Travel In Spain: Around Gibraltar


To the voyager entering the straits of Gibraltar, the “rock” presents a bare and almost barren aspect, especially, when the summer suns have dried up the verdure; but as he approaches he discovers a considerable clothing of vegetation, and closer acquaintance reveals the existence of an extensive flora. Here and there a grassy glen gives shelter to a group of trees, and the villas of the English residents are surrounded with luxuriant gardens and copses.

Gibraltar is emphatically a fortress, and in some respects its fortifications are unique. On. the eastern side the rock needs no defense beyond its own precipitous. cliffs, and in all other directions it has been rendered practically impregnable. Besides a sea-wall extending at intervals round the western base of the rock, and strengthened by curtains and bastions and three formidable forts, there are batteries in all available positions from the sea-wall up to the summit 1,350 feet above the sea; and a remarkable series of galleries has been hewn out of the solid face of the rock toward the north and northwest. These galleries have an aggregate length of between two and three miles, and their breadth is sufficient to let a carriage pass. Port-holes are cut at intervals of twelve yards, so contrived that the gunners are safe from the shot of any possible assailants. At the end of one of the galleries hollowed out in a prominent part of the cliff is St. George’s Hall, 50 feet long by 35 feet wide, in which the governor was accustomed to give fetes. Alterations, extensions, and improvements are continually taking place in the defensive system, and new guns of the most formidable sort are gradually displacing or supplementing the old-fashioned ordnance.

Gibraltar was known to the Greek and Roman geographers as Calpe or Alybe, the two names being probably corruptions of the same local (perhaps Phoenician) word. The eminence on the African coast near Ceuta, which bears the modern English name of Apes’ Hill, was then designated Abyla; and Calpe and Abyla, at least according to an ancient and widely current interpretation, formed the renowned Pillars of Hercules which for centuries were the limits of enterprise to the seafaring peoples of the Mediterranean world. The strategic importance of the rock appears to have been first discovered by the Moors, who, when they crossed over from Africa in the eighth century, selected it as the site of a fortress. From their leader Tarik ibn Zeyad it was called Gebel Tarik or Tarik’s Hill; and, tho the name had a competitor in Gebel of Futah or Hill of the Entrance, it gradually gained acceptance, and still remains sufficiently recognizable in the corrupted form of the present day.

The first siege of the rock was in 1309,. when it was taken by Alonzo Perez de Guzman for Ferdinand IV. of Spain, who, in order to attract inhabitants to the spot, offered an asylum to swindlers, thieves, and murderers, and promised to levy no taxes on the import or export of goods. The most memorable siege of Gibraltar, indeed one of the most memorable of all sieges, was that which it sustained from the combined land and sea forces of France and Spain during the years 1779-1783. The grand attack on the place was made on the 13th September, 1782, and all the resources of power and science were exhausted by the assailants in the fruitless attempt. On the side of the sea they brought to bear against the fortress forty-six sail of the line, and a countless fleet of gun and mortar boats. But their chief hope lay in the floating batteries planned by D’Arcon, an eminent French engineer, and built at the cost of half a million sterling. They were so constructed as to be impenetrable by the red-hot shot which it was foreseen the garrison would employ; and such hopes were entertained of their efficiency that they were styled invincible.

The Count d’Artois (afterward Charles X.) hastened from Paris to witness the capture of the place. He arrived in time to see the total destruction of the floating batteries, and a considerable portion of the combined fleet, by the English fire. Despite this disaster, however, the siege continued till brought to a close by the general pacification, February 2d, 1783. Since 1783 the history of Gibraltar has been comparatively uneventful.