HOME / OUR HISTORY / GIBRALTAR CHANGING LAND
One of the earliest named British batteries in Gibraltar was Forbes’ Battery at the extreme northern end of the Northern Defences, overlooking the north-western corner of the isthmus. It was named early in the 18th century after Lord Forbes, third Earl of Granard, who had been aide-de-camp to the Prince George Hesse of Darmstadt when he landed on Gibraltar in 1704. He was later to briefly participate in the defence of Gibraltar during the 1727 siege but before that he had arrived on the Rock in 1726 when he designed and, with his men, constructed the battery which was to carry his name. The interesting feature of this two-cannon battery was that the guns pointed towards the Grand Battery and not to the isthmus. In other words, should the enemy penetrate that far they would be fired upon from behind. After the 1727 siege the Spaniards admitted that this battery had been the one they had feared most. A barrier which was placed to control the entrance to the garrison between the base of the Rock, below Forbes’ Battery, and the marshy ground and coast to the west was naturally given the name Forbes’ Barrier. During the early and middle of the 19th century significant quarrying took place in this area as described by Edward Kelaart, botanist and medical officer of the garrison, who arrived in Gibraltar in 1843 and published his Botany & Topography of Gibraltar in 1856.
A significant amount of scarping had been undertaken in this area by the British in the early 18th century to prevent infiltration by Spanish troops. A case in point was a cavern below Willis’s Battery, sealed after an attempt by Spaniards to mine it in 1727. This sealed cavern can be seen today from Forbes’ Quarry but it is totally inaccessible, the slope leading to it having been removed in the 18th century. The Reverend John White arrived in Gibraltar as military chaplain in 1756 and remained on the Rock for 16 years.
Captain Edmund Flint, secretary of the Gibraltar Museum Society which had formerly been the Gibraltar Scientific Society and a contemporary of Kelaart’s, presented to this society a skull on the 3rd March 1848 which had been found in Forbes’s Quarry. This quarry, named after the battery directly above it, had produced the skull of a Neanderthal but its significance was not realised until a long time after and the German specimen, found in 1856, gave this species its scientific name. The 19th century quarrying removed much of the vegetated slope at the base of the cavern. The cave, in which the Neanderthal skull and probably many other interesting remains had been deposited, was almost totally destroyed leaving very little evidence for us to study.
After a speculative attempt in 1989 and 1991 a more formal process of research and excavation of Gibraltar’s caves was commenced in 1994 and these investigations into our prehistory have continued annually to today. The 1994 excavation was, curiously, not in the well-known site at Gorham’s Cave where results could be guaranteed but at an untried and relatively unknown and unnamed site at the top of the old watercatchments on the Great Gibraltar Sand Dune. Many years earlier a sand collection operation had been set up on the East Side of the Rock. The sand that was beneath the watercatchments was extracted and transported along a conveyor belt system to the road below and from there taken for industrial use.
In 1985, when the workers had started to remove the sand from the top of this mound they discovered, what appeared to be the entrance to a small cave. They recovered stone artefacts and bones until they were ordered to stop by Mr George Palao of the Public Works Department. He collected these items and arranged for the cave to be sealed according to his notes found years later in a museum vault. When Prof Clive Finlayson took over the direction of the Gibraltar Museum in 1991 he discovered a plastic carrier bag in one of the vaults. In it were stone tools made mainly of red jasper and many mammal bones including an almost complete skull of an Ibex, a wild mountain goat. In the bag was Mr Palao’s report so we were able to establish where the finds came from. We investigated the matter further because it was clear to us that the stone artefacts were of Mousterian tradition. An expedition to this cave was arranged the following year where prehistoric stone tools and more bones were found on the surface shortly after arriving at the site. The cave was yet unnamed but would soon receive the name of Ibex Cave after finding the complete skull of an Ibex (wild mountain goat) there. A formal excavation was carried out at Ibex Cave began in 1994.
The combined results of the 1994 Ibex Cave excavation and the subsequent years in Gorham’s and Vanguard Caves are sufficiently detailed now to allow for reconstructions of the environmental conditions around Gibraltar in the late Pleistocene. Gorham’s and Vanguard Caves, like Ibex, are situated on the east side of the Rock but they differ from Ibex in that they are presently at sea level. However, this has not always been the case. Gorham’s had a tradition in prehistory. Captain Arthur Gorham had discovered this cave in 1907, although the sea caverns within one of which lies the cave were known to the 18th century naturalists and historians. In his 1771 History of the Herculean Straits James, for example, describes these caverns filled with wild pigeons and bats which is an account of his time in Gibraltar between 1749 and 1755. It was only in the 1940s that a Captain Alexander discovered ceramic and other artefacts here and conducted a kind of excavation. He did so, apparently, without permission and left Gibraltar without trace and taking the artefacts with him much to the annoyance of the museum committee of the day. As a result the Governor of Gibraltar, Sir Kenneth Anderson, initiated correspondence with the United Kingdom Government to commence a properly-run excavation. It is to his credit that he had the vision to recognise the need to have professionals in such matters. The Gibraltar authorities wanted Dorothy Garrod to excavate the cave and she would have been an ideal person. She had excavated the Devil’s Tower Rock Shelter in the 1920s and had discovered a Neanderthal child’s skull there in 1926. Garrod could not take on the work, however, but she suggested John d’Arcy Waechter of the Institute of Archaeology who was working in Turkey. Waechter came to Gibraltar and excavated Gorham’s, with Spanish labourers, in the course of the 1950s. Despite the crude methods which he employed and the huge volume of sediment which he extracted Waechter was unsuccessful in completely destroying the cave so that when the Museum team returned there in 1989 both Chris Stringer and Andy Currant of the Natural History Museum in London were amazed at the potential which the cave still had. Perhaps surprisingly, Vanguard Cave, about 100 metres to the north had never been excavated and so was in pristine condition.
The evidence which has allowed the Museum to piece together the environments outside these caves comes from a number of disciplines. The Neanderthals and, later on, the Modern Humans who occupied these sites lit fires. The remnants of these fires are still there. By taking samples of charcoal derived from these hearths we have been able to do two things. First, the samples have been radiocarbon dated which gives us a very precise idea of when the particular level was occupied and we have had the structure of the charcoal analysed in other samples which has given us an indication of the plants that were cut and thrown into the hearth. Not only does this tell us when particular plants grew in the vicinity, but also what the nature of the climate was as plants can serve as climate indicators. Radiocarbon dating is a very specialised and expensive technique. However, the method cannot be satisfactorily applied to ages beyond around 40-45 thousand years ago. To go beyond this range other techniques have been applied such as Uranium-Series Dating. His results have revealed that the older levels at Gorham’s go beyond 90 thousand years ago.
The second feature that makes these caves so useful is the abundance of animal remains found in many of the levels – mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, sometimes fish and many molluscs. Together with the plants these remains have allowed us to reconstruct these prehistoric environments of Gibraltar. Some of these animals were clearly brought back to the caves by humans and a number of these show evidence in the form of cut marks or burning. Others may have been brought in by carnivores which, as we shall see, were abundant in the area. Others would have come of their own accord and died in the cave.
Before we can begin to interpret the environments we must understand the nature of global climate change in the last two million years – the Quaternary. The early view of a world which could be divided into four major “Ice Ages” during this period has long been realised to have been over-simplistic. Studies of deep sea cores in the North Atlantic or of the Greenland Ice Core, for example, have helped to show that the climate was much more variable than previously anticipated. At times the mean global temperature may have been even higher than at present though at other times it was significantly lower. The period that concerns us starts around 120 thousand years ago and was warm. It was the last interglacial – a major warm period between two cooler periods. The sea level around our coasts was probably even higher than it is today, perhaps by as much as 8m as ice in the poles melted. A progressive period of cooling started shortly afterwards and culminated in two very cold episodes, one between 90 and 60 thousand years ago and another from 25 to around 13 thousand years ago. The intervening period was highly variable, though often mild, but never as warm as the interglacial. The cooling that took place for much of this period meant that much seawater froze and the sea level, in the western Mediterranean including Gibraltar, descended by up to 130 metres below present levels.
What effects did such a lowering of the sea level have on the environments and the inhabitants of the Rock? The Bay of Gibraltar in the west is very deep, over 400 metres in places, as deep as the North Sea. A lowering of the sea level of around 100 metres would have exposed a coastal shelf but not much more. The Bay would have taken the shape of a deep estuary into which the ancestral Palmones and Guadarranque Rivers would have flowed. In the east the situation would have been very different. Here a similar lowering of the sea level exposed a large area of land of up to 45km2. This land was immediately on the doorstep of Gorham’s and Vanguard Caves.
Our interpretation of the information which is emerging from these sites is that Gibraltar was sufficiently far south never to have completely lost its Mediterranean vegetation. We have found in levels dated around 40-50 thousand years ago charcoal belonging to warmth-loving plants, true indicators of a Mediterranean climatic régime. Perhaps the most striking of these is the wild Olive but equally significant, though less well known, are the Stone Pine and the Lentisc. So with the exception of the really cold episodes, when the vegetation did change quite radically as we shall see, the Neanderthals lived in Mediterranean-type conditions.
So what was the landscape of the Neanderthals like? We can best describe it as a kind of wooded savannah of a Mediterranean kind. The nearest comparable environment today would be the Doñana National Park in south-west Spain. Sand is the crucial element in common with the old Neanderthal environments of Gibraltar. The drop in the sea level caused the exposure of large expanses of sand off the east side of Gibraltar and the vegetation that grew there was similar to that of Doñana. The predominant tree was the Stone Pine. Its umbrella-like structure prevents dense woods forming. The wide crowns keep the trees apart and this allows sufficient light to penetrate to the ground to allow a rich shrub and grass layer. The Gibraltar sand dunes would have exhibited a dynamism similar to those of Doñana today and so there would have been open areas where trees had not had time to grow or where the shifting sand would have engulfed them.
In Doñana another tree is common and forms large, open, copses in areas of higher ground. This tree is the Juniper and we have found that a species of juniper was also present in the Gibraltar sand dunes and it was the second commonest tree there too!
So the vast expanse of sand dunes of the east side presented a mosaic and ever-changing patchwork of open vegetation, in places rich in grasses, in others with a rich shrub layer of heathers and rock roses, yet in others with scattered trees or even small woods. This environmental mosaic provided for a rich and abundant fauna. Among the herbivores the predominant mammal, as in Doñana today, was the Red Deer. Wild horses and cattle were also present. The Wild Boar rummaged for roots in the undergrowth much as it does today in Doñana. There were also remnants of an ancient fauna, most notably the last of the Narrow-nosed Rhinoceroses that were once widespread across Europe.
It is not therefore surprising that such a community of herbivores should attract a rich assemblage of carnivores. Here is where the analogy with the environments of an African Serengeti becomes most appropriate. Among the large scale predators were Lions, Leopards and Spotted Hyaenas. These animals roamed the sandy plains. Some, like the Leopard, would have been at home on the trees. Hyaenas would have found the caves ideal dens, that is when humans were not around. To these predators we must add others which are still found in the area or which have only been eliminated by Man in historical times – Wolf, Lynx, Wild Cat, Brown Bear. This then was the Gibraltarian Doñana of 40 thousand years ago, but there was more…
Mediterranean plants also grew on the Rock as we noted earlier, especially Olives and Lentiscs. It is unlikely that these grew commonly on the sand dunes and it is more likely that they were collected from the Rock itself where they may have easily grown, just as they still do today. The cliffs of the Rock also added another important faunal component. This was the Ibex, a wild mountain goat, which along with the Red Deer were the main mammals consumed by the Neanderthals. Sites, such as Ibex Cave up on the cliffs, may well have been seasonal places where the Neanderthals went specifically to catch these goats.
There is also evidence that a shallow river estuary may have opened into the Mediterranean somewhere in the present-day isthmus. This possibility is supported by the large presence of waterbirds – ducks, geese, etc., found not just in Gorham’s but also, notably, in the Devil’s Tower site which was excavated by Dorothy Garrod in the 1920s. This site would have been very close to this marshy ground. In addition, we found a level in Vanguard Cave which indicated that the Neanderthals had been collecting and eating mussels. It appeared as a singular event, these people having arrived with the mussels and a flint nucleus, made the tools on the spot and cooked the mussels in a fire. The charcoal allowed us to date the event at over 40 thousand years ago! We were able to collect all the waste flakes and reconstruct the original flint pebble. Evidence from other camp fires in Vanguard and Gorham’s also showed that these people also collected plant matter for food, with roasted pine nuts appearing to be a favourite.
If the seasonal régimes functioned in a similar manner to Doñana, with a dry summer season, then it is very likely that these wetlands would have been especially important hunting grounds in the summer when the larger mammals would have come to drink in the receding water pools.
The system which we have described in all likelihood predominated for tens of thousands of years. Sometimes the sea would gain on the dunes, other times the plains would grow. Dry periods would reduce the extent of the wetland areas, and so on. The important point to note is that a Mediterranean régime predominated throughout.
When conditions worsened after 35 thousand years ago and Europe was poised on the verge of some of the coldest conditions it was ever to face, the environmental conditions in southern Iberia changed. Inland, the Mediterranean mountain woodlands were replaced by arid steppelands which favoured the expanding populations of Modern Humans. The changes even affected the coastal lowlands and Gibraltar did not escape. It is at this time that we begin to see the entry of mountain vegetation, migrating to lower altitudes in response to the increasing cold. The charcoal in Gorham’s shows a replacement of the lowland pines by species which are characteristic of the mountains. The vegetation in Gibraltar had been open, with wooded and grassy savannahs that attracted many herbivorous mammals, which the Neanderthals had hunted for tens of thousands of years. The effect of this change was that this vegetation was replaced by a dense forest of Black Pines, which severely limited the growth of grasses and shrubs in the under-storey. This would have reduced the carrying capacity of the environment, and the Neanderthals it seems were unable to cope with the sudden change and became extinct. The Modern Humans, on the other hand, had radiated from Africa via the Middle East and had, through a combination of new hunting strategies and cultural adaptations, been able to survive the cold conditions of central Europe for at least twenty thousand years. They were only recently arrived in Iberia, from the north, but their arrival was one which would significantly change the course of the world. By around 30 thousand years ago the Gibraltar of the Neanderthals had gone to be replaced by that of the Moderns who were here to stay…
There is no mention of Catalan Bay in Alonso Hernandez del Portillo’s detailed description of Gibraltar in the period 1610-1622 nor does Catalan Bay appear in Anton van den Wyngaerde’s plans of Gibraltar of 1567 nor indeed of those of Luis Bravo of 1627. The settlement Catalan Bay is proposed by H. W. Howes (1950) to date to the late 16th and the 17th centuries when:
“...some Genoese settled ...in fishing huts at Catalan Bay on the east side.”
Howes, however, does not cite his original reference and it would be surprising that Portillo should not have mentioned them.
The census of the inhabitants of Gibraltar in 1759 reveals that there is already, by then, an important Genoese component but there are no obviously Catalan surnames at this juncture. James, however, in his History of the Herculean Straits talks of his time in Gibraltar in the 1740s and mentions the Catalans living in Gibraltar at the time who had been a part of Hesse’s (Prince George Hesse of Darmstadt) landing force in 1704. He does not specify that they lived in Catalan Bay and his detailed plans of the Rock clearly show the bay, named as Catalan Bay, but without any buildings. The name Catalan Bay must have therefore originated some time between Portillo’s and James’ accounts, between 1622 and 1740. In 1748 Robert Poole visited Gibraltar and described the fishermen casting their nets off the eastern side of Gibraltar as Genoese; he said that they lived in holes in the rocks further confirming the absence of a settlement at this time. The Reverend John White, who lived in Gibraltar between 1756 and 1772, is more informative. He tells us that:
“...an active rambler may get round on the east side as far as a place called Sandy Bay, beyond Catalan Bay, to each of which a small colony of Catalans generally resorts in the summer for the convenience of fishing.”
A French map in the Gibraltar Museum dated 1761 shows a beach but no settlement or name. A detailed British lithograph dated 1775 shows the bay, called Catalans Bay, but there are no signs of dwellings. The name of the bay clearly pre-dates the settlement and must have been derived from the seasonal fishing activities of the Catalans as described by John White.
The 1814 Register of Inhabitants gives a breakdown of the population of Catalan Bay where there were 36 males aged between 17 and 24 and their nationalities were: Natives 8, Portuguese 5, Genoese 9, Spaniards 12, Italian 1 and British 1. These results clearly demonstrate that the inhabitants of Catalan Bay were not exclusively Genoese as has been repeatedly speculated. On the other hand of the surnames which we have for Catalan Bay inhabitants in 1814 the names are largely Genoese: Bajetti, Denani*, Furrello, Garseno*, Houst*, Parodi, Pole*. Those marked with an asterisk were names already present in 1783 at the end of the Great Siege and they may have been living in Catalan Bay by then.
Shortly after the great yellow fever epidemic of 1804, there was a report (dated 25th January 1805) into an enquiry into the possibility of establishing a lazaretto or place of isolation for the sick to deal with those who might suffer from yellow fever in future epidemics. This report has been kindly provided to us by Professor Larry Sawchuk of Toronto University. Remarks by S. Wright reporting back to the Governor provide insight into the nature of the community in 1805. Wright states:
"I have the honor to inform your excellency that agreeable to your orders, I have examined the different buildings in Catalan Bay, which are as follows,
1st a wooden shed belonging to Romarione (sp?) an inhabitant capable of containing 6 people
2nd a stone house belonging to a fisherman capable of containing eight people
3rd a stone house belonging to Maria Parodi would hold eight more
4th two very small outhouses might contain 4 more. They are all in tolerable repair."
From these few lines, Professor Sawchuk deduces the following:
“First, it appears then that the housing capacity of the village at this time was say no more than 30 individuals and that the corresponding permanent year-around community size was no more than 30 and more likely no more than 5 families or residential units. This fits in quite well with the census numbers for 1814.
Second, there are only 4 buildings in 1805 in the entire village. Two of which were of stone suggestive of year round permanent occupation.
Third, ownership is cited for at least two of these buildings (Romarione and Maria Parodi); indicating that the inhabitants viewed their occupation as permanent and an investment for the future.
Fourth, it is also noteworthy that Wright acknowledges Romarione as an inhabitant suggestive of some degree of long-term residence or standing rather than a newly arrived immigrant. This may in turn suggest that the settlement may predate the 1800s.
Fifth, at least one of the buildings is occupied by an inhabitant who is described as a fisherman.
Sixth, whatever the origins of the name of Catalan Bay, Gibraltar's early administrators regarded Catalan Bay not as a quaint fishing village inhabited by several hundred inhabitants but one (at least in 1805) as isolated and remote a place that might serve as a place to isolate the sick from those who had passed through the fever.”
The last point is reinforced by Wright's further comments:
"...the distance from the Convent to Catalan Bay fully exceeds 2 miles, and some part of the road is very bad, which I am afraid would prove a great obstacle to employing it as a lazaretto, if any sickness should appear here again. As I do not conceive from what I have already seen, that it would be possible to compel the inhabitants to carry their sick so far and there would be certainly great objection to employing the troops on such a duty."
