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Moorish Castle

As we have already mentioned, the Moors were another people to leave their mark on Gibraltar and their legacy can still be seen today. Take a look at the Moorish Castle, also known as the Tower of Homage, on the north west shoulder of the Rock as you look towards the runway.

In 1160, Abdul Mamen, Caliph of Morocco, ordered the building of a town with a castle and other fortifications on the northwest side of the Rock. The tower you can see today was built in 1333, after Abdul’s original tower was destroyed in one of the many sieges of Gibraltar. But since then, it can pride itself on having withstood 10 sieges without ever yielding to the enemy.

The Moorish Castle is located 1.8km north of the Cable Car top station and can be accessed on foot. If you are interested in visiting the castle today you will be required to purchase a Nature Reserve ticket. These are available from the souvenir shop, just ask a member of staff for assistance.

City Walls

Now take a look at the old City Wall – a thick wall which extends north to south towards the airport runway. Parts of this wall were originally built by the Moors to surround and protect their town.

When the Spanish occupied the Rock, they used the Moorish walls as foundations on which to build higher and more extensive defences. Later on, the British further extended and improved these defences. Later on, the British further extended and improved these defences. At the time the waters of the bay came right up to the City Walls. Today one can see that extensive reclamations have increased the size of the City into what were the waters of the Bay.

Great Siege Tunnels

During the American War of Independence, large numbers of British troops were sent away to fight. With the threat that the Spanish and French might take advantage of this situation and invade, the British governor sought to improve the defences to the north by locating cannons on top of a rocky outcrop high on the north face.

In order to place guns on the cliff face Seargent-Major Ince suggested a tunnel be dug through the Rock. In May of 1782 a new corps of soldier artificers started work on the tunnel. The work was very slow and arduous. The smoke and dust created by the blasting made breathing difficult so a hole was dug into the side of the tunnel for ventilation. When they did this, the troops realised that the hole not only provided them with fresh air, but was also an ideal location for a cannon. So more holes were dug in the side of the Rock. The guns were eventually located within a chamber dug inside the rocky outcrop in what is now called St George’s Hall. The many metres of tunnels excavated are an impressive feat of engineering and are known as the Upper Galleries or the Great Siege Tunnels and are open to visitors today. Seargent Major Ince was rewarded with the grant of some land, which is still known as Inces’s Farm.

It was also during The Great Siege that a Lieutenant Koehler solved the problem of how to fire the cannons from a high point down onto the besieging forces; he invented a cannon called a “depression gun” which made it possible to fire downwards. This had previously been impossible because the cannonball would roll out of the barrel. You can see an example of Koelher’s depression gun at Casemates Square at the end of Main Street in the old town.

The Great Siege Tunnels are located 1.6km north of the Cable Car top station and can be accessed on foot. If you are interested in visiting the tunnels today you will be required to purchase a Nature Reserve ticket. These are available from the souvenir shop, just ask a member of staff for assistance.

San Roque

Now take a look at the small town just perched on top of a hill on the other side of the border: San Roque.

When the Anglo-Dutch fleet captured the Rock of Gibraltar in 1704 (audio wrong ‘1703’), a large number of Gibraltarians decided to leave and seek refuge near the St Roche hermitage. Quite soon, a new town was established alongside the hermitage; this town was named San Roque. The people of San Roque continued to regard themselves as Gibraltarians and in royal documents San Roque was referred to as “The City of Gibraltar in San Roque”. The coat of arms of San Roque is exactly the same as Gibraltar’s, a castle with a key hanging from its gate. Over them is a royal crown. This coat of arms, symbolising the strength of this fortress and considered the “key to these kingdoms”, was granted to Gibraltar by the Catholic Monarchs of Spain in 1502.

La Linea

The town situated just on the other side of the border in Spain is called La Línea de la Concepción – you may have come through La Línea on your way to Gibraltar.

The name “la línea” means “the line” and refers to the line of trenches and batteries built by the French and Spanish armies in 1780 in an attempt to recapture Gibraltar during the Great Siege. The Great Siege lasted for four years. The French and Spanish did not succeed in their aim and the Rock remained impregnable. This was to be Spain’s last attempt to take Gibraltar by force.

Northern Defenses & Land Port Gate

Among those involved in building the Rock’s many tunnels was the corps of Soldier Artificers, later renamed The Royal Engineers, which was formed here in Gibraltar in 1772. After the Upper Galleries they built another much more sophisticated series of tunnels and chambers which they called the Northern Defences. This corps of engineers was granted the freedom of the City in 1965 for their contribution to the defence of Gibraltar.

There are in total more than 53 km of tunnels inside the Rock, excavated over a period of 218 years. You may be surprised to learn that Gibraltar has more kilometres of tunnels within it than it has roads on its surface! You can travel the length and breadth of the Rock on its internal roads without seeing the light of day.

Part of the Rock’s Northern defences is Landport Gate, which the British built in 1729 on top of one of the original Moorish gates. This gate was at one time the only access to the town by land.

During the many sieges to which Gibraltar was subjected, the town’s gates were closed at sunset. Once closed, the watchman would hand over the keys to the Governor, shouting:

Male voice: “Sir, the Fortress is secure and all’s well!”

This is now celebrated every year during The Ceremony of the Keys.

Queen of Spain’s Chair

Look at the mountain that stands in front of the Rock, on the peninsula side. Known to Spaniards as Sierra Carbonera, it is called the Queen of Spain’s Chair because of a curious historical event.

It is said that during one of the many sieges of Gibraltar, the Queen of Spain sat on the top of this mountain to watch the battle and declared her intent not to come down until the Spanish flag was flying at the top of the Rock. On hearing this the British governor appeared to accede to her demands by ordering that the Spanish flag be hoisted. However, the flag was taken down again as soon as the Queen had come down from the mountain!

Runway

Unless you travelled to Gibraltar by sea, you will have crossed the airport’s runway to get here. It was largely built using the rock that was blasted during tunnelling operations within the Rock during World War II. But, until 1940 when the runway was completed, Gibraltar was connected to the peninsular by only a thin strip of land – or isthmus.

The runway is now more than one and half kilometres long. During the Second World War, this runway played a key role in Operation Torch – the Allied invasion of North Africa led by the then Lieutenant General Dwight D Eisenhower, later to become President of America.

During the Second World War, when there was fear of a German invasion, the Rock’s tunnel system was massively extended. As a result the interior of the Rock was able to house the entire garrison of 17,000 soldiers. It also contained workshops, command headquarters, a power station, supply depots and even a hospital. In fact, the German invasion never materialised, but this subterranean infrastructure proved immensely useful for the Allies.

The Rock’s tunnels have also been used much more recently as a supply centre for the Falklands War.