Ragged Staff Gate
100 Ton Gun
Ceremony of the Keys
Once across the runway you enter the new part of town. To your right is the marina and high rise apartments, all built on land reclaimed from the sea. Reclamation started in the late 19th Century and goes on today.
Within the marina complex there is the Admiral Casino. In addition to a restaurant, bars and gaming rooms, there is a balcony from which you can see the sun set whilst watching the last flights of the day arrive at Gibraltar International Airport. The Casino is also the home of Monkey Bingo. I have never worked out if that is a type of bingo game or a tongue in cheek reference to the Barbary macaques that inhabit the Upper Rock and often skirmish into the town itself. There is more information about the Casino here. (www.thegibraltarcasino.com/)
As you approach the older part of town you will start to see the massive fortifications that surround Gibraltar. Built on walls founded during the Spanish occupation ( 1462 – 1704), they are now primarily the legacy of Britain’s occupation after 1704. The main defensive wall is Line Wall and that runs all the way from the northern part of the defences, North Bastion, down the western side of the town as far as South Mole. Line Wall has a number of Bastions, fortified positions, built into it.
There are a number of gates through which you can enter the old town itself, the first two are for pedestrians only and both take you into Casemates Square, the social hub of Gibraltar with bars, restaurants, shops and the Gibraltar Glass Factory. The Glass Factory has an exhibition based on the history of glass making and demonstrations of glass blowing, all free.
Landport Gate was originally the only gate into Gibraltar and is situated at the northern end of the town. It was rebuilt in 1727 and takes you through the depth of the defensive walls. By the end of the 18th Century there were five gates that gave access to the town, Landport, Chatham Wicket, Waterport, Southport and Prince Edwards’ Gate.
During the 18th and 19th Centuries, every evening, at sunset, the Governor of Gibraltar would relinquish the keys to the four gates, Landport, Chatham Wicket, Southport and Prince Edward’s that gave access to the old town and garrison, (Waterport was fronted by the sea although I am pretty sure it was kept locked at night), to the Port Sergeant who, with his escort, would lock each of the gates. He would then return the keys to the Governor. In the morning the process was reversed to open the town. Each Saturday morning a group of volunteers re-enact the ceremony in period costume and can be seen on Main Street.
Chatham Wicket no longer exists. It was in fact a drawbridge that gave access to the Old or North Mole from Chathams Counterguard, the entry through the counterguard is now cemented up. During the Great Siege the guns on that mole gave the Spanish such a hard time they, the Spanish, called the mole Devil’s Tongue. The mole followed the line of Waterport Road and
Following Line Wall the third gate encountered is Waterport in the north western side of the defences. It penetrates Line Wall. As the name suggests it gave access from Casemates Square directly to the sea before the land was reclaimed. It has now been renamed Casemates Gates and consists of three gates, one opened in 1727, the second in 1859 and the third in 1884.
Line Wall continues past King’s Bastion, now a family activity centre with bars, restaurants, cinema, bowling alley and skating rink.
Following Line Wall down the western side the next gate to appear is Ragged Staff Gate. The first gate was cut through Line Wall in 1736 and gave access to Ordnance Wharf. Two further pedestrian gates were constructed in 1843 and 1921. Pass through Ragged Staff and to your left is Charles V Wall. Ragged Staff Gates are therefore outside the defensive perimeter of the old town formed by Line Wall to South Bastion and Charles V Wall.
Charles V Wall was constructed in 1550 and helped protect Gibraltar from the Barbary pirates who had taken to raiding the town for booty and slaves. The wall runs from South Bastion, which was at the water’s edge in 1550, to Prince Edward’s Gate which is at the foot of a cliff, part way up the Rock. Prince Edward’s Gate dates from 1790. The upper section of the wall runs from the top of the cliff a little further south in a zig zag to the summit ridge. Today you can walk up the wall just as the defenders could in the 16th Century. Still looking up at the Rock you will see another wall running from the top of the cliff above the first section of the Charles V wall. Originally thought to have been build by the Moors, it was known as the Moorish Wall. However more recent research reveals that it was built during Phillip II’s time, around 1575, as a further defensive measure to support the Charles V wall. It is sometimes now known as Philip II Wall and to confuse the issue even further you will sometimes hear it called by the name it was known during the Spanish period, the Muralla de San Reymando. On the summit ridge above the Moorish Wall there was a signal station with a small tower that has now gone.
Inset into Charles V Wall between South Bastion and Flat Bastion are a set of gates that were originally called Africa Gate, together now known as Southport Gates. The first two were built in 1552 and 1883, the third and widest gate is Referendum Gate and that was opened in 1967.