We are therefore able to narrow down the date of the origin of the name of the bay. It would be towards the end of the Spanish period or early in the British period. If the bay were named during the Spanish period then it would most probably refer to a settlement of some sort for which we have no evidence. Furthermore, with minor exceptions, most place names of Gibraltar from the British period bear no relation to the former Spanish name. This might indicate that the origin of the name is from the very early British period. We know that Hesse had a Catalan contingent when he landed his marines on the isthmus. Catalan Bay is not far and he may have posted the Catalan detachment there. In any case the Catalans who stayed on in Gibraltar seasonally fished on the eastern side and it is this practice that must have given the bay its name. It is clear that the settlement and the name are unrelated and that the settlement was indeed composed of a mixture of nationalities though probably established by Genoese fishermen, who may have followed the Catalan fishing practices, some time between 1775 and 1805 (possibly between 1775 and 1783) although they may have been living there, in caves which may have been originally used by the Catalans, from at least 1748 and probably earlier. This narrow time frame for the establishment of the Catalan Bay settlement, so close to the dates of the Great Siege (1779-83) suggests that it may have been established by persons seeking refuge from the horrors of the siege in the town or by those (largely Genoese who had escaped at the start of hostilities) who returned to the Rock at the end of the Great Siege and found the town in ruins. This would explain why there is no Catalan tradition in this village – the settlement came significantly after the name.
It is not at all surprising that traditionally people of the sea, such as the Catalans or the Genoese, should have set up fishing areas on the east side of Gibraltar. The sea here is, as we saw in Chapter 1, shallow so that fishing with nets would have been profitable. This coast is also in the migratory path of fish such as the tuna and an almadraba or fishing fleet had been set up to the north of the Rock in Portillo’s day and continued operating until 1998! For a long time a tuna fishery was rented to the city of Gibraltar and the industry afforded a great source of revenue to Spain. The Strait had been a source of fresh fish and garum (the fish sauce of the Romans) for the Roman Empire from such towns as Baelo Claudia on the very shores of the Strait. Many authors between the 17th and 20th centuries have highlighted the huge diversity of fish in the waters around Gibraltar. Portillo (1610-22) tells us that:
“Fish is above all else extremely abundant…The fish that is collected here is so much and so varied and of so many species and so good, that one has to thank God with admiration. From here much of Andalucía is supplied by muleteers who are obliged to bring in quantities of bread and oil to leave with fish, and another very large quantity which is taken by sea to Seville, Málaga, Almería and Cartagena, even reaching Denia and Valencia.”
The richness of the sea had not been exhausted in the mid-19th century when Kelaart wrote:
“The abundance of fish in the market of Gibraltar is almost proverbial, and their variety is still more remarkable.”
The tradition stretches much further back though, in fact to the period when climatic conditions in Europe improved and stabilised after 10 thousand years ago! It is in the Neolithic caves of Gibraltar that we find a great amount of evidence of this fishing tradition. These caves include Gorham’s where there is a level, above the Palaeolithic ones described in Pleistocene Gibraltar, which corresponds to the Neolithic and which is the only one that has been excavated scientifically on the Rock. The Museum commenced this work with Paco Giles and his team in August of 1997 and our knowledge of this period has been significantly clarified as a result of two excavation campaigns. In the Museum we also have much material from Neolithic, Copper- and Bronze-Age caves around Gibraltar but, because they were not rigorously excavated in the past, we have little stratigraphical context for the finds. They do, nevertheless, support the information from Gorham’s. These caves include Signal Station Cave (later erroneously misnamed “Mammoth” for no mammoths ever reached Gibraltar), Holy Boy’s, Sewell’s, Goat’s Hair and Collins’.
It is clear that the climatic improvement around 10 thousand years ago led to a significant rise in sea level as polar ice melted. The present sea levels were attained in a brief period and, indeed around six thousand years ago were even slightly higher as conditions were even warmer than today. The climatic improvement caused significant social impacts on the human populations of the planet and it is from this time on that people begin to move away from a purely hunting and gathering existence towards a more sedentary life. In the Middle East wheat is “domesticated” and marks the beginning of agriculture. The division of labour among social groups and the increased carrying capacity of the environment generated by production allowed for significant population increases. It is shortly after that the first cities are born, in places such as Ur in Mesopotamia. These were Neolithic cities. Other novelties followed. Animals were domesticated and pottery appears for the first time. Slowly these innovations spread westwards from the Middle East and reached the Iberian Peninsula. It is one of the characteristics of the arrival of the Neolithic that it is accompanied by crop production and animal domestication and this happened widely in the hinterland of the Rock.
Yet the evidence from the Neolithic caves of Gibraltar, the Gibraltar at the time of Abraham, tells a very different story. The sea level rise clearly reduced the sandy plain which had been the treasured hunting ground of people for tens of thousands of years. The inhabitants of the Rock had to adapt to the new conditions but the nature of the Rock made it unsuitable for large-scale agriculture. These inhabitants did not have the pressure to change that many other populations had, however, because the rise in sea level substituted one set of resources (land mammals) by another (fish and other products of the sea). These people were perfectly placed to live off the sea in a maritime paradise situated between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. So the cursorial collection activities of marine resources which, were practised as far back as 40 thousand years ago by the Neanderthals were intensified and new skills were developed.
These people were not totally dependent on the sea. On the cliffs there were still Ibexes and we find that they were still hunted. The vegetation of the Rock also appears as very rich and Mediterranean and includes species which are not typical today. Thus the Round-leaved Oak, a species at home in the limestone, is typical alongside the Olive and the Carob and we are left wondering whether this tree was eliminated from the Rock by human action or instead by a climatic change towards more humid conditions which did not suit this tree. The range of Mediterranean shrubs is also very high and also includes species which are no longer on the Rock, for example the Strawberry Tree. The Upper Rock would have still held a few mammals within this woodland and we find Red Deer among the animal remains in Neolithic sites. This is not surprising either as these animals were present at least in medieval times if not later still. Yet, nowhere have we found domestic animals, not even goats, or traces of agriculture. We may discover evidence for this as we excavate in future years but the pattern which is emerging is of a community of people who did not depend on such novel practices. So what did they do instead? They fished…
Even some of the caves which are high on the Rock abound in the remains of fish, some bones even being charred after having been in the fire. The predominant fish is the tuna but there are also sea breams and other typical fish of the Mediterranean coastline. To catch these animals, especially the large and highly mobile tuna, would have required vessels that permitted at least coastal navigation, suitable tools and an intimate knowledge of the sea and its seasonal cycles. The dependence on the sea went much further. The collection or marine molluscs from the rocky shoreline was a major feature and included whelks, limpets, mussels and probably species of invertebrates which do not have hard parts that are preserved in cave deposits.
More strikingly, they caught marine mammals. The Monk Seal, native to the Mediterranean, appears in the Neolithic levels at Gorham’s. This, now endangered, Mediterranean marine mammal must have been abundant along the coast by Gorham’s Cave which would have provided ideal habitat for them. Towards the coast of Málaga, there is also evidence of Monk Seal hunting and this animal is even depicted in the rock art of the cave at Nerja! There is also evidence that these Mediterranean people may have hunted cetaceans, dolphins and the smaller whales, though we have not found this in Gibraltar’s caves yet. Once again this is not surprising. The waters around Gibraltar abound in dolphins today and whales were common until relatively recently when whaling activities practically eliminated them in their totality.
Francis Carter who lived in Gibraltar in 1771 and 1772, describes these animals (“grampus”) in the Bay as he and his party saw them from the Upper Rock:
“ When we had regained sight of the sea, the ladies were alarmed with a phenomenon they never observed before; several fountains appeared playing in the middle of the bay, and throwing up jets d'eau to a considerable height. I smiled at their surprise, and informed them they were grampuses, who frequently amuse themselves in that manner in fine weather.”
Even as recently as 1918-23 the Governor of Gibraltar Sir Horace Smith Dorrien wrote thus:
“There was one sport to be had from the Rock, which I believe is little known, and that is ‘whaling’. A company just after the war established a station close to Algeciras and opposite the Rock. Their success was remarkable – four and five whales a day very often, and that close by in the Straits. The company were good enough to take me out twice, and I can thoroughly recommend it as an exciting sport, especially being towed by the whale until he is played out. The skill of the man who fired the harpoon was marvellous. He never missed.”
Well, the skeleton of the whaling station can still be seen between Algeciras and Getares but it is not so easy to see whales any more! Such has been the environmental deterioration of the sea during the 20th century.
A cave in the hills north of Jimena has a very unusual form of rock art. In this Bronze Age site images of ships with sails are depicted. The cave dominates the Strait of Gibraltar and the type of vessel depicted has led some authors to suggest that they are pre-Phoenician, possibly even Mycenaean. They represent the arrival of the eastern Mediterranean cultures as observed by the native Iberians. In Gibraltar the Phoenicians, and later the Carthaginians between the 8th and 3rd centuries BCE venerated their gods in Gorham’s Cave, no doubt seeking safe passage of the Strait. It is from this time that the classical legends of the Pillars of Hercules originated. They did little to the environments of the Rock, nor did the Romans who came after. It is the Muslims who many centuries later began to transform the environments that had existed since the Neolithic.
In January 1997 we had the opportunity of excavating at the northernmost point of Main Street, where it meets Grand Casemates Square. Given our earlier successes in Main Street outside the Cathedral of St. Mary the Crowned and within the Gibraltar Museum premises in 1995 and 1996 (see Chapter 7) we were optimistic that we would discover evidence of the Medieval City of Gibraltar here too. Of course we could not be sure of how much would be left after years of destruction caused by sieges and development. José María Gutiérrez, Carmen Blanes and Paqui Piñatel, archaeologists from our team were given the task of conducting the excavation under the direction of Paco Giles and Prof Clive Finlayson. We had set up this Gibraltar Museum Medieval Research Group in 1995 following the success in the Gibraltar Museum excavation. We knew Paco, Director of the Museo de El Puerto Santa María (Cádiz), well from the Gibraltar Caves Research Project (Chapters 1 and 2). Paco, one of the most experienced and respected archaeologists in Spain, is one of those persons who has the ability to combine the professionalism of work while making it fun and his dedication and way of motivating the team have been the key to the success of these excavations.
Getting back to the excavation itself, an area was selected on the eastern side of Main Street where we could proceed without denying movement between this street and Grand Casemates Square. The first layers were removed with the use of an excavating machine and subsequently assisted with a kango hammer which allowed us to quickly reach the archaeological levels. Speed was of the essence in an emergency excavation such as this one given that the development was being held back and we were under the constant reminder of the cost to the project. As was the case in the Cathedral excavation a year earlier the amount of public interest which the excavations generated was at times overwhelming, very gratifying and a contrast to the solitude of Gorham’s Cave!
The soundings revealed a substantial wall which ran from south-east to north-west under Main Street. Towards the middle of the street this wall ended. It was a solid and well-crafted structure. As we continued to expose the wall we realised that the western end of it was much wider than the rest. When it was completely exposed it measured 4 metres in width! This was no ordinary wall. The wall was constructed out of local limestone and the typical mortar composed of red sand and lime. The method of construction was clearly of the type we had found earlier outside the Cathedral and in the Museum so we proceeded on the basis that we had found a 14th century wall built in the time of the Merinid control of Gibraltar. This was confirmed later on when we found a lime paving with ceramic which was characteristic of this period.
The Merinids (Banu Marin) were a North African Berber sect that had overrun much of the Maghreb during the late 13th and early 14th centuries in response to a fundamentalist call which arose out of discontent with the way in which the Muwahiddun (Almohad) dynasty had become “soft”. The Merinids conquered the whole of the Maghreb. In February 1333 they laid siege to Gibraltar, which had been conquered by King Ferdinand IV of Castille in 1309, and it was recovered for Islam on the 18th June by Abd’l Malik the one-eyed son of Abu’l Hasan, leader of the Merinids. The Merinids eventually controlled the southernmost parts of Al-Andalus including Gibraltar and Algeciras and from there up to its territorial limits in Ronda. For the greater part of their control of this territory they had to contend with the advancing Castillian armies in the north-west (Jerez, Arcos, and Medina Sidonia) and with a volatile relationship with the Nasrid Muslims in the north-east, centred in the Alhambra in Granada. It was under the rule of the Merinids that Gibraltar was strengthened and the majority of the oldest archaeological and architectural remains found in Gibraltar today date from this period. The Merinids eventually lost Gibraltar in 1374 when it was taken over by the Granada Nasrids until its fall to the Spaniards in 1462. In their limited 41-year period of control of Gibraltar the Merinids did more to construct within it and fortify it than had anyone before and many after that and we shall return to this subject later.
The earliest plans that we have available of Gibraltar are those drawn by Luis Bravo de Acuña in 1627. Bravo was an engineer who was concerned with the repair and strengthening of the fortifications of Gibraltar. The originals are in the British Museum in London. The significance of these plans is that they pre-date the sieges to which Gibraltar was subjected in the 18th century, and which destroyed much of its urban fabric, and the consequent and subsequent major modifications to the fortress done by the British in the 18th and 19th centuries. Even though the Spaniards had made changes to the fortifications after 1462 the basic layout of Gibraltar had changed little so that Bravo’s plans are especially useful in helping us understand the structures that we uncover under five centuries of paving in the present City of Gibraltar.
Bravo’s plan served to confirm to us that the structure we had excavated at the junction of Main Street with Grand Casemates Square was the base of a tower which controlled a gate which divided the area of Casemates (which in Spanish times was called La Barcina) from that to the south (La Turba – see Chapter 4). We decided to test the deduction further and we secured permission to excavate to the west of the tower, on the other side of Main Street. We were able to do this once the work at the eastern corner had been completed, otherwise we would have closed access to Main Street. We were able to confirm that this was indeed the gate which was described as the Gate of the Barcina (Puerta de La Barcina) when we found a second wall on this opposite side of the road. The end of the first wall which we had discovered during the first phase of the excavation was indeed the opening of the gate itself! Unfortunately the second wall was in much poorer condition than the first and a number of service pipes broke directly through it. We did not have the time either to extend the excavation further as the developers were becoming increasingly nervous about delays but at least we were able to document the situation of this gate and recover artefacts from the Merinid period which supplemented what we had from the Cathedral and Museum excavations. Many persons have told us how a wall was uncovered underground when the foundations were being laid for the International Commercial Centre. It seems most likely that this wall would have been the continuation of the Merinid wall that divided La Barcina from La Turba towards the sea wall. That the destruction of such an important piece of Gibraltar’s heritage should ever have been permitted without even allowing for its proper documentation is but one example of the rape to which our heritage was subjected to right up to the 1980s. At least the existing structures of the Gate of the Barcina were documented and protected before the new paving of Main Street was laid.
This little corner of Main Street with Grand Casemates Square turned out to be very informative. Above the ground there was a piece of wall which for years had been covered with concrete painted in a horrible blue colour. When we excavated the Gate we realised that this structure was in line with our wall so we removed some of this concrete and established that it was a part of the same medieval wall. Our plan had been to have left this testimony in full public view but we had to desist as the advice of the Government’s structural engineer was that this little piece of medieval history contributed to the support of the adjacent building and that it would not be safe to leave it exposed! The medieval wall lies above the surface, covered in modern brickwork and ‘enhanced’ by a small flower bed…
Behind this structure there is a high wall which runs roughly from south to north and determines the eastern perimeter of Grand Casemates Square. The small section which we exposed of this wall confirmed to us that much of it is actually the wall which separated La Barcina from the upper medieval town, known in the 17th century as La Villa Vieja.
Bravo’s plan shows this district of La Barcina with its many houses, churches and two streets. Apparently it was a district in which the wealthier people lived and Portillo says that the area had gardens and orchards until the arrangement of houses and streets was effected. He described some of the houses with gardens and Muslim towers. It was well populated and had two main streets, Real and Santa Ana. The churches of San Sebastián and la Santa Vera Cruz were located here. Many of the houses had been destroyed during the 1727 siege, this part of Gibraltar being in the front line, to the extent that much of the Grand Casemates Square was made an open square and the ruins of the buildings removed in 1731.
We had this background of knowledge when early in 1998 we were given the opportunity of selecting an area of the Grand Casemates Square for excavation. This was the first time in our brief history of urban excavations that we were to be allowed to excavate ahead of a development project and therefore without pressure from the developers. Using the existing plans of Bravo and, especially, a detailed map of this area dated 1753 we chose an area in the northern end of the square, close to Grand Casemates Barracks which were erected in 1817.
We knew from old historical accounts that the area of Grand Casemates Square was where Ferdinand IV had ordered the construction of an atarazana, a building for the construction and repair of galleys, from which the English word arsenal is derived. We also knew that it was here that the Merinids constructed their atarazana after 1333. We also knew that medieval Gibraltar had two gates facing the sea in this area, known in Spanish times as the Puerta del Mar and the Puerta de la atarazana – the Water Gate and the Atarazana Gate. The rest was conjecture or educated guesswork! Bravo’s plan showed a long, arched, building in this area but we did not know what it was. The 1753 plan also showed a long building in this position and it was described as the Shot House. This detailed plan showed what appeared to be a series of square blocks running along the length of the external walls of this shot house. A number of 18th century authors described this shot house and also referred to the presence of an atarazana in this square in medieval times but they were, of course, writing three centuries later. We formed an opinion which we decided to put to the test. The shot house was, or at least was on the site of, the old atarazana. Since we had positioned the Gate of the Barcina a year earlier we calculated from the plans where the southern wall of the shot house ought to be and we started digging…
At first when you excavate you begin to see structures which are difficult to interpret which is why you have to proceed with great caution. It is only once you have opened up a considerable area that you begin to see the relationship between the structures that you are able to proceed with a certain degree of confidence. It was common during this particular excavation to find the first part of a walled structure and not be able to even identify the direction it was pointing until the trench was opened up more. It was like cleaning a small spot in a very dirty window, then as more of the window was cleaned so more of the view came into focus. The structure we were referring to was in fact the southern wall of the atarazana – our calculations, based on intuition and the 1753 plan, were out by only one metre! Let us summarise what we found.
The excavation at Casemates revealed the process of occupation of the square from its origins to the present day. The main feature of the excavation was the south wall of the atarazana, not that ordered to be constructed by Ferdinand IV but that built under the rule of Abu’l Hasan. There was ample evidence of this in the type of construction and in the ceramic found associated most of which was, characteristically Merinid, with a small number of Nasrid items illustrating that there was contact between Gibraltar and Granada. During the first phase of the excavation, between the 20th April and 31st July 1998, we excavated the greater part of this wall but the entrance to the building, in the west, could not be excavated. We reached an agreement with the Government of Gibraltar to carry out an exploration where we expected the entrance to be when the developers opened up that part of the square. We were able to do this between the 24th and the 28th May of the following year. The calculations were again spot-on – we found the entrance on the first day! In all the building was 40.8 metres in length – almost the entire width of the present day square - an impressive achievement by medieval standards.
