Knoche Last Stand: Hacienda Buena Vista

Hacienda Buena Vista, Architectural project

Hacienda Buena Vista, also known as Knoche’s Castle, is an old finca in ruins in Galipán, a town belonging to La Guaira in the valley near El Picacho in Avila mountain. It is set on top of a cliff to the right of the royal road that ascends to the flower villages in the mountains near La Guaira.

Located in the midst of Avila mountain, with an impressive view of the sea where its name comes from, Buena Vista (that literally means “Good View”) is considered almost a fortified castle not only by its antiquity but also by its architectonic value and by its relationship with Gottfried August Knoche figure, the real historic character who inspired the Doctor Knoche series. It is thought that the mysterious Doctor almost never stayed in this place and that his real fortress was the Mausoleum, currently partially in ruins.

It is famous for being the center of many myths and legends where fantasies and fears intertwine. Knoche, with the intention to possess a fortress on the top of a sheer rock cliff, repaired and refunded the structure, making it his main bastion. Thus, surrounded by cliffs and jungles, his experimentation center also was his safe and tenacious refuge. In spite of having used the farm for many years after Knoche’s death, in 1901, it was abandoned once more during the first half of the 20th century.

Despite its massive and strong aspect, the Knoche Castle as it was known, suffered siege many times from robbers and snatchers during its existence and was feared by the nearby dwellers as sanctuary of incomprehensible and supernatural incidents regarding it as a doomed and forbidden place. It was only permanently inhabited from 1850 to 1926 when it served as Knoche family’s residence.

In its place a coffee farm was built by landowners of the Order of the Teutonic Knights around 1612 on what is Galipan today. The fortress is located at the border between El Picacho and San José and its architecture, although unique and impregnable, was ruined as time went by, withstanding the attacks of bandit hordes in the years that followed after Amelia Weissmann’s death.

 

The current structure was erected upon Knoche’s request in 1845 to have a commercial and defensive purpose against cholera and other plagues that undermined the local population. After First World War ended in 1920, Knoche’s Hacienda Buena Vista became part of the German administration under the coordination of the Embassy.

In 1840, the Hacienda was given to Domingo, a bold port worker, and María Eulalia, daughter of a wealthy Spanish merchant, on behalf of Joaquín Pirela, an Italian merchant, veteran of the federal war who ran a bar in Galipán and sold abandoned land. After Domingo’s and María Eulalia’s tragic deaths in strange circumstances, the Hacienda and the main house were partially restored by Pirela. Domingo’s and María Eulalia’s son, named Bruno, was doctor Knoche’s son-in-law and remained in the residence until he was 17 years old.

A little after the federal war, a period of time when the city of La Guaira was swept by the cholera epidemic, the municipal administration decided to render the castle to its new owner, doctor Knoche. The new owner, very fond of Prussian decoration and history, soon pursued  a campaign to restore and transform the Hacienda into his new residence and experimental laboratory.

In the 1850s, an head architect of the royal family, Karel Stoker, made deep modifications in the building, which, notwithstanding such, didn’t lose not even a shred of its fortress resemblance. New stairs and hallways were built to ease communication, the Hacienda was equipped with oil lamps and flowing water (cold and hot), even an elevator was added to make access to the chapel tower easier. The interiors of the buildings which have never been particularly grim, were filled with furniture and historic objects aiming towards creating a comfortable and rustic ambiance; some rooms were redecorated with a “German-Tyrolean” style. The surrounding garden was also enhanced and the belvedere and the labs were set up, besides guest houses, service lodging, barns and cupboards and armories. The main house is a relic from the Prussian dynasty. Knoche’s citadel was built in gothic style but Renaissance and Baroque elements were added in subsequent centuries. Their defensive towers, the chapel, its central garden and the belvedere, which views the sea, are among the structures that stand out from the construction. It was build on the top of the ruins of an ancient german fortification and its surroundings are fascinating and enchanting with high tree tops and sturdy carved stone walls.

Due to its size and location, it was difficult to seize control of its surroundings, including by natural forces. The earthquake of 1960 slightly affected the structure; moreover, in 1999, a landslide crumbled part of the structure down; nevertheless, the laboratory, although it was never repaired, its walls and a section of the well used to treat the bodies, still remain today. After World War 1, Amelia Weissmann’s family, following niece Joshephine’s decision, came back to the property and made the bells of the church ring at noon everyday during almost 10 years, in honor of the memory of Knoche and as a way to raise awareness that the Hacienda still was a bastion of the family and a resting ground for her uncle. To arrive to Buena Vista, visitors need to go up almost 3,000 meters, 20 kilometers of fierce steep slope from La Guaira on a horse’s back or walking.

In the following decades, some apparent heirs driven by ambition and greed to discover Doctor Knoche’s secret formula, came by the farm. However, they fled scared due to some ghostly apparitions and the constant threat of treasure burglars and spiritualists who were lured by the legends of the Witch of the Mountain. Finally, the Hacienda was abandoned, left in ruins. It is thought that, in this finca, there occurred a second siege known as the Battle of Buena Vista, between a Knoche’s old enemy who was in prison for seven years in a fort in La Guaira, after being demoted from the medical society of Caracas because of an accusation from Joshua Khum, partner and aide of the german doctor, who responsibilized him of a series of grave desecrations.