At kilometer 141 of the Panamericana Sur, between the districts of San Luis and San Vicente de Cañete, we find this beautiful Moorish-style castle built during the 19th century.
One of the tourist symbols of Cañete is the Castillo Unanue despite having to endure the indifference of the authorities and the seismic movements that bring it closer to its prompt destruction.
This imposing castle stands in the middle of the countryside on the banks of the Cañete River, sitting on an artificial pre-Inca huaca. It is believed that its construction cost about a thousand gold pesos, which is equivalent to a million dollars in these times.
Due to its construction, it is the only one of its kind in South America, only compared to the castle of Emperor Pedro IV of Brazil, near Rio de Janeiro.
It occupies an area of 13,489 km2 and there are three different areas: the first corresponds to the castle itself and consists of rooms, dining room, bedroom and toilets.
In this part is also located the entrance to the tunnel that leads to the basement, considered to be the first prison in Cañete. To the west is the chapel. The second section includes an extensive garden, and the third section contains the services and warehouses, which had a large central patio.
Despite its proximity to Lima and its notable historical importance, very few people in the capital know about this beautiful republican mansion. Its walls are painted in a rectangular shape and gridded on the tops.
The tones of the cloths are different and pale colors. Only plaster, clay, calicanto, cañabrava and beef leather are materials from the Cañete region.
Of all the country mansions, none like this rare Castle. A castle that does not belong to the landscape of Cañete, an alien place, transported from fantasy, impossible to inhabit in these times.
How does your story begin? Until the 18th century, here was the Hacienda Arona (whose original name was Matarratones), owned by Don Agustín de Landaburu, who left it as an inheritance to his son. However, he, having no offspring, gave it to his tutor, the doctor, scientist and distinguished hero of our Independence, Don Hipólito Unanue. It was a sugar estate, which received the name of Arona in allusion to a municipality of the same name located in Tenerife (Canary Islands). According to some news, the construction of this colonial sugar complex dates back to the 17th century, and was completed, including the chapel, in the following century. Until the beginning of the 19th century, little more than 400 black slaves of both sexes and of all ages lived in its old sheds.
When the Prócer took ownership of the sugar complex, it was known, generically, as "Hacienda Unanue". Don Hipólito died here, already retired from politics, in 1833, and the complex was divided between his two sons. His daughter Francisca was given the Hacienda Arona (here Pedro Paz Soldán y Unanue would later live, son of Pedro Paz Soldán and Francisca Unanue, better known by the nickname Juan de Arona) and his son José a farm that took the name of Unanue. It was Don José, then, who began, in 1843, the construction of the new hacienda house, in an arabesque style, popularly known as “Castillo Unanue”. On January 5, 1895, he died intestate in Chorrillos.
The construction of the popular "Castle" began at the end of 1843 and took until the end of the 1890s, almost 60 years of effort by the Prócer's son who, in this way, fulfilled the dream of building the most luxurious residence on the Peruvian coast. , in addition to a tribute to the memory of his illustrious father. It is estimated that about a thousand gold pesos were spent, just over a million dollars in our days. The stained glass windows, the marble and the iron and bronze bars, for example, were brought from Italy. The style of the building is Mozarabic, following a neo-Gothic line. There are also tunnels and dungeons, which were used in 1924 as the first prison in the town of Cañete. The slight elevation of the construction, apparently, is due to the existence of a pre-Hispanic huaca.
Alexander von Humboldt, Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna, Ernest Middendorf, Antonio Raimondi and Jorge Basadre passed through this dazzling mansion. According to some, its construction would be unique in its kind in South America, only compared to the castle of Emperor Pedro II of Brazil, near Rio de Janeiro.
Several stories related to the "Unanue Castle" are told. One refers to the fact that, for claiming their property, a hundred community members from the Cochahuasí farm were locked up in the Castle's cellars and were never heard from again, they did not come out alive. Another oral tradition from Cañete assures that the "Castle" has three tunnels; one connects it with Hacienda Montalban (3 kilometers away); the other with Hacienda Arona (5 kilometers away) and from there to the port of Cerro Azul (10 kilometers away) and the third to Cochahuasí beach (3 kilometers away). They also say that these underground paths would have served as an escape for various thieves or criminals in the area. The traditionalist Ricardo Palma narrates that “the old natives of Cañete remember, the manly figure along the roads riding on the most spirited colt in the valley… It is Don José! It is Don José Unanue, said the people from Cañete, respectfully giving way to the rich man who advanced gallardo and donjuanero to visit the rancherías”.