The wall which we excavated was the southern one, the northern wall having presumably been destroyed when the Casemates Barracks were constructed. Any remains would now be under this building. Our wall could be divided, in construction technique, into two. The westernmost two-thirds, that is those closest to the sea, were a series of pillars of solid limestone, each 2.5 metres wide and over a metre long. Between each pillar was a low wall which was lined with bricks. We have interpreted this construction, based on our knowledge of other atarazanas and on Bravo’s drawings, to represent a series of arches which would have provided the cover in the building. The low portions in between the pillars would have enabled people to work on the ships from the sides, a useful arrangement allowing width to an otherwise constricted space. The eastern third of the wall, that closest to the Rock, was very different. Instead of limestone blocks this rear end of the building consisted of smaller blocks of rock which included much sandstone, all brought together with the typical lime and sand mortar. Where the two types of construction met we discovered another wall, also of Merinid construction, running southwards at right angles. What did this all mean?
We found that the sandy substrate at either end of this wall was very different. Towards the Rock it was clearly a beach sand. Here, at approximately one-and-a-half metres below the present surface we were standing on the old western beach of Gibraltar. To the west of the wall, however, the sand was siltier and had clearly been submerged for long periods. The conclusion was inevitable. The original coastline of Gibraltar had been more than half-way up the Grand Casemates Square and not where the old Water Gate had been located. The stone pillars had been designed to withstand tidal submersion and had been buried into the old sea bed! A channel would have been dredged into the inside of the atarazana and the ships thus brought inshore via the Gate of the Atarazana. Portillo describes how the galleys were brought into the atarazana by a gate which was close to the Water Gate and which in his time was sealed. In earlier times the sea entered via this gate right into the atarazana which was directly opposite. The spaces between the pillars presumably allowed the free movement of tidal water into and out of the building. At some subsequent point, probably very soon afterwards, the outer western defensive wall was erected to protect the ships and the atarazana. It is clear that no sea-wall of any kind existed in 1333. Once captured by the Merinids, Gibraltar was immediately besieged by King Alfonso XI and he set up two camps – one above the Castle and the other on the red sands so he had no difficulty landing on the shore. Later in this siege, when the catapults had no effect on the galleys in the atarazana, he ordered the admiral Alfonso Jofre to burn the Muslim galleys but his ships could not get close enough because the Muslims had made a barricade. Clearly, this defence was an improvised measure in the absence of a wall and no doubt influenced Abd’l Malik to have a line wall erected quickly afterwards to protect the new atarazana. Two entry and exit gates were opened in this wall, the Water Gate and the Gate of the Atarazana for the ships.
The atarazana was the earliest construction that we found anywhere in Grand Casemates Square although just east of the end of this building and at a lower, and presumed earlier, level we did find evidence of a slipway made of traditional mortar close to where the seashore would have been. This discovery led us to presume that some kind of facility for drawing up vessels existed in this site before the atarazana was constructed, perhaps in the reign of Ferdinand IV or during the Muwahiddun rule of Gibraltar in the 12th and 13th centuries.
When we started our excavations something puzzled us and we were not able to solve the puzzle until we had determined the position of the old coastline. In the area between the old coastline and the Water Gate we found many houses and the oldest ceramic that we could find was late 15th and 16th century Spanish. Below these levels, where we expected to find older materials, all that we could find was sterile sand with archaeological materials and the remains of marine molluscs, especially oysters. The answer was really quite simple. In Merinid times this area was tidal so there were no houses there. It could only have been afterwards that the inter-tidal area must have somehow been reclaimed or a sturdier sea-wall erected or even that the channels were no longer dredged and silted up and this enabled the first houses to be built there, in Spanish times. On the landward side of the beach, however, there must have been at least a few houses associated with the atarazana and here we found much evidence of pre-Spanish occupation. The tidal problem must have been quite severe even in the late 16th and early 17th centuries when the sea occasionally flooded the houses in Casemates, entering via the Atarazana Gate until it was sealed and the old mole constructed at the end of the 16th century. The sea now seems very far away from this area yet we found it impossible to excavate below one-and-a-half metres anywhere in Casemates because of the twice-daily seepage of tidal waters!
The catalyst for the building of houses in what was essentially a port area must have been linked with the evolution in shipping technology. The atarazana would have suited the small Muslim sailing ships but would have become redundant in the days of the larger galleys. So when we look at Bravo’s plan this building appears on dry land and it must have served as a store for grain or some other similar function although its actual use is not recorded. It was then that houses could be built in what, in spite of occasional floods, must have been a relatively uncluttered and pleasant area. Close to the atarazana, in some cases touching its walls, we found the remains of many houses with wells and the remains of many domestic animals, especially goats and sheep but also cattle, horses and donkeys. Another intriguing feature of the 16th century levels was the presence of many very large oysters. These were also present in older levels but the unique feature of those found in the later sequence was that many had been punctured with a metal spike or similar instrument. We later studied this habit with marine biologists Darren Fa and Alex Menez and it did seem that the 16th century Spaniards of La Barcina had developed a taste for oysters and had found a way of opening them by puncturing the animal’s muscle from the outside. The presence of knife marks on the inside of many shells showed clearly that these people were after the animal for food. The tradition of eating oysters seems to have persisted into the 18th century as Poole, who visited Gibraltar in 1748, relates how an inhabitant invited him to eat oysters which were a local speciality. Poole remarks at the large size of these oysters. They were even popular as recently as 1856, for according to Kelaart:
“On the left is the bay, which at this part has extensive oyster-beds, reserved for the Gibraltar market.”
Oysters of such size are not found anywhere in the Strait region today and one has to dive into deep water to find them with any regularity. Clearly a combination of exploitation and, more significantly, habitat loss through progressive reclamations has eliminated these animals from our waters.
Returning to the chronological sequence at Casemates much of the ground overlying the houses of La Barcina was cobbled with irregular stones which had clearly been worn by the sea (see also Chapter 4). This was an 18th century level and probably corresponded to the levelling of the square which took place in 1731. There was also much evidence of fires which we attributed to the sieges of the 18th century. In one place we found a large part of a musket, including the remains of the wooden butt. The heat to which it was subjected must have been intense from the way in which the metal had been melted and reshaped. Many musket balls and larger shot were also found as well as the remains of clay pipes. It is during this period that the atarazana had been used as a Shot House as described in the 1753 plan. The spaces between the pillars had been filled up with a different type of mortar, no doubt to ensure the isolation of the ammunition now kept within. When the British took Gibraltar they must have utilised existing buildings as much as possible. A building such as this one, with thick stone walls, must have volunteered itself for this function. Its importance was such that, even after the destruction of the 1727 siege the building continued to be used and it must have been after the Great Siege of 1779-83 that it died. It may have been severely damaged during the siege or the decision may have been taken not to have such stores of ammunition so close to the line of enemy fire. Its final fate was sealed when the Casemates Barracks were erected early in the 19th century and its remains were hidden underground for close to two centuries, below the boots of parading soldiers or the tyres of modern-day cars, until we found it once again in 1998.
Gibraltar became a vigorous trading port during the relative peace and calm of the 19th century. Old photographs taken in the mid- and late 19th century show the great commercial activity which took place in Waterport. We found substantial evidence of this in the higher levels of our excavation where the diversity of ceramic was unparalleled including china, Italian ceramic and from diverse geographical areas of Spain such as Triana (Seville) and Talavera.
Part of the atarazana was left exposed as part of the Grand Casemates Square renovation project. For us it has been one of the most exciting episodes in our quest for entering the past and understanding how the environments of Gibraltar have been modified by people. In these few centuries what must have been a pleasant beach with a shallow inter-tidal area was converted as part of the initial urban structure of Gibraltar into a safe haven for the repair and construction of medieval galleys. The need to protect it must have determined the construction of the initial sea-wall along the line of the present Grand Casemates Gates, then running southwards along the eastern side of present-day Line Wall Road (Chapter 5).
By the time the Belgian traveller Anton van den Wyngaerde sketched this part of Gibraltar in 1567 the walls had been significantly strengthened, as we shall see in Chapter 5. The Spaniards had no further use for the atarazana and proceeded to reclaim the inter-tidal zone and build houses upon it. When the British took over in the 18th century they, once more, changed the area’s function. The port which had become a residential area now had a military function and the remaining houses were soon demolished after the 1727 siege. The atarazana’s life came to an end when the Shot House was destroyed or demolished but the construction of the Grand Casemates Barracks meant that the military function of the area continued into the 19th century and indeed into the 20th. It is only right that we should now commemorate the life of a building which served Gibraltar so well for four centuries.
When General George Augustus Elliott, Governor of Gibraltar, planned the sortie in November 1781 during the Great Siege of Gibraltar, he secretly arranged for the troops to gather in the “red sands”. From there they marched across the town of Gibraltar, crossed the Forbes’s Barrier and attacked the Spanish batteries on the sandy isthmus. In Elliott’s day the red sands were restricted to an area south of Southport Gates, covering much of today’s Alameda Botanic Gardens south towards Witham’s Road. They had once been so prominent that when Ibn-Batouta, the great North African traveller, visited Gibraltar in the 14th century he defined the Rock in three components, that is the Jebel (the Rock itself), the Medinat (the city) and the adjacent Turbah Al-Hamra (red sands or red mound). In his day the city was confined to the area of the castle, the Villa Vieja, and the atarazanas that we have described in the previous chapter. South of the atarazanas a town developed in Muslim times as the population grew. Ibn Marzuq described how the white of the houses contrasted against the red of the sands. It is not surprising, given the Arabic name of these sands that, on changing to Christian hands at the end of the 15th century the district should continue to be called La Turba. In a similar manner the name La Barcina would seem to have a derivation from the Arabic Dar-al-sinaha, that is House of the Arsenal (or Galley House).
Portillo, in his description of Gibraltar between 1610 and 1622, noted that the red sands were south of the city and that they started by the wall built by the engineer Juan Baptista Calvi in 1552, that is Charles V Wall, and reached the “huertas de arboledas”, probably the vineyards area, a distance of seven old stadia (about 1.4 km). James in 1771 already realised that the red sands had extended much further north than Southport Gates, commenting how he had observed these underground in several places right up to Landport when a series of holes had been dug when seeking new sources of water. We have found red sands underground in all our urban excavations although their volume has been significantly reduced close to Grand Casemates Square. This suggests that between Casemates and somewhere south of the Alameda Gardens there had originally been a massive series of sand dunes, red in colour, tapering towards either end to form the red mound described by Ibn-Batouta. The Reverend John White, military chaplain in Gibraltar from 1756 to 1772, described the area south of Southport Gates like this:
“Immediately without the ditch of the Southern Gate lies a vast bank of red sand, which fill the whole space between the rock and the ramparts for near half a mile. A great part of the northern end of this sandbank has been levelled for a parade, and the lower part next the ramparts has of late years been gradually levelled and covered with rubbish from the town and public works. Midway along these sands from North to South are constructed the Princess of Wales’ lines; so that no more remains in its original loose fluctuating state than what lied between those lines and the foot of the rock. Underneath these red sands, below the Princess of Wales’ lines, is constructed the aqueduct that supplies the garrison with water of a most admirable excellence and purity. This work was originally made by the Moors, but has been extended and improved by the English. It is not supplied by any spring. The masonry that forms the conduit is no more than a kind of retaining wall, running underground parallel to the rampart, to intercept the rain water which is caught on the side of the hill and filtrated through this deep bed of sand. The Ditch itself without Southport, contains a rich good mould, which is improved by manuring and is converted into a very profitable garden by some industrious Genoese.”
Portillo tells us that the red sands were good for building and later James comments how this red sand was used with lime in construction. This tradition appears to have its origins with the Muslims, as it is a characteristic of all of the buildings from this, and also from the later Spanish period, that we have excavated. It is only natural that the early builders of Gibraltar should have used the raw materials readily available to them and it, independently, must have contributed towards maintaining a certain aesthetic integrity between the constructions and the land. Even in 1748 there were only 1,500 houses and Poole described how the buildings in the town were generally low with few houses above a single storey high. They were built of stone with Spanish-tiled roofs. We lost this harmony a long time ago when we began to import raw materials, introduce alien colours and, of course, build disproportionately along the vertical axis. The streets were narrow and pebbled, of the kind excavated in Casemates (Chapter 3). Poole described the town like this:
“The town chiefly consists of one street, of about a mile in length, extending from what is called Southport Gate to Waterport Gate. It is shut by four gates, Waterport, Landport, Southport, and New Mole Gate. Out of this long street run several short ones, of different names; one of which, called Irish-Street, is of ill fame; near to which is the Navy Office, Parade, and the White Cloisters, in the way to the Spanish Church, which is pretty large, and now used for divine worship by the Roman Catholics of this place, who daily resort there for that purpose.”
The origin of these red sands is an enigma. A clue may come from another source. The soil on the Upper Rock is in places even today of a very reddish nature, perhaps high in iron although that remains to be determined. It is likely that this has been the situation throughout the Pleistocene and that much of this soil would have been washed down during violent flash floods. We have historical testimony of such sudden floodings even recently but these phenomena must have been commonplace before any kind of drainage scheme was introduced. Here is an extract from the Gibraltar Directory of 1912 as an example:
“24th November, 1875. – Early this morning a most destructive flood occurred. The rain which commenced yesterday fell heavily and continuously throughout the day; as the evening wore on, the storm seemed to be on the increase, and at 1 a.m. it culminated in a perfect cataract of rain. Over six inches fell during the 24 hours. There was scarcely a road or a street which had not suffered more or less. The greatest damage was done at Castle Road, in the neighbourhood of the New Church. In the South the roads in the neighbourhood of the South Barracks were torn up almost as deeply as those in town. Providential escapes from drowning took place in several of the Soldiers’ Quarters, especially at Jumpers’ and Orange Bastions, where the water reached a height of 8 feet. Several of the occupants had to swim for their lives and many others had to be hauled up by ropes. At Catalan Bay the torrents from the Rock brought down tons of loose stones and earth. Nearly all the houses were flooded and in some instances the rooms were swept empty and their contents carried out to sea. A man and his wife who occupied the lodge at the entrance to St. Bernard’s College were killed by the fall of the house.”
Even today, despite the many transformations to which the Rock has been subjected, we can detect the signs of former river channels and gullies on the western slopes and the term gully (e.g. Palace Gully) is still used in some of the street names of the old town.
This, in itself, is not enough to explain a massive, largely unvegetated, sand dune at the base of the Rock although its original extent does mirror the Rock itself, that is from the Landport area (coinciding with the northern peak of the Rock) to the Witham’s area (coinciding with the southern extreme of the west-facing slopes). We are therefore of the view that the formation of the red sands at the western base of the Rock was caused by material derived from the Upper Rock and certainly not from any event extraneous to it. This is in contrast to the situation on the east side which we will describe later in this chapter but we should recall here that we noted in Chapter 1 how the western side of the Rock sloped more deeply into the Bay than the eastern side did into the Mediterranean so that a source of wind-blown sand from the west, a side which would have always been more protected from strong winds, is far less likely. This is not to say, however, that the wind played no action at all. Once deposited these sands would have been moved around the narrow confines of the base of the Rock by wind and water, especially as no vegetation of any consequence appears to have grown on them although Portillo says that many herbs grew there.
When Francis Carter took a party of friends to the Upper Rock from the town, recorded in his Journey from Gibraltar to Málaga (published in 1777 and covering the period 1771-72) he remarked on how walking over the red sands, which were then very conspicuous, had fatigued the company. To the south of these red sands, also on the base of the Rock, there is evidence of another kind. Already in the early 17th century, Portillo described the following:
“A little further, close to the cave which they call of the Abades, there are some rocks which have stuck and incorporated within human bones, and so embedded that they scare because with great difficulty they detach from the rock with the point of a dagger. These rocks are not carved as tombstones, but instead, in my view, conform with the opinion of some philosophers who afirm that rocks grow and envelop the bones, and with the length and passage of time embrace them so that they become one. It also seems, from the size and proportions of these bones and in not being buried, that they must be from the time of the Universal Flood, because there is no doubt that this mountain was covered by water as all others were, leaving here dead people.”
The naturalists of the 18th century, and certainly those of the 19th, noticed the fossil-bearing red strata in some parts of the Rock. These fossil-rich Breccias were particularly noticeable in the area of Rosia Bay and much of this was removed during the 18th century as the cliffs were scarped to prevent amphibious assaults from the Spaniards. Some of the material was collected or recorded and there are some remnants visible even today. The breccias of the Rock became famous in the scientific community of the 18th and 19th centuries and aided significantly in the strengthening of ideas of organic evolution. John White provides a first class description:
“Not far from hence, on the S.W. side of Rosia Bay, was discovered, in the year 1769, a huge mass of petrifications of a very singular kind. The workmen who were employed in scarping the face of the rock to render it less accessible, after having wrought, by mining, through about ten feet of solid limestone came to a vast congeries of bones, blended and consolidated together in a confused manner with limestone of various sorts, freestone, spars, selenites, stalactites and calcareous crystallizations and incrustations. This curious assemblage of animal and fossil substances incorporated together extended to the space of ten or twelve feet every way in front; vast quantities of it were blown off in the prosecution of the work, and much more remains in the body of the rock. All of it has the appearance of having been thus blended in a fluid state; the bones are so universally equally intermixed that the smallest fragment cannot be found but what has a proportion of bones, the inner surfaces and the very pores of which are frequently found incrusted with glittering concretions. These bones lie jumbled across each other in the utmost confusion, retaining their original texture and colour when separated from the calcareous substances wherewith they are cemented together. There is no room to imagine that any of these are human bones, they all seem, on examination, to be those of sheep, or goats, or both.”
These breccias were probably formed during the middle Pleistocene, judging from the fauna contained within, and therefore rather earlier than the deposits at sites such as Gorham’s Cave that we described in Chapter 1. The fauna includes an extinct species of Rabbit named Prolagus calpensis by Forsyth Major in 1905. The process of formation of the breccias was through flash flooding. Torrential rains would have flowed down gullies on the southern and south-western slopes of Gibraltar and carried with them masses of red soil, along with stones and the remains of animals. These breccias are rich, therefore, in land snails and in mammal fossils and give us an idea of the fauna of this ancient Rock. As the material flowed towards the sea it followed lines of least resistance, often filtering into fissures and cracks within the Rock and clogging them up with sediment. The next set of rains would push more material downstream and move the earlier sediments along. Drier periods would have permitted the settling of this material which, in time, became compacted and hardened to form the breccia.
Here we make an aside to talk about a man who was responsible for the discovery and excavation of the richest of the breccia caves on the Rock in the 1860s – he was Captain Joseph Frederick Brome and the cave in question was Genista I. Brome’s investigations were so thorough that they prompted scientists of the calibre of Hugh Falconer and George Busk, secretaries of the Royal Society and the Linnean Society respectively, to visit Gibraltar in search of the breccias. Brome took up the appointment of Governor of the Military Prison on Windmill Hill, an ancient wave-cut platform at the southern end of Gibraltar where a system of fissure caves, known as the Genista Caves, is situated. The largest and most important is Genista I which was discovered by Brome. He used convict labour to excavate this deep fissure which yielded large quantities of bone some of which are thought to be the oldest so far found in Gibraltar. The fauna included Brown Bear, Wild Cat, Lynx, Leopard, Spotted Hyaena, Horse, Narrow-nosed Rhinoceros, Wild Boar, Red Deer, Aurochs and Ibex.
