Anyone with even a slight interest in Spain’s military history really should visit the Military Museum in Santa Cruz de Tenerife if they are ever on the island. Allow a couple of hours or you’ll be rushing round. Free to enter, its opening hours are, despite what their website says:
- Tuesday to Friday: 10:00 – 15:00
- Saturday, Sunday and holidays: 10:00 – 14:00
The Military History Museum of the Canary Islands is located in Fuerte de Almeyda, in the heart of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Its location was a strategic point between the mouth of the Almeida ravine and the sea, and had been occupied by artillery batteries since the middle of the 17th century. It was built as a result of the frustrated attack by the British Royal Navy in 1797, under the command of Rear Admiral Nelson. This famous victory is a theme repeated around the city, and is the focus of the first exhibit you see when you are led upstairs from the entrance. A huge model of the Battle of Santa Cruz is on display with narration available in Spanish and English. Huge paintings of Nelson’s surrender occupy the walls on either side.
After learning about this famous battle (not so famous in the UK – we tend to concentrate on Trafalgar!) the upper floor takes you on a chronological tour of the military history of the Canary Islands beginning with the conquest of the Canary Islands by the Crown of Castile throughout the 1400s. On the ground floor, flags, collections of weapons, uniforms, old photos and works of art can be seen. We were particularly interested in the history of the Spanish Protectorate in North Africa, and the so-called “forgotten war” in what is now Western Sahara.
One exhibition stood out more than the others to us though. We had never heard of the role of the famous Nazi Enigma machines in the Spanish Civil War. It turns out that Hitler gave Franco 26 of these cryptographic machines to aid his campaign, and they had stayed in a box in a Madrid basement for many years until their rediscovery a decade ago. Two of them have since been gifted to GCHQ. Unaware of this, we were most surprised to see one on display in Tenerife. If you want to learn more about the workings of the machines which were used in Spain, you can read all about it here. There were some extra modifications making these ones a little different to the others.
The exterior fortress, a faithful reflection of the architecture of the end of the 19th century, is made up of eight vaulted casemates each containing exhibits of munitions and grenades. In its upper part, there is an open space featuring anti-aircraft guns, military vehicles, tanks and helicopters.
For a free museum, it was excellent and we highly recommend a visit. There is enough information in English that non-Spanish speakers should not be put off.