Just to the east of Southport Gate, on the outside of the Charles V wall and beneath Flat Bastion is the Trafalgar Cemetery. Consecrated in 1798, the cemetery was then called Southport Ditch Cemetery and it was only in use until 1814. Despite its current name only two of the graves belong to men who fought at the Battle of Trafalgar, Captain Thomas Norman of the Royal Marine Corps serving on HMS Mars and Lieutenant William Forster serving on HMS Colossus.
From the Trafalgar Cemetery it is a short distance to the Cable Car that takes you up to the top of the rock. Once at the top you will find, open to the public, within walking distance, the Homage Tower, Second World War tunnels, Great Siege Tunnels, Apes Den and St Michael’s Cave. At the time of writing (March 2015) the ‘City Under Siege’ Exhibition was closed for renovations. Details of prices and times are here. (www.gibraltarinfo.gi/gibraltar-cable-car.aspx)
Back at ground level there is still plenty to see. Just south of the Cable Car Station are the Alameda Gardens. Lieutenant Governor George Don instigated the gardens in order to provide a scenic walk for visitors and residents. They were opened in 1816. In addition to a host of Mediterranean plants there are some endemic to Gibraltar in a special bed near the cafe. There is also an African bed and an extensive cactus garden.
Further south, mounted at Napier of Magdala battery is the 100 ton Gun or Rockbuster. Built by the Elswick Ordnance Company in 1882 it was one of the largest guns of its time. Weighing in at 103 tons and firing a shell weighing 2000 lbs (910 kg), the gun had an effective range of 6,500 yards and a claimed maximum range of 8 miles although it probably never achieved more than five miles (8,046 metres). It required a steam engine to traverse and elevate the weapon. It took 30 minutes to raise steam and 35 men to crew the engine and gun. The battery is now an exhibition centre, well worth a visit.
Finally, at the very southern tip of Gibraltar you will find Europa Point. At longitude 36.10 North it is just pipped for the title of most southerly point of mainland Europe by the Punta de Tarifa (36.00 North) a few kilometres west.
Punta de Tarifa however does not have a mosque which makes the grandly and eloquently named Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque, also known as the King Fahd bin Abdulaziz al-Saud Mosque or the Mosque of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, the southernmost mosque on the European mainland. It was opened in 1997 and was a £5 million gift from King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. Facing south towards Morocco it is a powerful symbol for the 1000 or so Muslims living in Gibraltar.
On the flat area on top of the cliffs at Europa Point you will find a large children’s play/adventure area, a cafe, Europa Point lighthouse, the Shrine of Our Lady of Europe and
Harding’s Battery has been restored and there is a small exhibition set up in the magazines below the gun mounting.
During the 16th Century it was traditional that mariners passing Gibraltar would fire a cannon in honour of Our Lady of Europe, a statue that was housed in the Shrine of Our Lady of Europe. The shrine was originally a mosque, built during the Moorish occupation in the first years of the 14th Century. It was turned into a Christian shrine after the final Spanish conquest of Gibraltar in 1462. The small statue of the Virgin seated with the Child Jesus on her lap was installed in the shrine in the 15th Century. Mariners would often come ashore with gifts for the shrine, echoing a Phoenician practice some two thousand years previous, and supplies of oil for the lamp that burned in the tower above the chapel. The shrine became Gibraltar’s first lighthouse.
In 1540 Gibraltar was raided and looted by Barbary pirates. The town and the shrine were sacked but the pirates respected the statue and left it behind, although every other valuable in the shrine was taken. The statue was not so lucky in 1704 however. British soldiers looted the shrine and broke off the head of the Virgin and threw it into the Strait. The wooden head floated into the Bay of Gibraltar where it was found by a Spanish fisherman. He delivered the head to Juan Romero de Figuero, the priest in charge of the parish church of St. Mary the Crowned. Juan smuggled the statue with its detached head to Algeciras where it was repaired and housed in a small chapel that was then named the Chapel of Our Lady of Europe.
Meanwhile the shrine and every church on Gibraltar, apart from St Mary the Crowned which later became the Roman Catholic Cathedral, had been taken over by the military. During the Great Siege the shrine was so badly damaged that it had to be demolished and subsequently rebuilt. The structure you see today is the ‘new’ shrine. In the early 1860’s the Vicar Apostolic of Gibraltar petitioned for the return of the original statue from Algeciras. Surprisingly, in 1864, it was returned. The shrine was still in military hands so the statue had to be kept in a new chapel built on Engineer Road. It remained there until the Second World War when it was removed to the Cathedral for safekeeping. After the war the statue was again on her travels, this time to St. Joseph’s Parish Church which was the closest church to Europa Point.
In 1961 the shrine was ceded to the Diocese by the military authorities. Following restoration work the shrine re-opened for mass in 1962. Finally on the 7th October 1967 the statue was taken in a public procession, from St. Joseph’s back to her place in the shrine.
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