The exploration of the caves commenced as a result of a decision taken in 1862 to enlarge the boundaries of the military prison and to construct for its use a large water tank. According to George Busk (1868):
“Within the enclosed space (for the water tank), and close to the south-east angle, an excavation was made for the proposed tank. This excavation led to the discovery of the first and most important of the series of caves on the Windmill Hill Plateau, which it is to be hoped will be known to all time by the name which has been given to them, in allusion and in honour of their discoverer and explorer.”
Busk was humorously referring to Genista as the Latin name of the Broom, a Mediterranean shrub, clearly a play of words with Brome!
Brome obtained the Secretary of State’s approval, at his suggestion, to employ prisoners on the new works and their construction and he kept a close supervision over what was going on. He clearly had great vision and intuition when it came to caves. He described the first time he found the fissure which was to lead to the discovery of Genista I like this:
“On removing the earth from this space, which varied from two to four feet in depth, an irregular surface of compact limestone presented itself; in which the only fissure visible was an open vertical one about six feet long and five inches wide, between two large blocks of limestone; the disturbed state and the peculiar position of these masses appeared to me, with the fissure, to be remarkable, and I drew the attention of Lieutenant Buckle, RE, in charge of the works, to them, who observed that ‘it was merely one of those fissures in which the Rock of Gibraltar abounded.’ Labour was directed to quarry out the limestone to the required depth for the tank, and, about the end of February, after blasting out a proportion of solid rock at a depth of nine feet from the original surface, a few bones were found in the bottom of a small fissure, under some dark mould; they were lying without order in all directions, and mostly fractured.
Having been led to suspect, at a very early stage of the operations, that the open vertical fissure already mentioned was connected either with a larger one below, or a cavern, I watched the excavations as they progressed near this spot with considerable interest, and on April 23 (St. George’s Day), while excavating for the foundation of the south wall, the prisoners came upon a rock, which had evidently once formed part of a cave; it was covered with stalactites and conglomerate; near this spot a boar’s tusk was found, and a few fragments of pottery, land and marine shells, etc. The prisoners were provided with baskets, and I directed them to collect carefully every specimen, however small, for my inspection, and this was most diligently attended to under the superintendence of the prison officers.”
He was a thorough researcher and gained the respect of the scientists of the day with whom he corresponded. Busk, for example, wrote thus:
“Fortunately when the excavations on Windmill Hill were commenced, an accomplished and distinguished officer, fully alive to the importance of science, was in command of the fortress; and it was equally fortunate that the subsequent explorations were carried out by an observer so able, energetic and vigilant as Captain Frederick Brome, at that time Governor of the Prison…These operations, which were unremittingly continued from April 1863 to December 1868, have of necessity required an amount of labour, and involved sometimes a degree of responsibility which it is not very easy to over-estimate. But this labour and responsibility have been ungrudgingly and most disinterestedly given and incurred by Captain Brome, who, with the aid of prisoners and their warders under his command, has in those five years conducted with surprising success an amount of difficult exploration never before equalled, and made collections in the public interest of unrivalled value.”
Brome sent most of the material collected to scientists in England, a typical procedure at that time so that very little of the material recovered by him is in the Gibraltar Museum. The main collections are in the Natural History Museum in London. Brome eventually lost his commission, ironically for using convict labour in his excavations, and returned to England where the scientists who respected him and his work created a fund to support him in his hour of need. No doubt Brome had upset someone in the military hierarchy by having become popular among the scientific community. As with many examples right through to today, the poor Brome was marginalised. It is, however, his name and not those of the small-minded people around him that we remember and honour.
The fate of Genista I Cave is as tragic a Brome’s dismissal. In 1895-96 a large magazine was built directly over the cave. Major E. R. Collins, cave explorer, was probably the last person to enter a relatively intact Genista I between 1893 and 1895 as the works for this magazine commenced. True to tradition, he collected numerous bones which he retained in his personal collection. By the time the Abbé Henri Breuil the famous French palaeontologist visited the site in 1919, it was completely inaccessible. A record of the Museum Committee of 18 October 1961, states the view of that body that Genista I was of great historical importance and that there was a need to arrange for its exploration when the Detention Barracks at Windmill Hill were demolished. A Gibraltar Cave Research Group report of November 1961 stated that:
“...the walls of the magazine were completely lined, thus making it impossible to find a way down and that it was probable that spoil had been tipped down the rest of the cave.”
The Detention Barracks were demolished in 1962 and work started to construct a military motor transport yard which was completed in 1965. A stone tablet placed close to the entrance of Genista I in 1896 remains but the entrance to the cave is long gone. The lack of foresight which led to Brome’s dismissal persisted one hundred years later! In September 1998 we visited some tunnels under Windmill Hill with Andy Currant and members of the Gibraltar Caving Group. We saw brecciated fissures which must have been a part of the Genista I system. Alas, we have lost one of our most important caves!
It is not difficult to see how, in areas where deposition of red soil took place on the surface, instead of underground as in Genista I, the material would have gradually been broken down to form red sand. This could explain why at the base of the Rock in the west we had sand dunes, and in the south-west and in other smaller areas where there were caves and fissures we ended up with breccias. The situation in the west differs very significantly from that in the north and east. The distinction is drawn for us very clearly by Portillo who describes the “white sands” north of Landport. The transition between white and red sands was most clearly visible to us when we excavated the Gate of the Barcina (Chapter 3). Here we were in the contact point between these white sands, which must have stretched southwards forming the original beach, and the northern end of the red sands and they were clearly visible with the red sand overlying the white sand. It is quite probable too that towards the south, where the red sands reached their maximum depth, even the beaches were of red sand. Ayala describes a small bay, close to where the dry docks are now situated, as the Bahía Colorada or the Red Bay.
The isthmus which links the Rock with mainland Spain is, in geographical terms, a tombolo. The term defines a process which we can describe as follows. At some point in the past, probably around five thousand years ago, Gibraltar was probably separated from the mainland by a shallow stretch of sea which joined the Mediterranean with the Bay. Prevailing currents from north-east to south-west then began to drift sand towards the Rock from the Guadiaro area, creating a series of beaches and gradually a sand spit which coiled round the Spanish hinterland. This longshore drift continued southwards, depositing more sand until the mass of the Rock acted as a barrier which prevented further drift, thus forming the tombolo. The sands of the isthmus were dated by Javier Lario of the Universidad Complutense in Madrid as part of his doctoral thesis. He found that the sands on the northern end of the isthmus were the oldest, in keeping with the hypothesis that they were deposited first, and were dated at around three thousand years ago. The sands in the south, closest to the Rock, were much younger and generally did not exceed one thousand years. So the isthmus as we know it is a recent phenomenon and may not have existed in its final form when Tarik landed on the Rock in 711 AD! Many of the old authors mentioned the presence of many marine shells on the sands of the isthmus and cited this as evidence that this was formerly a seabed. You can still see these sands exposed, and many of these shells, in small areas on the Spanish side of the isthmus. The shells would have been left there by receding seas in the intervening stages of the formation of the tombolo.
The latter stages of the natural process, which continued until the Prince of Hesse-Darmstadt landed on the isthmus on the 4th August 1704, involved the accumulation of sand on the eastern side of the isthmus as east winds piled it up. In fact Ayala, writing in 1782, describes the eastern side of the isthmus being of higher elevation than the west for this reason although much of it was flat and rarely higher than five feet above sea level. Prior to the Anglo-Dutch landings the isthmus was only slightly transformed into areas for cultivation by the local population of Gibraltar. These cultivations included vineyards but there was a lot of natural ground in which many wild herbs flourished. The ground was marshy and partly flooded in the wet season. Portillo talks of the “marismas de esta ciudad”, that is the swamps of this city.
The marshes and small lakes were the natural consequence of the process of formation of the isthmus. Initially some of the areas immediately near the sea would have formed coastal lagoons as the sand spit progressed, such as you might find today in the deltas of the Ebro or the Rhone, although on a smaller scale. The progressive sedimentation that occurred created the marsh with small lakes where the freshwater table was close to the surface. John White described the process:
“It is likewise obvious that the Isthmus is daily gaining ground, especially on the West, which is a very level shoal coast. This is owing in part to the natural increase of vegetation, and partly by human industry and cultivation whereby the loose sand is retained and confined, and gradually converted into a solid and permanent soil. The Eastern Coast, indeed, seems incapable of suffering any improvement being a bed of hungry shelly sand, with very deep water within a short distance of low-water mark. But the Bay is perpetually adding to the shore fresh supplies of sea-weed and refuse of various kinds. The gardens also, and huts set up by fishermen all contribute to augment the surface and to keep back part of what is daily thrown up by the tides. Much sound ground has also been gained to the Isthmus of late years by the addition of rubbish from the large and extensive works that have been carried on in the garrison. A spacious piece of ground at the north end of the Inundation has been many years laid out and improved for a meadow, and produces excellent crops of hay. Beyond this, on the west shore, is erected a little town of huts by our Portuguese and Catalan fishermen (see Chapter 2); and near them several large tracts have long been occupied for gardens by Genoese, Catalans and other inhabitants of the town. These gardens before the last war with Spain were in a very flourishing condition. They were screened to the north and east by a thick plantation of reeds, (Arundo donax), which afforded an impenetrable shelter against those inclement winds. And as those winds continually drove the loose sand into those fences, the banks whereon they grew were thereby perpetually increased and grown to a considerable height exclusive of the reeds that grew on them. But on the declaration of the Spanish War, all these fences were, by order of the Governor levelled with the ground, lest they should afford covert for the enemy; and all the vines, fig-trees and other fruit trees were cut down and nothing suffered to remain of taller growth than common garden plants. Since that period the old gardens have again been improving and new ones inclosed; all of which add to the ornament and increase of the Isthmus notwithstanding the precarious tenure whereon they are held so near the fortifications of a garrisoned town. All these gardens are well supplied with water by means of that simple and excellent machine the Persian Wheel.”
In many ways the isthmus of the 16th century must have mimicked the greater sand-based environment of Neanderthal times (Chapter 1).
Shortly after the Anglo-Dutch storming and capture of Gibraltar in 1704 dramatic changes began to transform the isthmus. The piece of land linking the Rock to the Spanish mainland became the front line for the Spaniards who were attempting to re-take the Rock. Batteries were placed on this ground facing the Rock and the area saw much activity. The British also strengthened their side. The cliffs facing north and west were scarped (see Chapter 1) and one of the larger shallow lakes was dredged and enlarged and given a permanent connection with the Bay of Gibraltar. It came to be known as the Inundation or the Laguna. A monstrous accumulation of concrete shaped in 1960s-style now injures the beauty of this former landscape and adds further insult by claiming its name.
The reason for expanding the lake was clearly military. This was the only weak point from which the Rock could be attacked. John White, once again, provides a first hand description:
“The only narrow pass that Nature has left practicable from the Isthmus is defended by the old Mole, Grand Battery and Moorish Castle in front and by the King’s and Prince’s Lines and Moorish Castle in flank. And to add to the difficulty of approach the space between the Lines and the Bay, which was formerly a kind of swamp or morass is now cleared out and sunk below the level of the high-water mark, and converted into a fine body of water, called the Inundation which is filled occasionally by a sluice from the sea at high tides and confined by a strong dam of masonry. By these means the only entrance left by land is reduced to two very narrow paths, one of which is the Dam of the Inundation, and the other lies between the eastern margin of the Inundation and the foot of the rock, below the lines.”
By the mid-19th century the lake was not without its problems as we hear from Kelaart:
“The lagoon, now turned into a kind of moat, called the ‘inundation’, contains large quantities of sea-weed; the removal of which is almost the constant occupation of several men, as its accumulation rapidly increases, and it is very liable to putrefy, the water in this reservoir being a mix of rain and sea-water.”
In 1998 we excavated a 19th century wall by the Forbes’ Barrier. It was in the form of a small pier, which we concluded was, used the transportation of rocks from Forbes’ Quarry to the coast (see Chapter 1). Within a metre of the surface we found a dark and richly organic soil, the old floor of the marsh which had been dredged to form the Inundation!
The Inundation was also the first large step in the process which led to the gradual but progressive loss of the natural environment of the isthmus. The incessant poundings which the isthmus received from both sides during post-1704 siege, the six-month old 13th siege of 1727, and the three-and-a-half-year old Great Siege (1779-83) and the continuous military presence and disturbance must have substantially degraded the area. Worse was to come in time of peace as it gave both sides the opportunity to develop the land. The town of La Línea grew where once there had been dunes and lakes. On the Gibraltar side the isthmus continued to serve an agricultural function, the orchards here supplying fresh fruit and vegetables to the Garrison. Kelaart (1856) described the isthmus as resembling:
“ ...a little sandy desert, in many parts of which are seen large assemblages of gregarious shells similar to those now in existence in the bay.”
During the 19th century the area took on recreational functions although detachments of the military were encamped there in tents during epidemics. There was also the burial ground (Chapter 7). A racecourse was a major attraction to the population along with public gardens, the Victoria Gardens, which were a major feature in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries. Kelaart gives a wonderful description of the racecourse in the mid-19th century:
“The greater part of the sandy isthmus belonging to the garrison is covered with good turf, on which, during race-weeks, may be seen some fine specimens of Andalusian horses. The race-course is at this time a very animated scene: here are found the Spaniards, in their national costume; and to afford a little variety a race is run by horses ridden by their Spanish masters, not dressed as jockeys but in their native garbs. On a late occasion, even the commandant of the Spanish lines was seen taking an active part in the emulative spirit of his countrymen. The scene is rendered still more interesting by the presence of well-dressed Spanish women, in their graceful mantillas, seated on gaile painted Spanish calecas. The race-stand, though small, contains also a choice collection of Spanish and English ladies and gentlemen, taking evidently a very animated interest in the exciting pleasures of the turf. The cricket-matches also go off on these grounds. Upon the whole, without this part of the isthmus, the rock of Gibraltar would afford to the inhabitants but a very small space for recreation and healthful exercise. What indeed would Gibraltar be to the larger number of gentlemen of this garrison, if they had neither races, hunting nor cricketing?”
By 1932 a small landing strip for aircraft had been marked across the centre of the racecourse. It was to mark the advent of one of the most dramatic overhauls which this part of Gibraltar has ever suffered. By 1941 work had started at an accelerated pace for the construction of a runway in preparation for Operation Torch, the North African landings. Rock was quarried on a large scale from the talus slopes at the base of the North Face of the Rock, between the two Neanderthal discovery sites of Devil’s Tower and Forbes’s Quarry. No doubt there are Neanderthal artefacts and the bones of many Pleistocene animals now buried under the runway! Spoil from the tunnelling that was proceeding in many parts of the Rock was also tipped here (see Chapter 5). The meadows where cows once grazed, the flooded fields where Snipe and other wading birds foraged during their migratory movements, even the playing fields where officers and men of the Garrison played cricket in the summer sun all had to give way in the interest of war.
Despite all these negative impacts it was still possible, even in the 1960s, to cross a stretch of meadows and dunes which flooded in the winter and which held grazing cows complete with parasite-picking Cattle Egrets between the border and the Spanish Customs Post, then at the entrance to La Línea. The closure of the border in 1969, the urbanisation of the Spanish side of the isthmus with the growth of La Línea and the “landscaping” of the remaining natural area into a park virtually completed the sad story of the piece of land which at times joined and at other times separated Gibraltar and Spain. Ironically, it was the re-opening of the border in 1985 and the preparation of areas for dealing with traffic movements which removed what little was left of natural vegetation. There is practically nothing worth talking about today. As you queue to enter Gibraltar you can see on your right as you turn the corner to face the Rock a small patch of green which has a few pockets of reedmace, a true relic of the once marshland. On the eastern side, as you turn towards La Atunara on leaving Gibraltar you see some litter-strewn patches of natural coastal vegetation although even that is now also being buried and flattened. The eastern seaboard has also suffered transformation. The once long extension of these sands towards the Rock, Eastern Beach, is now intersected by groynes of unknown function. The natural sequence of beach to dunes was lost when the promenade and road were constructed there many years before. On the bayside, successive reclamations have pushed the coastline out towards the Bay. Glacis Estate, Bayside and the marinas are all where Poseidon once ruled.
The sea did have the upper hand on the eastern coastline, between Eastern Beach and Europa Point. The climatic amelioration of ten thousand years ago took care of that as we saw in Chapter 2. During the 18th century much of the eastern side would overflow during spring tides when they coincided with an easterly gale and, even now, the lower houses of Catalan Bay suffer from such a fate some years. In Chapter 1 we described the ascent to Ibex Cave, up the watercatchments. These catchments were erected in 1909 as an extension to smaller rainwater collection areas which had been prepared at the end of the 19th century on the Upper Rock (see Chapter 6). They were prepared on a slope of continuously shifting sand which reached from the base of the cliff right down to the sea, because at that time there was no road where Sir Herbert Miles Road is now positioned. To succeed in anchoring the sheets of corrugated metal, wooden frames were fixed into the sand and the sheets attached onto the wood. The system worked and maintained the population with an, albeit unpredictable, freshwater supply until the development of desalination plants in the 1980s removed the dependence on rainwater. These catchments have since been removed and the sands which were under the sheets reseeded with natural vegetation. The method used in reseeding is more effective than nature ever was herself and the green appearance of the sand slopes in the spring now is unparalleled.
The sand slope represents one of nature’s grand achievements, being a prehistoric sand dune. The sand which you see here lacks the red component of the sands on the west. They are yellow, windblown sands. In fact they are the sands that once formed part of the vast sandy plain of the late Pleistocene where the Neanderthals hunted (Chapter 1). The east winds of prehistory regularly blew sand westwards and this accumulated against the east cliffs of the Rock. From time to time rock collapses added boulders to the dune so that the formation today is a composite of rock falls and wind-blown sands. These sands were constantly shifting right up to the erection of the sheets. John White describes this side and the efforts to make it inaccessible:
“The Eastern side of the hill consists of an immense sloping bank of whitish sand interspersed with huge fragments of rock, and reaching from the sea nearly to the summit of the rock in some parts not far from the Signal House, and the Middle-hill Guards. These parts were formerly accessible, which made it necessary to keep constant guards there, as well to prevent desertions from within as a surprise from without. Of late years, much labour has been bestowed in making all these parts more abrupt and difficult, yet it is still necessary to watch them, as there are always some hardy adventurers who will wantonly risk their lives down these perilous cliffs, either in attempting to desert or in search of flowers.”
They served to maintain a regular supply of sand on the beaches of the eastern side, especially Sandy Bay (the Little Bay of James) particularly when the sea removed material from the beach. This dynamic nature meant that little vegetation of any significant height could grow on the dune with any permanence as many pre-catchment photographs clearly demonstrate.