For his part, Eugenio Alarco Larrabure, great-great-grandson of Hipólito Unanue, commented, in 1999, when he was 91 years old, that it was José Unanue from Cuba (son of Hipólito), who – on one of his trips to the Rhine River in Germany – bought one of the castles that was in the city of Bavaria, “he took one of the ships that was heading to Peru in those days and took the opportunity to move a large part of the castle. He brought windows, doors, furniture, glass, marble, railings, and landed it directly on the Cerro Azul pier”… it took 60 years for 'Pepe' to realize his dream of having the most sumptuous residence on the Peruvian coast, in the memory of his father. According to Víctor Andrés García Belaunde (in Cañete Ayer y Hoy), the "Castle" was located within "a beautiful farm of 900 fanegadas that was crossed by a steam railway that communicated with its offices."
With the Agrarian Reform decreed by Velasco, the decline of the "Castle" came. Not only did the looting of its furniture come, but the botanical garden, in which there were palm trees, magnolias, walnut trees, pines and cork oaks, also dried up; Peacocks, ducks, hawks, sparrows, chilipillos, goldfinches, hummingbirds, pheasants and geese also disappeared; also turtles and colored fish called purple, iridescent and gold. Then, in 1972, it was declared a National Historical Monument. However, despite its proximity to Lima and its remarkable historical and architectural importance, few people know about this republican mansion. In 1999, a few thousand dollars were invested to carry out a study and value the monument, but the project did not prosper.
Unfortunately, the earthquake of August 15, 2007 affected its foundations, and the four towers crowned with merlons and battlements that served to protect the warrior's chest collapsed; the cracks, for their part, reach the loopholes and loopholes designed to shoot arrows, stones or boiling water at the enemy. Also affected are the four minarets that in high relief inscribe the sign of the cross like the mosques of the Holy Land. It is assumed that the workers of the former “Cerro Blanco Unanue Agrarian Users Cooperative” are the ones who manage the republican palace.
Unanue Castle - also called 'Palace' - has a "dark reputation" but not for having had slaves screaming in its dungeons, but for "paranormal entities".
But the journalist Mitra Taj - Reuters correspondent in Peru -, through this Twitter thread, tells what she found out about the place after visiting it:
The Castillo de Unanue was the palace that the son of one of the Peruvian heroes [José, a descendant of Hipólito Unanue] built in the middle of the 18th century, a place where some of the most prominent figures would gather to dance and play. It was also a slave smuggling center with a 10-kilometre tunnel linking it to the coast, because even then — when slavery was legal — sellers evaded taxes by doing business underground.
That is, they not only sold slaves but they did it on the low side to avoid regulation.
And it is true, José Unanue was one of the main indemnities for the manumission of slaves by Ramón Castilla in 1855, charging almost 25,000 pesos to the State.
Part of the tunnels were used as dungeons for disobedient slaves. Historian Juan Luis Orrego has something to share about these makeshift jails:
Several stories related to the 'Unanue Castle' are told. One refers to the fact that, for claiming their property, a hundred community members from the Cochahuasí farm were locked up in the Castle's cellars and were never heard from again, they did not come out alive.
For the rehabilitation of the castle, according to studies, and offering it to tourism will demand about six million dollars. If it is impressive as it is, already restored it would be something else.
According to studies, the rehabilitation of the castle to offer it to tourism would require an investment of 6 million dollars. What makes us think that if the property looks great today, can you imagine what it would be like once it was restored?
For the German journalist and philologist of the Spanish language, Verena Görtz was in Cañete and said that "it is amazing to know how this castle got here, and why so much effort to bring it and then leave it abandoned".
Also in her documentation is including the oral legend of the three tunnels in the underground of the castle.
It is said that one connects with Hacienda Montalbán 3 kilometers away; the other with Hacienda Arona 5 kilometers away, and from there to Cerro Azul 10 kilometers away; the third tunnel would have an exit at Cochahuasí beach, 3 kilometers away.
The Unanue Castle is located in San Vicente de Cañete, Km. 145 of the Panamericana Sur. An hour and a half from Lima and only three minutes from San Vicente de Cañete.
If you are in the Plaza de Armas of Lima, starting from there by car it will take you approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes along the South Pan-American Highway. Google Maps shows you the route. Look at the following box.
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