance to ensure communication with Portugal. Notwithstanding, when the French attacked Badajoz on Jannuary 26th 1811, the fort had not undergone any meaningful improvements and as a consequence of it, the city of Badajoz was forced to surrender in March 1811after a dramatic siege.

   On the 4th of May the Allies (British, Portuguese and Spanish troops) turned up in Badajoz with the aim of winning over the city. The main  target of the allied attack was San Cristóbal, but they did not manage to take over the fort and between the 14th and 15th of May the siege was lifted, yet on the 21st of May, after the Albuera Battle (16th May 1811), they made another attempt but they failed again.

     Being the French much aware of the fact that sonner or later a new siege would come underway, they devoted themselves to new works of reconstruction to strengthen the fortesses around Badajoz, particularly San Cristóbal and its surrounding areas, since it was believed that the Allies would try to seize the fort. First of all, they set about building a lunette in front of the fort (Verlé lunette, also known as Moncoeur lunette, San Juan, From the Quarry, Constitution or Death Head lunette).

    The third allied siege turned out to be eventually succesful and the French troops were expelled from Badajoz on April, 7th  1812. However, after the conquest of the city, no new construction works were accomplished on the fort. All in all, during the 19th century new projects designed to readjust the fort to the modern fortification techniques were submitted, but none of them materialized. Nevertheless, with the arrival of the railway to Badajoz a trench between  San Cristóbal and San Juan (Lunette) hills was digged to make way to the railroad line.

 On the other hand, advances in modern artillery made the fort less and less useful and it was appointed as an detention/correction centre for officers and non-commission officers. The layout of the inside of the fort dates back to that period when the new constructions did not have a military function any longer and were just adjusted to the new use of the fort as a detention centre. Nevertheless, whenever certain circumstances would arise, the former defensive functions of the fort of San Cristóbal could be occasionally replaced, as it happened in the Carlista war in 1873, during which time new artillery devices were arranged on the spot.

 

1950 aerial photography1950 aerial photography

                                        1950 aerial photography

   At the beginning of the 20th century, an enormous pavillion and other constructions inside the fort were built, despite the fact that it was not  used as a detention centre any longer. However, a military squad continued to be appointed in the fort keeping custody of the ruined facilities.

    In March 1973, the City Council  regularised the purchase of the fort and the neighbouring land for 800,000 pesetas. The City Council authorities planned to hand over the fort to the Ministry of Information and Tourism in order to turn it into a Parador Nacional de Turismo (a National State-run lodge for tourists). Something that could not be posible due to the lack of the necessary funding to accomplish the Project, as the Ministry of Information and Tourism informed on April 15th 1977. Since then, it has undergone an icreasing deterioration process, even though there was never any lack of other projects as that of building a planetarium.

   In 2013 the City Council carried its restoration through in order to set up a hotel management school and a visitors centre on the site of the fort. However, although the new project has respectfully preserved the outer perimeter of the fort, the renovation works undertaken to adapt the building to its current use have affected the internal structures in such a grotesque way that most of them have changed beyond recognizion.

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