The areas of Catalan and Sandy Bay are well known for their propensity to receive rocks and landslides from above. Undoubtedly, the problems which these areas face have been largely due to human intervention. Already at the end of last century significant transformations took place on this side. Three quarries were opened up to provide materials for the construction of the dockyard which commenced in 1894 (Chapter 5). The scars of these quarries are there for all to see. The southernmost quarry was Monkey’s Quarry and it was situated at the southern end of Sandy Bay. The bare limestone face here, behind where the old oil tanks were situated, reveals the hand of Man. The other two quarries were in the area of Catalan Bay, a large one behind the village itself and another to the north, known as the Puente Basura Quarry. In order to transport the quarried materials, before the east-west tunnel was excavated, a railway was installed which transported the rock to Bayside from where it was taken the rest of the way in barges.
The naturalist William Willoughby Cole Verner relates an interesting episode when in 1874 he attempted to reach the cliffs above the area which we now know as Governor’s Beach (where Gorham’s and Vanguard Caves are situated). He had to do so via Catalan Bay as the approach from Europa Point was practically impossible (see also Chapter 2). His narrative clearly shows how inaccessible the whole of this area was in those pre-dockyard days:
“…I proceeded to Catalan Bay. Here we lunched with the Detachment officer and afterwards started on our expedition. After a most fatiguing struggle across the great slopes of shifting sand we reached the first serious obstacle, a low cliff.”
Kelaart (1856) describes it like this:
“The approach to Catalan bay is, after leaving the garrison, by a road on the left of the bay-side guard; this road runs round the base of the northern side of the rock, having the neutral ground before it, and it terminates in a bridle-path, about a quarter of a mile from Catalan bay; this pathway is rather dangerous, from the nature of the sandy soil, and a deep precipice overhanging the sea on the left side of the road; danger is always to be apprehended from the rolling down of loose fragments of the rock, a casualty to which the little village is also liable…
Having gained the little fishing village, one might rest here a while, and see the fishermen drawing in their nets, and no doubt their contents will also be interesting to the naturalist. After this little variety he must be prepared to walk through nearly ankle-deep sand, in order to reach the small sandy bay beyond the village…”
We can cover the same distance by car in under five minutes today!
Sandy Bay and Governor’s Beach at the south-eastern end of Gibraltar for a long time presented the appearance of being composed of little sand and many rounded stones. We recall being able to walk from Bennett’s Cave, past Gorham’s and Vanguard Caves and being able to wade into Boat Hoist Cave as recently as the 1970s. This is impossible today, as there is practically no beach there at all. A study of the pre-1960 maps, supported by photographs and paintings, shows that the present situation was the natural one that prevailed prior to this period. There never was a beach at Governor’s Beach in historical times. So what caused the sudden appearance of a beach there in the late 1960s. We know that there was considerable tunnelling in that area at the time. A look at the seaward slopes by the Hole-in-the-Wall even now shows that they are covered in quantities of loose stones. Our conclusion is that the spoil from the tunnels was hoisted over the sides of the cliffs and accumulated below to, temporarily, form the beach. The spoil from the northern side of the tunnel known as AROW Street would have ended up near Sandy Bay. So the once sandy Bay lost its sand supply from the dunes above when the catchments were erected in 1909 and any small remnant supply was stopped when Sir Herbert Miles Road was constructed. To confuse matters further the addition of tunnel spoil gave it the appearance of a stony Bay!
Gibraltar has therefore been surrounded by sands of different characteristics. These gave the Gibraltar its character and were useful in providing fertile soil for the growing of necessary vegetables and fruit and in construction. They therefore contributed to the demise of the natural environments which they had generated. There is a photograph of the isthmus which for us summarises the many paradoxes of living in a Garrison and the effects of population pressure on the landscape. It is a photograph taken before the demolition of the Devil’s Tower in 1940. It shows the North Face of the Rock in the background. In the foreground soldiers are playing a game of cricket in a sandy field with natural coastal vegetation. Behind lies the 16th century Devil’s Tower which was demolished, as it was a military hazard during the Second World War. It was the last complete medieval round tower left of the many that once protected Gibraltar. They are the subject of the next chapter.
It had been some years earlier that we had been reviewing the collection of prints and watercolours in the Gibraltar Museum as part of our project of documenting the collections. Among the many pieces we had a print of 16th century ships near a fortified port. The description of the print did not help and we could not tell what it was depicting. There was nothing to suggest to us that it was Gibraltar. After the excavation of the Gate of La Barcina (Chapter 4) we decided to re-examine the various plans and images of Gibraltar in the hope that we might find additional clues to help us in understanding the landscape better. The process was two-way: the prints helped us understand the excavations but the excavations also helped us interpret the depicted scenes. A set of two prints which have been on display in the Gibraltar Museum for many years depict the destruction of the town after the Great Siege. The town was largely destroyed by the constant pounding of cannon and there was little to help us interpret the location of the scenes. Later on we realised that one of the battered buildings was the Spanish Church (Cathedral of St. Mary the Crowned – Chapter 7). The other view showed a street in ruins and, at the end of the street a crumbling tower with a large Union Jack flying. A Spanish 18th century plan of Gibraltar at the time of the Siege curiously marked a tower in the area of the junction of Casemates to Main Street with the caption “where the English fly their flag”. After detailed consultation of several maps and plans we came to the conclusion that it was the medieval tower that protected the Gate of La Barcina (Chapter 3) which was depicted and that it still stood during the Great Siege, the British using it as an elevated position from which to fly the flag. So we achieved several things. We were able to identify the print as a view of the northern end of Main Street where it joined the Casemates Square and we also understood that the base of the medieval tower that we had excavated had not been completely destroyed until the Great Siege!
That brought us back to the 16th century print that we had examined years earlier. In the foreground was a tall, round, tower with small, s-shaped, projections, known in Spanish as matacán and whose function was in supporting structures that would permit archers to defend positions vertically below which would otherwise not be in the line of fire. It was at that point that everything became so clear. Without speaking we excitedly got one of our cameras, left the museum and rushed across the street down Line Wall! We went into the large garage on Line Wall, between the British and American War Memorials known as Capurro’s Garage. Under the first floor, and surrounded by cars, were the remains of an old tower which had been known for a long time. There, staring right at us, was part of a round tower with the same matacanes as the tower in the print!
We searched the archive further. The photographs of the Devil’s Tower (Chapter 4) opened up another window. The Devil’s Tower, demolished during the Second World War was also round and had the same kind of matacanes! Shortly afterwards we became aware of the existence of the 1567 sketches of Anton van den Wyngaerde and we acquired copies. There was the Devil’s Tower and the entire front of the line wall, facing the Bay of Gibraltar, was lined with round towers! The 16th century print was of Gibraltar and the remains of the round tower in Capurro's garage the last of the round towers of Gibraltar. When were these towers built and by who and when were they demolished?
They were in their full splendour in 1567 so they must have been erected before that date. Since the Spaniards had captured Gibraltar in 1462 we deduced that the towers could be part of the Spanish works in those one hundred years or they could have been earlier medieval constructions by the Merinids when they walled the city in the 14th century. There is very little to go by in order to solve this problem although our hunch is that they may well be Muslim.
Certainly Ibn-Marzuq’s description of the Merinid constructions in Gibraltar would seem to support this view:
“In that way he (Abu'l Hasan) surrounded it (the city) completely, as well as other parts now well walled and which have passageways and towers. He also placed round towers and houses along the whole length of the coast.”
Their demolition is equally enigmatic but here we may have some clues. On the 25th April 1607, the Dutch Fleet led by Admiral van Heemskirk aboard the Aeolus entered the Bay of Gibraltar and attacked a squadron of ten large Spanish galleons and eleven smaller ships which were anchored under the protection of the guns of Gibraltar. In the ensuing fight Heemskirk and the Spanish admiral Juan Alvarez D’Avila were killed but the smaller and more manoeuvrable Dutch ships won the day. The entire Spanish fleet was sunk and 3,000 seamen were killed while the Dutch lost no ships and only 100 men. The Dutch still celebrate their famous victory – the Battle of Gibraltar. It was in April of 1999 that Prof Clive Finlayson was attending a meeting of European Maritime Museums in Amsterdam. The meeting was in the splendid National Maritime Museum where a famous oil painting depicting the Battle of Gibraltar hangs with pride. The huge painting was in a room dedicated to the event and when he saw it, it was not the battle that caught his eye but the Rock in the background with the sea lapping the line wall and a group of Spanish soldiers helplessly looking on from the top of a round tower! Another clue: Bravo’s account of the fortifications (1627) specifies the recent changes that had been made to the defences of Gibraltar. His plans no longer show round towers. They had been replaced by platforms which could take heavy artillery. So the towers were replaced by platforms some time between 1567 and 1627. The Battle of Gibraltar took place in the middle of this period. Could the Spanish military planners have realised that the battle might not have been lost had their coastal artillery been able to support the stranded fleet? Perhaps it was the Battle of Gibraltar that determined the fate of the round towers!
There is a wonderful section view by James in the History of the Herculean Straits of the defensive walls where the old fountain was situated near the Piazza (Chapter 7). It shows the sea wall before the 19th century modifications and additions. It does not descend vertically to the sea but at an oblique angle. We are looking at the Spanish wall, repaired as necessary by British Engineers. Capurro’s garage is on the line wall and for over one hundred metres on either side of the round tower a wall, now covered in white paint, runs lengthwise and it is at an oblique angle! Here we have the remnants of the Spanish defensive wall. James’ section also shows a rampart to the east of this wall and the old Moorish wall even further east.
Line Wall Road runs along the length of the rampart. It is an unnaturally elevated ground, an infill. The drop on the east side of the road, evident in a number of access points into the town, must represent the position of the original defensive sea wall built in the days of Abu-l Hasan and extended in the reign of his son Abu Inan (1350-58) south to Europa Point. It would run from Casemates (the Gate of the Atarazana) along the east side of Line Wall road southwards towards the area of the 16th century South Bastion and the Spaniards had not constructed on or repaired this wall. Instead they built a new one further out. The pattern was repeated in the 19th century when the British built a new line wall, much of which is visible along the eastern side of Queensway, west of the Spanish wall. The pattern is obscured in some places where the geography or the good condition of the Moorish Wall dictated. Thus when we excavated the old Lovers’ Lane in search of the medieval walls we found that the Moorish and the Spanish wall followed the same line and the remains were a metre underground running down the middle of the street with the later 19th century Wellington Front additions to the west. To the east is the Convent itself, the remains of the original Franciscan monastery of circa 1490 still visible in the old stables. Near the outer eastern perimeter wall of the Convent we found an old ossary, probably belonging to the old convent. The perimeter walls were beautifully illustrated in some 18th century Spanish plans to capture Gibraltar.
So the western coastline of Gibraltar, which began to be transformed when the Merinids built the atarazana (Chapter 3) must have followed a line from the eastern side of Winston Churchill Avenue, south towards the North Bastion which must have been a rocky promontory, then in and south along the centre of Grand Casemates Square and from there south along the eastern side of Line Wall Road to approximately the area of the South Bastion which must have been another rocky promontory. From there the coast would have followed the line traced by the 19th century walls, that is at the eastern extreme of the Dockyard, to the area of Rosia south of which the coast is probably, save minor recent reclamations, close to the original.
During the 16th century Gibraltar was constantly being attacked and sacked by pirates so that a southern defence had to be constructed for the first time. We stress first because there are many historical accounts, even quite recent ones, that describe a “Moorish” wall running up the Rock north to the old Signal Station (the Hacho in Spanish times, now Cable Car Upper Station) of Charles V Wall to a small defensive tower known as Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. This is wrong and this wall is actually the wall constructed and not completed by the engineer Frattino in 1575 in the reign of Philip II and it is not, obviously, included in Wyngaerde’s sketches drawn eight years earlier! Portillo makes it clear that Gibraltar had not previously had a southern flank defensive wall. The wall which runs up the Rock towards the point known as Mount Misery (La Quebrada on Spanish maps) and which is called the Philip II Wall is, in fact, a continuation of the Charles V Wall constructed by the engineer Calvi in 1552 and which started near the sea in the South Bastion (the Baluarte de Nuestra Señora del Rosario). The construction of this wall, in our opinion, significantly contributed to the removal of much of the native vegetation which grew along the central parts of the Upper Rock (see Chapter 6). The intention had been to fully enclose, for the first time, the castle with outer walls according to Portillo, the northern flank having been covered by a wall above the castle which was constructed in the time of Don Álvaro de Bazán (father of the first marquis of Santa Cruz) in 1538 and which reached a tower (in the area of Willis’s) built by King Alfonso XI when he laid siege to Gibraltar in the 14th century. These walls and tower were in poor condition in the 17th century. During our excavations in Casemates (Chapter 3) we found several large stone projectiles which we have attributed to Alfonso XI’s attempts to regain Gibraltar in 1333 during which he used catapults. These projectiles were aimed at the castle and the Muslim galleys in the atarazana below and the catapults had been set up on the ground above the castle. There are also a few of these projectiles within the castle precinct today!
Portillo tells us that south of this wall in the area of Southport Gates there was a moat that had a pond that was full of frogs. Bravo’s plan shows the moat running down to the sea in the position of Ragged Staff Gates today. The moat was opened by Calvi. The old Muslim Gate of Algeciras (which like that of Granada had a key sculptured on it) was replaced by the Gate of Africa by Frattino who commenced the Bastion of Nuestra Señora del Rosario (on the South Bastion). Some tidal water may have been allowed to enter the lower reaches but stagnant rainwater and freshwater from the nearby aqueduct must have contributed along the higher portions if frogs were to survive there. Indeed there was a freshwater well there called La Tarasca. The remnants of the moat appear in many 19th and 20th century photographs of the area and it was not until the mid-1960s that the rest, which had remained as a sunken garden, was filled in to add the road and the Referendum Gates.
We can therefore, based on our present knowledge trace the evolution of the defensive walls of the city of Gibraltar as follows. In the late 12th century Al-Mumin constructs the City of Gibraltar. There was probably a tower where the present Tower of Homage is and a defensive wall around a small town on the skirts of the castle. It is in Abu-l Hasan’s and his son and successor Abu Inan’s time in the 14th century that the fortifications develop. The tower of the castle is built in its present form and a gatehouse is positioned along the southern flank wall. The precinct of the Qasbah is walled (or the walls strengthened) and the small town (the Spanish Villa Vieja) is protected and separated from the lower area where the atarazanas are constructed. It is in order to afford added protection to the ships within the atarazana that an outer sea wall is erected in the position of the present Water Gate, thus enclosing the beach and intertidal area. This intertidal area must have had to be regularly dredged and eventually silted up in Spanish times when houses were built on this land (Chapter 3). The sea wall was extended along the eastern end of Line Wall Road as described above and eventually reached all the way to Europa Point. The Spaniards strengthened the walls further in the late 15th and early 16th centuries.
Changes in methods of defence and the need to provide artillery positions and emplacements along the line wall caused the removal of the medieval round towers early in the 17th centuries and their replacement by bastions and platforms. During the 16th century a defensive wall is erected for the first time from the South Bastion to the top of the Rock and a moat is dug on its southern side near the base while much vegetation is removed higher up the slopes (Chapter 6). The British repaired the damaged walls in the 18th century and commenced a programme of cliff scarping and removed the remaining vegetation (Chapter 6). The entrance to Gibraltar into the Villa Vieja via the Gate of Granada, which Portillo relates had a Muslim key sculptured on it signifying the importance of Gibraltar, was severed by scarping the cliffs in the Forbes’ area leaving just the single land entrance to Gibraltar via Landport. It is late in the 18th century that the defences were enhanced through tunnelling and the creation of the Galleries. John White tells us that:
“This place is since secured effectually from surprise, and the remainder of the rock, till you come round Europa Point, is a lofty hanging cliff, washed by very deep water and needing no other defence than that what Nature had given it. From Europa Point to the New Mole are constructed many walls and batteries wherever a landing might possibly be attempted. And from the New Mole to the Old Mole, being the whole Western side of the garrison, the place is defended by a line wall and parapet, flank’d with numerous batteries.”
During the 19th century the British reshaped the line wall and extended it westwards. The end of the 19th century saw the further extension outside these walls as the dockyards were built and this marked a period of great upheaval and destruction as quarries were opened in many parts of the Rock. For a long time Gibraltar’s lack of a sheltered harbour had reduced its importance as a naval base and it had been considered to be no more than an observation and staging post, subordinate to Minorca or Malta. For the greater part of the 18th and 19th centuries the Royal Navy depended on the limited facilities afforded by the Old Mole (which had to be shared with commercial shipping) and later the extended New Mole, where incidentally a pentagonal tower known as the Torre del Tuerto stood until it was destroyed in the 1704 landings. The tower was attributed to the Merinids, which would be in keeping with our view on the date of construction of the coastal towers, Abd’l Malik who captured Gibraltar being the one-eyed (tuerto in Spanish) son of Abu’l Hasan. The New Mole dated to Philip III of Spain’s visit to Gibraltar in 1618 when he ordered the renewal of the Torre del Tuerto, the enlargement of the Old Mole and the start of the New Mole. Work commenced the following year and it was finally completed in 1658.
For a long time supplies were stored in the White Convent until the Victualling Yard was constructed near Rosia Bay in the first years of the 19th century and was completed in 1812 along with the pier at Rosia. The New Mole was extended in 1851 by 1,309 feet. It was not until the last years of the 19th century, however, that the dockyard of Gibraltar was to be extended with massive environmental consequences. It was in 1893 that a contract was awarded to Messrs. Topham, Jones and Railton for the further extension of the mole by 1,000 feet. In fact, the length was changed to a further 300 feet later by an addition to the original contract. The following year the Admiralty began work on the project for the enclosure and defence of the harbour and the extension of the dockyard. According to Adam Scott who was one of the engineers involved in the works, the principal works embraced by the project were:
Sect. No. 1 – A southern breakwater extension, having a total length of 2,700 feet, including the 1,000 feet begun in 1893.
Sect. No. 2 – A detached breakwater 2,720 feet in length, situated between the north and south breakwaters and lying more or less N.N.W. (True).
Sect. No. 3 – A large northern mole, with coaling-jetties, and viaduct.
Sect. No. 4 – An extended naval yard, including three large graving-docks, wharf-walls, slipways for destroyers, pumping-engine house, workshops, storehouses, offices, railways, etc.
Sect. No. 5 – The dredging of the harbour.
The materials used came from diverse sources. Portland cement was used throughout the works and the quantity which had been delivered by the 23rd December 1905, was 207,463 tons! Adam Scott describes the sources of raw materials:
“The rubble and dressed limestone for the extension of the southern mole were obtained chiefly from the Europa quarries (i.e. Camp Bay); the rubble for the detached breakwater and the northern mole from the Catalan Bay and the North Front quarries. The roughly dressed limestone required for the dockyard buildings, etc., was procured from the Catalan Bay and the Monkey’s quarries. The bulk of the limestone ahslar, for quay-walls, docks, and buildings, was obtained ready dressed from Spain, being brought down by railway to Algeciras, and transported in lighters across the Bay to the works. Most of the granite was from Cornwall, some from Norway, and a little from Italy. Sand was obtained from the slopes on the east side of the Rock.”
It was shortly after that the watercatchments covered the remaining sands (Chapter 4). The quarrying which took place on the east side transformed its character for ever and, worse still, made the area easily accessible. It is hardly surprising that this increased accessibility, along with the disturbance of the two World Wars caused the extinction of many species which had lived on the Rock since the days of the Neanderthals, for example the Bonelli’s Eagle, the Egyptian Vulture and the Osprey. Adam Scott describes how the area was made accessible:
“A shipping-jetty was constructed at bayside, and the block-yard was established on the North Front, at the Devil’s Tower, by the eastern beach. Railway communication (metre-gauge) was established between the dockyard and the commercial mole through the Rock and round by Catalan Bay, North Front, Bayside, and Waterport. Ultimately the railway was continued south from Waterport along the foreshore, outside the line wall, and connected with the dockyard, thus completing the circle. Until the works were begun locomotives were unknown at Gibraltar.”
The reclaiming of land from the sea, which had started when the western area of La Barcina was gained in the 16th century (Chapter 4) reached an all-time high only to be matched in the late 1980s when the large areas west of the viaduct (which was then lost) were reclaimed using sand obtained from the sea-bed on the south-eastern side of the Rock.
The 20th century therefore started another major episode in environmental transformation, on a far greater scale than anything that preceded it. It was not limited to the outside of the Rock. The early modifications inside the Rock would have been relatively minor. We saw how St. Michael’s Cave was used for shelter in Spanish times (Chapter 6) and it was regularly visited from the 18th century as a curiosity, leading to a degree of deterioration. Kelaart (1856) describes one such event:
“Caves of various size exist in this formation. The largest, called St. Michael’s Cave, is situated about the middle of the rock, and nearly eleven hundred feet above the level of the sea; perhaps there are a few caves in similar formations equal to this in picturesque effect, though there are many of larger dimensions. The interior is shown to the public when the rock is visited by some distinguished personage, or a particular friend of the Colonels of Artillery or Engineers; it is then seen to the best advantage: a host of people is assembled near the entrance of the cave at the hour appointed. Martial music sounds. The gates are opened, and the cavern is entered with the utmost degree of caution, the ladies of course assisted by the gentlemen, the descent being very slippery from the accumulated moisture. Wax tapers burning at distant intervals, cast a dim light over all around…”
Subsequent large-scale transformations and visitor pressure have rendered the cave effectively dead. The practice of the removal of stalactites and stalagmites from caves also appears to have a long tradition, judging again from Kelaart’s remarks:
“The stalagmitic formations bear a good polish, and are known by the name of “Gibraltar Rock”, and consequently are erroneously supposed to constitute the prevailing rock of Gibraltar. Of this rock are manufactured small cannons, pliiars, etc., for the mantel-piece, as also personal ornaments.”
Other caves around Gibraltar have also suffered from decades of human pressure, from the elimination of bat colonies (e.g. in Martin’s Cave), through large scale dumping of refuse (e.g. Judge’s and Poca Roca Caves), transformation for military purposes (e.g. Mediterranean and Monkey’s Caves), uncontrolled excavation of archaeological deposits by amateurs (e.g. Mammoth, Sewell’s, Goat’s Hair Twin, Poca Roca, Collins’ to name a few) to total annihilation (e.g. Genista I and Forbes’ Caves). New tunnelling works have opened up new cave systems which had rested peacefully for millennia. The most precious of these are Crystal and New St. Michael’s Caves which are today in high risk of going the same way as some of these other caves if protection is not afforded to them soon.
The discovery of New St. Michael’s Cave was the result of tunnelling during the Second World War. We saw in Chapter 4 how the tunnelling spoil from AROW Street created an artificial beach on the eastern side of the Rock. The scars of tunnelling are still visible in many parts of the Rock. Above Gorham’s Cave or just north of the Calahorra (and below the Middle Galleries) there are huge piles of debris which in some cases prevent growth of vegetation and in others may even be hiding important archaeological sites. The area just north of the Calahorra, for example, was the site of Gibraltar’s fifth and least known medieval district. Apart from the Qasbah, the Villa Vieja, La Barcina and La Turba early accounts talk of the Albacar. This medieval name referred to a walled area outside the castle or city precinct. Cattle and other animals were put in this enclosed area at night or in case of alarm. From available descriptions it appears most likely that the Albacar was situated in an area roughly from the present location of Hay’s Level down towards the site of Hesse’s Demi-Bastion and much of the upper part of this is covered with tunnelling spoil making the prospect of excavation there a nightmare. Perhaps one day we might find the remains of the Albacar…
In the first Chapter we saw how the vegetation around Gibraltar changed in response to climate changes during the Pleistocene. Then, the climatic amelioration after 10 thousand years ago promoted the development of the Mediterranean woodland and matorral that we described in Chapter 2 and it was then that humans probably first began to actively modify the environment. In Gibraltar this may well have been minimal as we discussed in Chapter 2. So it is very likely that the vegetation which grew on the Rock when Tarik landed in 711 AD, and for a significant time thereafter until Al-Mumin’s Medinat was constructed in 1160 AD, may well have resembled the ancestral climax community of the Holocene climatic régime. We can with some degree of confidence take the vegetation described in Chapter 2 as our baseline and the best illustrated of the climatic conditions that prevailed prior to human interference and were we able to reverse the many individual historical events that have changed it since. This chapter is precisely about the changes since medieval times. We have seen some of these already in Chapters 3 to 5 and we will discuss others in the next Chapter. Here we focus on an area of Gibraltar which has been our “little garden” since our childhood, where we learnt our trade and the place which has given us more joyous moments than any other – the Upper Rock.
When you go to the Upper Rock now the general impression which you get is of lush vegetation with many trees and a dense undergrowth. With the exception of a few firebreaks, which are maintained, and some abandoned watercatchments the impression is indeed accurate. This image of “natural” splendour and beauty is far from pristine, however, and it is indeed the product of this century! The vegetation of the Upper Rock is today dominated by typically Mediterranean native shrubs, some of which grow to tree-like dimensions. This vegetation is a mosaic, a patchwork of plants of many species which occur in different parts in different proportions according to a mixture of factors such as soil depth and composition, humidity and indeed the presence of other plants. It is a historical landscape which has its base in the native limestone-loving plants of the western Mediterranean. Among the dominant plants are the wild Olive and the Lentisc which, as we saw in Chapter 1, have been in the area for at least 50 thousand years.
To understand the present-day landscape we have to go back and see how historical events modified the pristine Holocene landscape which Tarik may have seen into the Man-induced landscape which is the Upper Rock at the end of the millennium. We start, of course, with the Muslims who were the first to build on the Rock. Unfortunately we have little to guide us other than accounts of constructions. From our perspective the building of the Castle, City and Atarazanas of Gibraltar (Chapters 3 and 7) affected areas which may properly be defined as outside the present limits of the Upper Rock and which are dealt with in these chapters. We can add here that the slopes upon which the castle and the old town were built would have been covered in native vegetation which must have been largely destroyed by construction although, if later Spanish accounts are to be believed, the precinct of the castle (the Qasbah) contained a small forest where it was possible to hunt rabbits and the occasional deer (Chapter 7). Since much of the early development of the town took place in the lower, less steep, slopes which were covered by the red sands (Chapter 4) it is unlikely that this would have had any major effect on the natural vegetation of the Upper Rock. We are left with speculation although it would not seem unreasonable to suppose that the local Muslims of Gibraltar may have collected firewood from the Rock and grazed goats on it, with the consequent damage to the vegetation. It is also possible, as some authors have proposed, that trees may have been felled and used to build or repair ships in the atarazana or even for export to North Africa. Operations such as these, if they took place at all, would have been clearly limited in scale given the small size of the Rock.
After we had written these lines, in August 1999, we found a rich level of occupation in a cave on the Upper Rock that contained 14th Century Muslim ceramic and the remains of many goats! This confirmed our thesis that goats had been grazed on the Rock since Medieval times. For reasons of security we must, for now, keep the name of this cave to ourselves.
The truth is that, no matter what authors may have speculated about the history of this vegetation, we really do not know in what state the Upper Rock was inherited by the Spaniards from the Muslims in 1462. Had it been deforested by the Muslims or was it still in a primitive state? Certainly the sketches of Anton van den Wyngaerde (1567), which are the earliest available to us, give the impression that the Rock is already at that time rather devoid of vegetation. This could be the author’s interpretation admittedly but the scene is repeated in his two sketches which are extremely detailed and accurate and which show trees in some areas. So why would he leave others out? Why should his sketches, and indeed those of Bravo in 1627, resemble so much others of the Rock in the 18th and 19th centuries and indeed photographs of the 19th and early 20th centuries? In his sketches the areas of the Rock which seem to be most heavily vegetated are from Rock Gun to Middle Hill and to a lesser extent down to the old Willis’s Battery, the slopes between O’Hara’s Battery and St. Michael’s Cave, the lower southern slopes from Sandpits upwards towards the Rock and some of the lower slopes in the vicinity of the vineyards. This ties in well with Portillo’s description which is the first that is available to us. He mentions the southern limit of the red sands, as we saw in Chapter 4, by the “huertas de arboledas” or groves (orchards) of trees, exactly where Wyngaerde draws them.
John White describes this area in the mid-18th century:
“Between the South Barracks and the Naval Hospital is situated the most beautifully romantic spot in all Gibraltar. It slopes to the South-West, and is most effectually screened from East by the rock in its highest part, and from the North by the eminence whereon the South Barracks are built. It contains variety of good natural soil, and has been occupied many years by an honest worthy native of the place, whose skill, sagacity, experience and industry have long entitled him to universal esteem and goodwill. It is to the unremitting labour and assiduity of George Picardo that every table is indebted for the most valuable productions of the garden at all seasons of the year, and he has introduced a spirit of cultivation and improvement totally unknown before in this latitude.”
Portillo also tells us that there were wild olives on the Rock, which suggests to us that the entire Rock was not covered by them. Then he gives us a very telling remark when he says that these olives were not cultivated, even though there were some with good fruit in the vineyards, because the inhabitants used the abundant fish oil instead. So cutting them down would not have been a concern in those days. To this we can add a further clue – Portillo chose to highlight the wood inside the castle which seems to indicate that woodland was a rare enough feature of the landscape to be worthy of note where it was found. This woodland is clearly depicted in Bravo’s plan of 1627. Further references to vegetation by Portillo concentrate on herbs of medicinal or culinary value, many of which are typical of open ground, without further mention of trees other than to say that there was a high diversity of trees and shrubs in the district of Gibraltar, which included a great part of the hinterland of the Rock, and which is therefore unhelpful. He does not mention, contrary to erroneous attributions by some recent authors, Carob Trees. There are good reasons to believe that the lower slopes of the Rock, at least, had been heavily transformed in the early 17th century days of Portillo. He mentions Prickly Pears on the red sands and also tells us how they were used as fences in the vineyards. There were also orchards with fruit trees among which was the Church of San Juan el Verde which was run by the Knights Hospitaliers of Malta. There were other buildings lower down too, such as the chapel of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios overlooking the Caleta de los remedios, now Rosia Bay. Prickly Pears would not have grown well in woodland. Given that they came from the new world, their spread on the Rock must have taken probably less than a century! Wyngaerde’s sketches clearly show Charles V Wall running up towards the top of the Rock. This wall was built by the Italian engineer Calvi in 1552 to provide for the defence of the town against invading pirates from the south. It is inconceivable that its construction would not have been accompanied by the complete removal of all vegetation for many metres on either side, inside to allow the free movement of the defenders and outside to make the approaching enemy clearly visible at a distance. No cover would have been left for them to hide. Is it therefore coincidence that it is the areas on either side of this wall and around the castle’s walls that appear most barren in Wyngaerde’s sketches?
Matthew Bishop has provided us with an account of the attack by Spanish troops on the 11th November 1704. These troops were guided onto the Upper Rock along a path on the east side by a local Spanish Shepherd, Simon Susarte. The accounts suggest that they crossed the ridge where Middle Hill is today, after which incident a Middle Guard was established and the shepherd’s path erased. Some authors, such as Ayala who wrote a long time later and who could not have had first hand knowledge, state that the five hundred or so Spanish soldiers hid in a wood of Carob trees near to St. Michael’s Cave, others say in the cave itself. Returning to Matthew Bishop, he tells us that a company from his ship was ordered to the Garrison to assist in repelling the attackers and he says how, as his boat approached the shore, he could see the Spaniards on the hill and he tells us how they rolled rocks down. How could he have seen this, or the Spaniards rolled the rocks, had the Rock been covered in trees?! Here is an extract of his account:
“The morning we got thither, the Spaniards were discovered that came up the back of the hill. Then there was a command for twenty of our men to go on shore with firearms. I was glad to hear that I was picked upon for one and the sailors, hearing that I was to go, were all eager for going. They knew me well versed in the affair, as I had been upon a like expedition before. When the officers had determined who should go on shore, we got into our boat, and made all the haste we could; for we had them continually in our eyes. We were all in high spirits and fit to do execution, not being at all daunted at their numbers; for they were like swarms of bees upon the hill, and in great confusion, and we like lions in the valley seeking whom we might devour, as our duty required. At it we went, loading and firing as fast as we could. Our men had a great advantage of the Spaniards in firing up hill, and it was a very great advantage they were not obliged to wade; for the water often overflows that part where we were obliged to engage them. We were happy enough in missing that tide; had it been otherwise, we had been put in a bad situation. The Spaniards rolled pieces of rocks down the hill and wounded a great many of our men, our advantage in firing was more than all they could do. When they found they could do no good they laid down their firearms.”
The destruction of the Upper Rock landscape continued in the 18th century. Ayala complained of the damage that the British had caused to the Rock by making it unassailable and, although this was undoubtedly true, the romantic view he had of the Rock prior to this appears to have been unfounded. There is no doubt, however, that major works were done by the British throughout the 18th century and that these flattened what little vegetation was around at the time of the capture in 1704. One early account is that of Robert Poole who visited Gibraltar in 1748. We can glean some useful information from it. Poole visited the vineyard, clearly a popular place for all authors, and highlighted the single Locust (Carob) Tree that grew there. Francis Carter (1777) who was in Gibraltar between 1771 and 1772 also mentioned this tree, which belonged to a species which had formerly been plentiful all over the hill, which was the only one left in Gibraltar! Carter also says that these trees concealed the Spaniards near St. Michael’s Cave when they attacked in 1704. Given the descriptions of that attack above we can only conclude that, assuming Carter had good sources, these trees were in 1704 already restricted to copses or small woods. Why, otherwise, would these troops have moved from Middle Hill to hide near St. Michael’s Cave only to retrace their steps towards the town in the morning? By the middle of the 19th century access to the Upper Rock had improved and Kelaart in 1856 commented how:
“Bridle-paths are cut out of the highest parts of the Rock; the Signal Station, and even Rock-Gun and O’Hara’s Tower, may be reached on horseback with perfect safety.”
He also mentions the “Mediterranean Stair”, nowadays called Mediterranean Steps, which had been cut out of the solid rock.
From Poole’s account we also see that the introduction of exotic plants had continued from Spanish times. The Prickly Pears were still in the south as were Palm trees, presumably from Spanish times but perhaps from even earlier or later, brought by the British from North Africa. He also mentions the Aloe which, from his description, was the Agave. This is another American exotic which must have arrived in Spanish times. These exotics seem to have become established on the lower slopes and there is no mention of them on the Upper Rock. Several authors mention, however, the Palmetto on the Upper Rock, especially near St. Michael’s Cave. The Palmetto is the Dwarf Fan Palm, the only native European palm and one which has probably grown wild on the Rock, the rocky terrain suiting it well even today. Some of the stands of this palm on the Upper Rock, especially on Mediterranean Steps and the areas around O’Hara’s Tower north towards the Cable Car Station and down the western slopes, are the finest and best preserved that we have come across anywhere in the southern Iberian Peninsula. In Spain these palms are regularly cut back to recover the soft hearts which are consumed. This practice is not traditional on the Rock, however, and the palms or palmettoes have been allowed to develop with their splendid trunks, truly one of the major features of the Upper Rock. Kelaart described these palms in this area of the Rock and contrasted it with the less-vegetated areas to the north:
“There is scarcely any wild shrub or cultivated plant to be seen, and the rock has here a more barren appearance…”
Much of the Rock was barren by the time Poole visited it in 1748, the last remaining trees having been cut by the soldiers encamped on the south-western shores of the Rock during the six-month siege of 1727 when according to James the men were given permission to cut wood for fire and took the permit to its full levelling the whole! Some recent authors have taken this to be the point when the vegetation of the Upper Rock was removed. Anyone who has tried to cut back undergrowth on the Rock even today, and we did that frequently in the 1970s and 1980s when we would clear rides in order to place mist nets to catch and ring migratory birds, will soon realise the effort and degree of difficulty involved. To endow a few regiments with the powers to completely remove all the woodland of Gibraltar in the space of six months is completely unrealistic. Clearly these soldiers removed much of what was left in 1727 including, it would seem, the remaining Carob trees except one! The deforestation had started long before and continued after 1727 for much of the 18th century as slopes were scarped and new batteries erected. Poole tells us that there were places in which the rock was almost bare, a situation which must have been worsened during the hot and dry summer months. To emphasise the point Francis Carter tells us that bushes on the Rock only survived in the most inaccessible places:
“where the barbarity of our modern engineers could not reach.”
So the cliff may have acted as refugia for native vegetation. He described the Rock as barren, not a tree nor a shrub to be seen above the town due, in his opinion, to the modern policy of the military gentry. There were some “greater and smaller cattle” but not many because of the shortage of pasture the provision of sheep, cattle and other animals being brought in plenty by Moors from Barbary. There were sheep, cattle and goats dispersed on the Upper Rock at the time, however, and they must have kept any prospect of developing vegetation down to zero! Kelaart considered that this depauperate state of the vegetation affected the micro-climate of Gibraltar and considered that George Don’s (Lieutenant Governor of Gibraltar from 1814-32) plans to plant trees on the Rock should be extended:
“On returning into the garrison, from a ride on the sandy beach outside the barrier, the difference in temperature is painfully felt. In passing the Puerta de Tierra, blasts of heated air oppress the rider, and on entering the main street, he again experiences the indescribable sensations of breathing confined and impure air. The summer nights retain nearly all the heat of the day, there not being sufficient time for the rock to become cool before the sun rises again. The reflected heat from the rocky surfaces of Gibraltar is of itself a great source of suffering to the inhabitants.
The vegetation on the rock being comparatively of a diminutive kind, does not afford much shelter; and I am sure if General Don’s plan was still further carried out, by planting more poplars, firs, and bella-sombras on the higher parts of the rock, Gibraltar might be rendered a cooler residence in the course of years.”
Domestic animals were not all that the “Moors from Barbary” brought. Barbary Partridges and Macaques also came in the consignments and were let loose on the Upper Rock. The tradition of these two North African species in this European outpost stems from these 18th century introductions and monkeys were still being brought to market at the end of the 19th century. The partridges in particular would have fared well in the open, stony, habitats of the Upper Rock then. This species must have declined significantly in numbers during the 20th century as the vegetation developed on the Upper Rock and the areas of low, stony, vegetation on Windmill Hill are nowadays their stronghold.
In Spanish times Windmill Hill was the Upper Tarfe, the Europa Flats being the Lower Tarfe, the name having clearly an Arabic origin. The nature of the vegetation on Windmill Hill is unclear but it seems to us that the rocky nature of this and the Europa wave-cut platforms, along with the strong exposure to winds from the east and south-west, may well have prevented the formation of woodland here at any stage. Indeed, commenting on its denuded appearance Ayala (1772) says these areas were covered in “monte”, that is matorral, in the 1600s. Much of the area may, therefore have been covered in a low matorral and open-ground steppe-like vegetation. We do not know. However, a sketch by Booth dated 1772 in the Gibraltar Museum clearly shows Windmill Hill (with a Windmill!) without a tree in sight with, significantly, a cow grazing in the foreground. Certainly much of the southern plateaux of Gibraltar presented this very open appearance after the 18th century through to today. The area south of Buena Vista Barracks was so barren and devoid of vegetation, as seen in some 18th century prints and 19th century photographs, that it was known as the Devil’s Bowling Green! The Europa Flats were, similarly, dominated by low vegetation. There were few buildings here but they included the Shrine of Our Lady of Europa and the Nuns’ Well, both of which were probably Muslim buildings. The Nuns’ Well is still in existence and continues to function as a reservoir of fresh water. The Shrine is gone and would have been situated approximately 50 metres east of the present shrine which is a mixture of modern architecture on a small 15th or 16th century Spanish Guardroom. The mosaic on the floor of the external patio is British and not, as often written, Islamic. The same confusion continues to today in the form of a British sentry post on the ridge of the Rock, between the Cable Car Station and O’Hara’s, which is still incorrectly attributed by many to the “Moors”. The entire area of Europa Flats must have been well used in Muslim times. The foreshore was called the Corral de Fez which led Portillo to speculate that people from that town had lived there in the past. The area of the Europa Flats was also fortified in the time of Abu Inan, son of Abu’l Hasan, and it is a part of Gibraltar which we have in mind excavating in the future.
In the 16th century there were vineyards on the Europa Flats which extended to the Caleta del Laudero (Little Bay), the Corral de Fez and the Shrine. By the middle of the 19th century there was no trace left of these and the place was described by Kelaart:
“…on the most southern point is a lighthouse, recently erected. This part of the rock contains but few shrubs, and upon the whole there are not here many species…Above the road is situated the governor’s cottage, a delightful summer residence.”
The foundation stone for the lighthouse was laid in 1838 by the governor Lieutenant General Sir Alexander Woodford. There was also a, reputedly Muslim, tower on the site of Deadman’s Hole by the lighthouse until quite recently.
Most of the prints and photographs of Gibraltar during the 19th century show the Upper Rock as a barren and highly inhospitable-looking place. The exceptions are Bruce’s and Ince’s Farm which, from an early date, stand out as dark patches of vegetation. They really were farms with well-defined boundaries at that time but they could not have been very large, judging from Kelaart’s remarks in 1856:
“On descending by a lower road from the signal-station, two or three small apologies for farms are passed…”
Presumably the vegetation throughout the Upper Rock was kept constantly down by grazing animals, especially goats, and it seems that the tallest vegetation was confined to the gardens. The Alameda Gardens had been opened to the public in April of 1816, thus replacing a large part of the remaining red sands (Chapter 4). Kelaart, with a particular interest in botany, described a number of the gardens in 1856:
“After he has passed the South-Port gate, he finds himself in the Alameda, which is tastefully laid out; and as he prolongs his walk, he is still more surprised to find that Gibraltar can boast of its gardens and walks lined with beautiful shrubs and plants, shaded by stately poplars and bella-sombras.”
“The road from Europa leads to a romantic little place, called Glenrocky, near Europa-pass, on which is situated the house now occupied by the chief justice; a pretty little garden is attached to it, and the ivy and aloe cover most part of the rock surrounding it.”
“…and just above the middle part of the town is the elegant residence of Dr Burrow, the archdeacon of Gibraltar, who has, with great taste and horticultural skill, laid out the garden surrounding the ‘palace’ with rare and beautiful trees…The stranger could scarcely picture to himself a good garden in Gibraltar; but there are several, even in the town, which may come under this designation. The extent of some of these would perhaps surprise him; among the principal ones are, the gardens attached to the quarters occupied by the colonels of artillery and engineers; the garden belonging to the celebrated wine-merchant, Mr. Glynn; the one just mentioned, belonging to the archdeacon; and, the largest of all, the convent garden.”
These gardens probably acted as reservoirs for some of the Mediterranean plants which would subsequently colonise the Rock but they also harboured an increasing number of exotics, some of which would take over areas at the expense of the native species.
The great naturalist William Willoughby Cole Verner who we met in Chapter 4 spent much of his time climbing the cliffs of the Rock and the sierras around us despite having sustained major injuries during the Boer War which forced him to retire from the Army and return to settle on the shores of his beloved Strait of Gibraltar. In his amusing and very direct style he describes the erection of an iron fence across the Upper Rock at the beginning of the 20th century:
“But all this happened long ago. When in a sudden access of hysteric caution following on years of ‘go as you please’ all the upper portion of the Rock was enclosed by a high spiked iron paling, some unimaginative official had the fatuity to style it officially ‘The Unclimbable Fence’, and numerous Orders were drafted with respect to it in which it was thus described. It is hard to imagine a more direct challenge to a man addicted to climbing. At this psychological moment I chanced to land at Gibraltar on leave from England. I climbed that fence, not for pleasure or for vanity, but as a matter of duty to the confraternity of birdsnesters. My ‘crime’ was never taken judicial notice of, and here I was happier than the luckless private soldier, who not long since committed the same offence and according to report was charged with ‘Neglecting to obey Fortress Orders, in that he, at Gibraltar, on April 1, 190-, contrary to the Fortress Order directing all persons to abstain from doing so – climbed the Unclimbable Fence!”
It seems that military considerations therefore restricted access to the Upper Rock at the beginning of this century. The remnants of this rusty-coloured fence can still be seen in parts of the Upper Rock, having run from Jews’ Gate in the south to the Willis’s Battery area in the north. The fence would appear to be responsible for the growth of the vegetation on the Upper Rock. We cannot properly call it regeneration because it is unlikely that, after anything between as little as two and as much as six hundred years of human action, the landscape could in anyway return exactly to what it was like before. Apart from anything else there were the introduced exotics, by then not just from America but also Aloes from Africa, Gum Trees (Eucalypts) from Australia and so on, to contend with. It seems that the fence may well have stopped altogether the access to the Upper Rock of the goatherds and their animals and that these would have been confined then to the lower slopes on the western side and the sand slopes and cliffs on the eastern side.
It is certainly true that, by and large, the vegetation on the Upper Rock developed early in the 20th century, a process which has not yet reached its climax in some areas. Photographs taken at different periods this century show very clearly the process of colonisation by shrubs and then trees. The aerial photograph of 1953 shows a well-established matorral in many places but the lower slopes, below the fence, where goats were still grazed remain barren. The last goats must have disappeared shortly after. There certainly were none by the 1960s. Even today these lower slopes, now with a considerable growth of shrubs and trees, are clearly behind the rest of the Upper Rock which has a taller and denser matorral. A similar situation has occurred at the now abandoned watercatchment below Rock Gun which is gradually developing a growth of shrubs but which still stands out as a visible scar in the Upper Rock landscape. Even within the time that we have been studying the Rock we have been able to record the changing patterns. Many areas of the Rock which we had surveyed in the 1970s and which we re-examined in the mid-1990s had become denser and taller. Some of the shrubs which were typical of open matorral, especially some of the brooms, had been replaced in many places by shrubs of the deep shade understorey of woodland. Many olives in particular had developed from tall shrubs to mature trees. These changes were also reflected by changes in the fauna. We had been studying two species of insectivorous birds, closely-related warblers, which breed on the Rock. The Sardinian Warbler was the commoner of the two in many areas in the 1970s, being a species typical of a range of scrub vegetation. The Blackcap was more a bird of the mature scrub and woodland and we had discovered in the 1970s that it had altered its wing shape and general anatomy to survive in the conditions at Gibraltar. The development of the vegetation had favoured this species at the expense of the other in the intervening twenty years. Something similar must have occurred at the turn of the century. The ornithologist Howard Irby recorded how, in the 1860s onwards two warblers bred on the Rock. These were the Sardinian Warbler and the Dartford Warbler, the latter being a species of very low bushes. The Blackcaps were then restricted to the few tall trees in the gardens. Already by the 1970s the Dartford Warbler no longer bred on the Rock as its preferred habitat had gone and its appearance on the Rock was confined to the migratory periods and then it would most frequently be seen in the more open vegetation such as at Windmill Hill or the North Front Cemetery.
In our opinion it is the birds, species such as the Blackcap, which have contributed to the rapid development of the vegetation of the Upper Rock in under a century. By far the most abundant shrubs on the Upper Rock are fruit producers, species which have an annual crop of small fruit. Most species fruit in the autumn and the winter a notable exception being the spineless Buckthorn which fruits in the summer months. The Lentisc, the Osyris, the Spiny Asparagus, the wild Olive, among others, all fruit at this time and each has its own time slot which is different from the next. It is all part of a strategy which Mediterranean shrubs have evolved. Think of it as parental investment. The plant produced offspring in the form of seeds and it is in the plant’s interest that these seeds should fall well away from the parent plant so that it has good access to light. The fruit which surrounds each seed is an energetic burden for the plant but it has to assume it as a load. The fruity pulp is rich in nutrient and high in water content (the composition varies from species to species) and is attractive to birds especially at a time of the year when insects are becoming scarce. The autumn and the winter see many migrants crossing the Mediterranean into Africa or arriving here to spend the winter. So the plants have a captive market! The birds swallow the entire fruit and the unwanted seed, the plant’s offspring, is ejected in the faeces, usually far away from the parent plant. In some species the relationship has evolved to such a degree that the seed will not germinate effectively unless it has travelled through the gut of a bird! Is it, therefore, surprising that the majority of the new colonisers of the Upper Rock are plants that have their seeds dispersed by birds? Their spread has been much more rapid than that of other species which were here on the Rock originally and which do not rely on bird dispersal. Thus there are still very few Carob Trees on the Rock. They lost ground and never recovered it. Thus the vegetation of the Upper Rock, unique and very beautiful, with an apparent air of naturality is a combination of species that were never fully removed by human action (such as the Dwarf Fan Palms or palmettoes), others that were here all along and which recovered after the removal of goats (such as the wild Olives and the Lentiscs), others which were once much commoner and which have not succeeded in recolonising (such as the Carob), others which did not grow on the Upper Rock but which are native to the area and which were planted to provide shade when no other trees grew on the Rock (such as the Stone Pines) and yet others which humans have brought even from other continents (such as the Eucalypts or the Aloes).
When Prof Clive Finlayson took over the responsibility of running the Museum in 1991 it only occupied a small fraction of the building which houses the Museum today. It had been largely so, with some changes, since the Gibraltar Museum first opened its doors to the public on 24 July 1930. The reason for siting the Museum on this site was that it would incorporate an ancient monument within its premises. These were the 14th century Moorish Baths. It is not our purpose in this article to describe in any detail the architecture of the baths. Instead we will cover how the landscape of Gibraltar has changed and this part of Gibraltar is of particular interest since we have been able to excavate here since 1995. We have therefore had a great opportunity to understand how this part of Gibraltar, within the red sands district of La Turba has changed from its original state which was that of a system of mounds and dunes of red sand. The transformation took place after the re-capture of Gibraltar from the Spaniards by the Merinids in 1333. It is beautifully described by Ibn Marzuq in his Musnad as follows:
“and the red sand, on being occupied by so many buildings and such high constructions, appeared (from a distance) to be white.”
The first urban excavations ever to be carried out in Gibraltar were those in the premises of the Gibraltar Museum in 1995 when we took the opportunity of the development of the building’s southern wing. It was all done on a voluntary basis, archaeologist Paco Giles and his team coming for months several times a week at their own expense all the way from Jerez and El Puerto Santa María. They had great experience in this type of work and it helped us in understanding the ways of practical urban archaeology. We opened up two trenches, one in what is now the garden of the Museum, and which was at that time a very untidy garage which had belonged to the Tourist Office, and the other within the building close to where the cafeteria was situated. Let us start with the latter which turned out to be the more interesting.
The reason that we decided to excavate where we did was that we had taken a decision at an early stage of the planning that we would attempt to restore as much of the building as possible. In this we were lucky to be working with John Langdon as architect and Andrew Licudi as project manager. John was a trustee of the Gibraltar Heritage Trust and had some very imaginative ideas on how to restore old buildings while Andrew had much previous experience of this kind of work from his days in Edinburgh. Anyway, we had carefully removed the plaster from the inside of the southernmost wall of the building when we realised that behind the years of paint and aggregations there was a wonderful double arch. It covered most of the wall and we recognised that its construction was not medieval Muslim. We suspected it to date to the Spanish period but we needed to confirm this so we decided to dig down along the side of the arch to try to find its base and thus perhaps determine its age if we could find dateable clues, such as ceramic. We never expected to find what we did. As we went down we realised that we needed to open up a wider area to make the sounding practical and, since we were in control of the development, we were happy to do this! We went through levels that were clearly “modern”, that is 19th Century onwards before we reached our first surprise. We began to find large amounts of charcoal. As we excavated we realised that the charcoal was not confined to an area but was evenly distributed across the whole floor. We began to suspect but our expectations were not confirmed fully until we went beyond this level into the next one. Below this charcoal level was 18th century ceramic. So the charcoal was sandwiched between the 18th and early 19th centuries. Such a uniform layer of charcoal could only mean one thing – a large fire and we were probably looking at a collapsed timber roof. We knew then that we were staring directly at the Great Siege of 1779-83! Drinkwater tells us that the Staff-Quarter in Bomb House Lane, opposite the site of today’s Museum, was hit by a shell which burst on it on the 18th September 1781, which killed Captain Burke, the Town Major. It was, after all, at that time right up against the sea wall prior to the extensive reclamation works which began to take place the following century. We had captured a moment frozen in time.
Below the 18th century we found a 17th century level, rich in Spanish ceramic of the time. On one side there was a small and complete water conduction system. Its water must have flowed from south-west to north-east, almost certainly from the aqueduct which would have run along Line Wall Road into the area of the Baths. The water channel, which was 17th century, breached the base of the arch which had led to all this excitement. So the arch was slightly older than the channel, clearly Spanish and probably 16th century. The sixteenth century levels were also rich in Spanish ceramic. Below we hit a very different level. It was clearly earlier and the ceramic was very unusual. Now we would clearly recognise it, after four years of finding it in other parts of the town, but then we were not at all familiar with it. It was Islamic and it belonged to the Merinid dynasty, in other words to the 14th century re-capture of Gibraltar and, therefore, contemporary with the Baths. The European territory which the Merinids controlled was quite limited so even archaeologists used to excavating medieval sites in Spain were not very familiar with this ceramic. We dug deeper and, before reaching the geological layers, we found an even older level of occupation. This surprised us because we had assumed from historical accounts that there would be no construction here before the Merinids. Yet below here there was earlier Muslim ceramic, belonging to the late 12th and 13th centuries, belonging to the Muwahhidun (Almohad) dynasty – we had found evidence of the very foundation of the Medinat, the City of Gibraltar of Al-Mumin! Clearly this part of Gibraltar must have been built up in the 14th century, as described by Ibn Marzuq, but at least some constructions existed in La Turba in the very beginning. Eventually, we did reach the geological levels, the parent limestone bedrock with a cover, of course, of red sand.
It will be useful to recall here that the first record of any significant fortification on Gibraltar is significantly after the 27th April 711, when Tarik ibn Zeyad landed on the Rock. There may have been a fortification dating to this time but we have no evidence of it. The first reference is in the 11th century after the fall of the Caliphate of Córdoba and the fragmentation of the territory of al-Andalus into taifas (kingdoms). The king of the Seville taifa was al-Mutadid and, when he heard of the proximity of the Morabit (Almoravids) in North Africa, he wrote to the Governor of Algeciras ordering him to reinforce the fortifications of Gibraltar. Gibraltar features once again at the end of the 12th century when the Muwahiddun (Almohad) Caliph Abd al-Mumin wrote to the Granada and Seville Muwahiddun leaders expressing the desire to renew, populate and fortify the old city of Gibraltar. He sent two architects to meet with the representatives of Seville and Granada and put the works into effect. At this stage the Jebel Tarik was referred to as the Jebel al-Fath (the Mount of Victory). The intention was to create a well-fortified city in preparation of the planned Holy War to be waged on the rest of the Iberian Peninsula. The foundations of this city, named the Madinat al-Fath, were started on the 19th May 1160. The works included a grand mosque, a palace for the sovereign, others for his children and residences for the principal dignitaries. A water tank was made which was fed via channels from the Rock. Gardens were planted and the city could only be entered by a single gate – the Bab al-Futuh or Gate of Conquest. In addition al-Hayy Ya is, a famous engineer, built a windmill on the top of the Rock. In November of 1160, by which time the works were at an advanced stage, Al-Mumin crossed the Strait and held an assembly of the chiefs of Málaga, Ronda, Granada, Córdoba and Seville in the Madinat al-Fath. He returned to North Africa after two months and left his son Abu Said, Governor of Granada, in charge of the works. So at this early stage Gibraltar had a castle, city and a port and these is the earliest evidence that we have describing the transformation of the landscape. It is from this time that the museum level dates and we decided to name the new gardens outside as Al-Mumin’s Garden in honour of the founder of this first city. To date these are the only remains of this city to have been found anywhere in Gibraltar as all others date to the 14th century.
The sounding in the garden was very different. The first thing that we came across was a 19th century cobbled floor, perhaps a part of a patio. Below we never found Muslim levels but we did find a beautiful Spanish arch, which is visible today, which we considered may have been part of the structures related to the aqueduct on Line Wall. Inside the pit which we excavated we found broken ceramic which, when reconstructed took the form of a large ‘tinaja’ a vessel for holding freshwater. From its style we knew it was early 16th century and the area of origin somewhere between Grazalema and Ubrique in the Cádiz sierras. The aqueduct which we have referred to was the Spanish one. The Merinids had constructed an aqueduct in the 14th century which brought freshwater from the area of lower Witham’s to the town and as far as Grand Casemates Square from where the castle and the atarazana (and its ships) were supplied. This aqueduct had fallen into decay in Spanish times and it was they who in 1571 built a new one following the same line. The small structure with a conical roof which is on the eastern side of Rosia Road is the last surviving vent of this aqueduct had been abandoned by 1620 but which was subsequently repaired by the British. In the 18th century the aqueduct supplied water as far as the Parade (today’s John Mackintosh Square, or the Piazza). The original fountain was moved from its first location (in Fountain Ramp on the north-western corner of the Piazza) to where it can be seen today, in the boulevard just south of the Catholic Community Centre on Zoca Flank Battery.
We did our utmost to try and interpret the findings in the Museum with known historical sources. We had no information on the earliest settlement but we knew that the Baths had been constructed by the Merinids in the 14th century and the levels which we found had to be related to the Baths. Bravo’s (1627) plan showed a large house on this site, with grounds to its south where the present museum garden and the pool of the Bristol Hotel are situated. It showed elements of what appeared to be Muslim structures including a square tower at its north-eastern corner approximately in Bomb House Lane directly opposite the Deanery. The southern façade of the building shows a large archway which we have interpreted to be the archway that we found and which led to the excavations. According to Portillo this was the estate house (mayorazgo) of a Juan Serrano in the early 17th century. When the British took the Rock the majority of houses in the town had a single storey. This building was exceptional in having two and James comments that it was one of the best houses in Gibraltar at that time. Modifications and additions were made to the house from the 18th century onwards leading to its present layout. Within the Museum we found walls which were of 16th, 18th and 19th century construction. Appropriately, this building therefore provided us with an insight into the history of urban Gibraltar!
The scheme to make Main Street a pedestrian thoroughfare opened the next opportunity for excavation the following year. Encouraged by our success in the museum we jumped at the chance. We knew from Portillo’s account that the present Cathedral of St. Mary the Crowned had formerly been the Great Mosque, the largest of those built by Abu’l Hasan in Gibraltar. Since Portillo was writing over 150 years after the Spanish capture we had no guarantee that there had ever been a mosque here although he did cite the courtyard of the orange trees, where there were still marbles which resembled those of the Córdoba Mosque, and also having seen the removal of Muslim structures where the alter of the Name of Jesus had been erected. The conversion into a church had been carried out on the instruction of the Catholic Kings Ferdinand and Isabella in 1502 and their Royal Coat of Arms are still visible in the small courtyard outside the Chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes. We had no plans either that would help us in any way, a similar situation to that which we faced when excavating in Grand Casemates Square. The earliest plan was, once again, Bravo’s of 1627. It showed us the then church with a grand gothic western entrance extending well into present-day Main Street. To its north there was a walled courtyard which we speculated could have been the remains of the courtyard of orange trees of the mosque, similar though smaller to the one in Córdoba in arrangement. The 1753 map gave us a plan view of what was by then called the Spanish Church. Again we could clearly see that the western entrance was much further west than today and the plan also indicated that the gothic pillars were semicircular in plan view. To the north the patio, in the form of a cloister, was clearly shown. We also knew from old prints and references that the Spanish Church had been badly destroyed during the Great Siege and that its eventual restoration had been achieved early in the 19th century with the Governor’s permission but with a compromise. In order to have a straight street the western end of the church was to be cut back to its present position, the land having been sold for the sum of £1,000, and the intricate Gothic façade was destroyed. The present clock-tower was erected in 1820 and the cap and crown were completed in 1874 and 1906 respectively.
With this limited information, and not really knowing whether there was anything resembling a mosque anywhere, we started excavating in Main Street west of the Cathedral of St. Mary the Crowned where, from the 1753 plan we expected the old western entrance to the church to have been. During the first week we were only allowed to work in the southern corner, near the monument to the Royal Engineer, because the rest of the street’s surface had not yet been removed. What we found was very exciting but we needed to see the rest before we could place it in context. It was a well and it was full of ceramic, all of which was clearly 16th century and therefore Spanish. Most of this was later reconstructed and exhibited at the Museum. Inside we also found the remains of a human! Tantalisingly, immediately to the north there was a structure that looked like a wall but we had to wait…
The following week we started in earnest and our first objective was to trace the line of this wall. As we proceeded northwards we realised that the wall, which seemed to be a typical Muslim construction, using local limestone and red sand and lime mortar, had been breached by the younger Spanish well. That was excellent news as it confirmed the wall’s antiquity. This presented another problem, however. If this were an outer wall what would be the point of breaching it to make a well? That was answered for us by a map dated 1776 which the then Monsignor Charles Caruana, later Bishop of Gibraltar, produced one day. It showed this wall and in the position of the well the baptismal font had been situated! Hence the need to have a well there. Eventually we exposed the entire western wall, of Muslim construction but which had clearly been utilised by the Spanish as the perimeter to their church. The grand Gothic arches at the entrance were of Spanish vintage, with very different construction technique, and when we exposed their bases we were overwhelmed by the detail of the 1753 plan which showed them exactly as they were. It was even more stunning when we climbed to some of the terraces of nearby buildings to photograph the structure and saw it, so to speak, from the air. Throughout the length of the wall the red of the local sands was prevalent. In some places it was very deep. Certainly the limestone bases of the pillars went much deeper than we had time to excavate, beyond four metres, and throughout the sand supply was not exhausted. The artefacts recovered in the excavated trench were not many but Merinid ceramic, as well as more 16th century material, was recovered. We found the remains of many humans who had been buried, as was the custom among Catholics even in the 18th century, within the precinct of the church. Most were clearly poor people as we only found one gold ring and a few glass ornaments. The bodies had been covered in lime as was the practice then and the area of the church within which they were buried was rotated, there being four such areas available. At the end of the excavation we returned the remains to Monsignor Caruana for re-burial within the Cathedral. Most other people who died in Gibraltar were buried in the red sands outside Southport Gate until Lord Tyrawley, Governor, stopped the practice in 1756 as the burial ground was so close to the town’s water supply. So the Protestant cemetery was moved to North Front and the Jews’ one to Jews’ Gate on the Upper Rock.
As so often happens time ran out before we could complete the excavation although we did protect the structures in the hope that we could subsequently finish the excavation and perhaps expose a part. In the last few days we found, just north of the Muslim wall a water channel which was running on a gradient towards where the courtyard of orange trees would have been and we thought then that it could have been a supply channel from the Line Wall aqueduct. Months later we were able to conduct another sounding outside the Cathedral bookshop. Here we found the remains of another medieval wall which ran from south-west to north-east. It was the base of a wall which appeared in an early 19th century print with a sentry guarding a side entrance to the Spanish Church. Behind the door which the sentry protected an open courtyard can be seen. It seems that we had excavated the outer wall of the courtyard of orange trees and to commemorate the site we proposed that orange trees should be planted there. It is a joy to walk past that spot in the spring when the scent of the orange blossom almost transports us back to the days of Abu’l Hasan.
Another matter has also been left in the air. The conventional view is that the first settlers of the Rock were Muslims and we have no doubt that this is true. Nevertheless, at the northern corner of the excavation we found two Roman roof tiles but we were out of time to continue the search. This is very faint evidence, admittedly, but we were left wondering whether some of the wealthier Romans from Carteia had come to the red sands of Gibraltar and built villas there…
The evidence gathered from the excavations in the Museum and the Cathedral certainly has given us the impression that this part of the red sands housed important people. The Baths, which had traditionally been assumed to be public baths because of their size, follow the style of other private Muslim baths which are the propriety of important persons. Only down the road there was the mosque. Within the museum complex also there are other arches which may have been associated with a residence and we have the tower in Bravo’s plan. So perhaps James was right and this was the residence of an important person, perhaps even the governor himself.
From our point of view these excavations have confirmed the degree to which these areas of red sands, well south of the original castle and city, had been urbanised by the 14th century. To have important buildings such as these so close to the coast must have additionally required good defensive protection and Abu’l Hasan enclosed these areas with a fortified wall.
Then there is Gibraltar’s most important monument – its castle. The castle is, like all other Muslim structures that we have studied, the product of the Merinid strengthening of Gibraltar after 1333. Its construction, reputedly on the site of an older and smaller tower, was undertaken between 1342 and 1344. A number of authors have claimed earlier dates for the castle and James illustrated in his book an inscription which existed in his day in the Gatehouse and which he attributed to the 8th century. This was, however, disproved by the Islamic historian Leopoldo Torres Balbas who showed that the inscription actually referred to the Nasrid Yusuf I. The vaults within the Calahorra (Tower of Homage) were also considered to resemble those built in the reign of this monarch in other castles. It seems, therefore, that these may represent alterations done once the Nasrids of Granada had taken over Gibraltar from the Merinids in 1374. We may one day be able to confirm whether there are any pre-14th century structures in the castle but there is nothing visible today which suggests that this is so. The remains of the medieval castle of Gibraltar are the Calahorra, subsequently called the Tower of Homage as it appears that it was here that tribute was paid to the governor. It was also called the white tower at one time as it had been whitewashed around 1600 and the remains of this coloration can still be seen in places. The southern flank wall of the castle is largely intact although repaired on a number of subsequent occasions but much of it fell within the limits of the civil prison until recently and very little could therefore be done to study it at the time. Also within the prison keep were the two blind arches which could be older than the rest of the castle but which also require to be studied.
These, in all likelihood, were part of the Giralda, a barbican which protected the tower and which may have continued along the cliff edge upwards towards the site of the old Willis’s Battery where King Alfonso XI built a tower and shot his catapults onto the castle. The site of this tower, and of the Giralda, have been confused and taken to be the North Bastion (Baluarte de San Pablo), much lower down the Rock. It is clear, however, that the pre-Merinid castle consisted of a tower and the barbican which in combination with the cliffs formed a small citadel. The strengthening and enlarging of the castle in the 14th century extended the perimeter by adding a sea-wall which went from the atarazana at Grand Casemates Square, eventually reaching Europa Point. The process may have taken 17 years and the fortifications were nearing completion when King Alfonso XI once again laid siege in 1349. Once these lower areas had been secured, the town was able to grow on the lower slopes on the red sands and the natural environments, including the coastal ones, were significantly altered. The building of Charles V Wall in the late 16th century attempted to enclose the castle and town as a more conventional citadel.
The Gatehouse has been derelict for many years and deserves a better fate. It is a classical entrance to a medieval Muslim castle with two towers controlling the gate and a U-shaped vaulted passageway behind designed to slow down the advancing enemy while attacking them from above. The conical roof is 18th century and attributed to Portuguese workers when the Gatehouse was converted by the British into a magazine. Much of the castle itself, the Qasbah or Alcazaba, lies buried under the 1960s Moorish Castle Estate. It is sad to think how much was lost when this estate was built. This is the very part of the castle which would have had the governor’s palace and where Portillo tells us there were gardens with fruit trees, vines and vegetables as well as a forest and good hunting! Wyngaerde’s and Bravo’s sketches clearly show this part of the walled castle as an open area with trees. It is ironic to think that it may have been the very precinct of the castle, along with a few scattered gardens, that may have been the refuge of the native vegetation of the Rock when so much else was left barren…
Parts of the cliffs of the Rock probably resemble the original, pre-Muslim, conditions of this tiny peninsula. The rest, despite in some cases very evident beauty, is a human landscape. It is a microcosm of the world and of the way we have transformed, and continue to transform it. It is inevitable. We are the product of the same evolutionary processes that produced every other species that has ever lived on this planet. We are not unique despite our assumed self-importance and we are certainly not at the pinnacle of evolution. We are different, but then again, so is every other species. A number of attributes have allowed us to get to where we are today and these are totally the product of chance. We were in the right place at the right time, or if we are totally objective, at the wrong place at the wrong time!
We are the product of an evolutionary history and, as such, we will never be able to return to any point in that past. Too many branches emerge from each evolutionary event and the possible permutations are almost infinite. We should always be conscious of this fact. Only too often we seem intent on pursuing a romantic idea of returning things to what they were – that is impossible!
When our ancestors left the branches of an Afro-tropical jungle probably in response, as so often after, to the loss of our natural environment as climate changed we took a leap into an unknown which was to have no return. We took the leap which was to make us bipedal, which would make the open spaces of the savannah our natural environment, which would convert our plant eating machine into one which could handle most kinds of foods including meat and it also provided a template for our brains to enlarge and become the incredibly sophisticated computer that we each house in our skulls. That brain allowed us to learn how to make tools (although we are not alone in possessing this skill), to evolve language (not alone there either) and to modify our environment (again we are not unique in that respect either). So the set of events which made us what we are also gave us the capacity to do what we have done to the planet but it also gave us the capacity to realise this and to try to put things right. Unfortunately, many of the other genetic attributes of our species more often than not get in the way. So we continue blindly, in the mistaken belief that we own this planet, until one day we will be gone. Our extinction will be very different from all other previous ones – this time we will take the planet down with us!
We were amazed at a recent congress how people still tried to draw the distinction between the “savages” of prehistory and the “civilised” people that came after. How can we define and delimit all this? The Modern humans who survived on hunting and gathering lived (some tribes still do) on this planet for at least 100 thousand years. We then became dependent on agriculture and we have, so far, survived 10 thousand years. The civilised world as we call it is even younger. If we then turn to the Neanderthals, which many of us still regard as ape-like brutes, we find that they survived for over 300 thousand years and that their extinction had nothing to do with our incorrectly perceived superiority (Chapter 1). As members of the self-appointed civilised world we should wait at least another 90 thousand years before we can pass judgement on those who came before us, that is, assuming we have the intelligence to survive that long!
Where did we go wrong? It was not premeditated. We began to control our environment and increase its carrying capacity when we discovered agriculture. We no longer needed Nature; we played god and tamed it. Since we had increased the carrying capacity of our environments we were able to rear more offspring to survival and that led to the exponential population growth that, subsequently aided by the industrial revolution and by technology, has got us into the mess we are in today. Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) recognised the problem in his Essay on the Principle of Population:
“Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence only increases in an arithmetic ratio.”
The planet simply is not designed for so many of us and as our population continues to grow so will the problem become worse. Let us hope that our brains are not fast enough to allow us to escape the problem by developing the technology to colonise other planets. Let us keep this little failed experiment within the confines of the Earth.
The history of the changing landscape of Gibraltar is, therefore, a reflection of this massive transformation to which we have subjected Nature. That anything resembling the natural remains is a credit to Nature’s resilience and the only ray of light that might give us some hope. Pristine Gibraltar must have been one of the most wonderful places on Earth. We saw in Chapter 1 how the Neanderthals, and later, ourselves were treated to a rich larder of natural resources which were exploited without disrupting its integrity and harmony. At that stage we were in tune with the cycles of the seasons and we lived in peace in Eden.
It could not stay like that for ever. We changed it! To some degree we changed it more slowly in Gibraltar than elsewhere. We lived in a geographically privileged location and we were able to continue to live harmoniously with Nature by tapping the resources of the sea (Chapter 2). That connection with the sea was to persist in all our activities from then on. The sea-level rise of 10 thousand years ago characterised the nature of the link between people and the sea in Gibraltar.
Thus, the Neolithic peoples of the Rock continued to fish for millennia and it was they who developed the traditional link with the migratory tuna. That link was exploited on a larger scale when the Romans entered the region and they introduced a new element – commercial exploitation and export! Despite these massive changes there were relatively few of us around to cause any long-lasting damage. That would come. The richness of the seas around Gibraltar, caused by the proximity of the North Atlantic and its cold currents, continued to be legendary in the 16th century and even as recently as the early 20th century. We killed it all. Today we have no oysters, let alone those the size of the ones we found in Casemates; whales are all but gone from our waters; the Monk Seals that must have lived along our rocky shores have disappeared from almost the entire Mediterranean; the Ospreys that fished off our coasts went in 1936; fish stocks have dwindled… The last Shags continue to breed near Gorham’s Cave as they have done for at least 100 thousand years as our excavations show. How much longer can they survive the onslaught? We grew up with the sea and we have killed it and we do not even know now (Chapter 2) whether we are Cain or Abel!
The sequence of events since the first city of Gibraltar was built is one of transformation after transformation. The reasons varied from military to domestic but never in that history did we really stop to think what we were doing to the jewel that we so loved. The Muslims showed great reverence for the Rock in their poems but did not follow it up with deeds. Nor did anyone else after that for that matter. What were the major transformations? Can we list them? If we return to the previous chapters we will find that we can.
First there was the building of the city of Gibraltar in the 12th century. That set the basis for the future. In the 14th century we began to tamper with the coastline by building walls that would protect us from our brothers the enemy. We were well experienced by then at not respecting each other, our own species, so how could we be expected to show mercy to anything else? We then fought for this land and destroyed each other’s work and Nature suffered in the process. In the 16th century we decided that our defences were not strong enough so we struck a new line wall across the middle of the Rock, ripping the woodland in the process. Fewer than two centuries later we bombarded the place and took it over under a different flag once more. What did we do then? We continued to rape the land. We scarped the cliffs and slopes so that it would be even more difficult to be defeated next time our neighbours coveted the Rock. We built bigger and better walls and practically ruined the coastline. Not satisfied with annihilating the outside we turned to the inside and started removing huge amounts of the Jurassic rock which had been there for a mere 200 million years. We called it tunnelling. In the process we ripped up caves and, where necessary, blocked up others lest our brethren might get to us that way. They certainly tried and they spent over three years bombarding the Rock which they so loved. Everything was, once again, in ruins. We celebrated our victory. Did we spare a thought for the land? Peace in the 19th century gave us the freedom to concentrate on doing more damage. We continued the tradition of destroying the coastline and built yet another set of walls and docks for ships with an ever-greater destructive capacity, in case this peace came to an end. We never considered that in continuing this way one day we might have nothing worthy of defending! Realising that we had removed most of the trees that grew once on the Rock we tried to make amends, or did we? We planted trees to provide shade for ourselves as we pursued the continuing bellicose effort, not really out of a concern for Nature. We substituted what was natural with the exotic. Today Gibraltar is a pot pourri of the trees of the world. We crammed so many of us in this tiny land that we ran into difficulties. One was lack of water. So we tamed Nature again. We covered the sand slopes of the eastern side with metal sheets and removed the food source of the eagles that had nested on the cliffs above since the days of the Neanderthals. So they too left. When, for reasons of war, we closed the Upper Rock at the turn of the century we gave Nature an inadvertent hand – it could not have been any other way. See how she responded by giving us the wonderful Upper Rock of today. How long for? We all claim the right of access but with it we do not exercise the responsibility of the custodian. We are very rapidly ruining our little gem. The destruction is not restricted to the outside. We continue to do our very best to damage our better caves, because we think we know it all and our egos get in the way. The destruction is not confined to the natural either. We do not seem to care much either for the legacy which those before us have left us. Surely we have reached a point when we can take stock of where we have gone wrong. The first step towards that recognition would be to respect the legacy left to us by those who came before, even if it represents errors committed in the past. We must do this if we are to avoid chaos. Rene Dubos observed that humans can adapt (via culture) to:
“…starless skies, treeless avenues, shapeless buildings, tasteless bread, joyless celebrations, spiritless pleasures – to a life without reverence for the past, love for the present, or poetical anticipations of the future.”
On the other hand he also added that:
“…it is questionable that man can retain his physical and mental health if he loses contact with the natural forces that have shaped his biological and mental nature.”
We are totally out of touch by now. The early builders at least used the raw materials of the land so that the products of their actions bore some aesthetic harmony with the land. We had to ruin that too, bringing in exotic products and building each time higher and higher until we succeeded in obliterating even the imposing silhouette of the Rock.
When Lord George Forbes came here and built his battery Gibraltar was already a pitiful image of what it had been when the lady whose skull was found in the quarry named after him had lived. In the course of our uninhibited blasting we did not just destroy what else there would have been in that site, we took it all the way and obliterated her home. Symbolically we did what we had been doing and have continued to do till now…