The People of Gibraltar
1567 - Anton van den Wyngaerde - Gibraltar - Part 1


Anton van den Wyngaerde - known in Spain as Antonio de las Viñas - was a brilliant Flemish draughtsman best known for his panoramic sketches of many of the principal European cities of the day. 


Self portrait of a well covered Anton van den Wyngaerde drawing a picture of the city of Jaen - he was about 40 years old at the time

In 1561 he was commissioned by the Spanish King Philip II to draw 62 meticulous representations of the principal cities of his kingdom. Gibraltar was among them. These drawings or detailed sketches, perhaps the oldest extant annotated pictures of the Rock, are rightly considered to be not just of artistic but of historical importance.



The Bay of Gibraltar - The overall plan (Original held by the Ashmolean Museum Oxford)
The Rock of Gibraltar (Detail from overall plan)


The rather strange spelling of Gibraltar - as  “Gubelaltar” (see LINK) - is attributed to Anton’s phonetic transcription of how he pronounced the word - which he actually spells correctly elsewhere in a separate drawing. There are of course other interpretations.


Van den Wyngaerde's panoramic scene of the Bay is ironically too big for our digital age. Our screens are too small to appreciate the fine details. I have therefore taken the liberty of dividing the plan into five sections from left to right - north to south - as well as manipulating them here and there to make for easier reading.



Section 1

Not just this section but the entire bottom part of the plan is unlabelled. None of the intervening rivers along the Bay from Gibraltar to Algeciras such as the rivers Palmones and Guadarranque (see LINK) are shown. Perhaps of interest are the well tended farms and gardens on the left all of which would almost certainly have been owned and worked by inhabitants of the Rock. 


Section 2

F = La Fozze del Diablo - La Torre del Diablo - Devil's Tower. (See LINK) This monument was unnecessarily destroyed during World War II for supposedly defensive reasons. It was done so on the orders of the Governor of Gibraltar, Lieutenant General Mason. It was of unknown origin but was reputed to have been used as a look-out tower when the levanter cloud made it impossible to use the top of the Rock for such purposes. It has also been suggested that at some time in the past the isthmus may have been covered by the sea and the tower surrounded by water.


P = el Castyllo - The Moorish Castle - (See LINK) Probably the oldest extant Moorish structure in Spain and never given as much importance as it probably deserves if only for that reason. On the far left on the isthmus sands is the Torre del Molino - not labelled - which was destroyed during the Great Siege (see LINK) and was of unknown origin.  Bottom left is possibly Punta Mala.



Section 3

A = Sta maria eglyesia mayor - The Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned. - Originally a Moorish mosque, the 16th century version was bigger than that of today. (See LINK) In 1810 the remnants of a Moorish courtyard - or 'Patio de los Naranjos' - were partially destroyed when the Governor, General Robert Boyd, proposed the widening and straightening of the narrow section of Main Street in front of its entrance.

B = La misericordia - Nuestra Señora de las Misericordias (see LINK) - However  . . A 1627 map by Luis Bravo (see LINK) suggests that this building may have been on the western or eastern sides of today's Mackintosh Square, (see LINK). Wyngaerde's positioning does not correspond with either of these.

C = Sto juan de Lezan  - Iglesia de San Juan de Letrán (see LINK). This was a 16th century church. It was supposed to have been situated on the southern side of today’s Cornwall Parade - a position which more or less corresponds with that shown on the plan.

M = Cueve de Sto mychyl - St Michael's Cave - For quite a while after 1704 the British tried to change the name to St George's Cave - it never caught on.

Q = La guardya de dio - La Guardia del día. This was known to the Spaniards as as El Hacho - and as Signal Hill by the British. It was essentially a look-out station for ship movements in the vicinity of the Straits and the Bay. The drawing shows what appears to be a flag, but the system was based - at least during the British era - on the hanging of visible black leather balls attached to the cross beam of a long mast.

Curiously the Old Mole (see LINK) is missing. Instead Wyngaerde has sketched what appears to be a breakwater of some size well to the north of where one would have expected it to be. On the right hand side of the breakwater is the Puerta de Mar (see LINK) with what appears to be a sandy ramp just in front of it. This would have been the area in which galleys were dragged into the dockyard area within the Barcina and into the atarazana - a long domed building which was built probably in the mid 14th century just behind the Waterport 



Section 4


D = Sto francisco  - Convento de San Francisco. (See LINK) - Today this building is the residence of Governor.  In 1567, however, it was still a Franciscan convent. It was built in 1462 when the Spaniards finally recaptured Gibraltar from the Moors. Extensions and alterations were being carried out when Wyngaede drew it but there is little evidence that it ever had the dome-like structure depicted on this particular drawing.

E = nro sra del Rosario - Ermita de Nuestra Señora del Rosario - This 16th century church is correctly positioned close to La Puerta Nueva - Southport Gates - which is also clearly shown on the drawing. It was used for many years as guard house by the British.

N = La torre de los tarfes. The southern end of the Rock was divided into Los Tarfes Altos - Windmill Hill - and los Tarfes Bajos - a lower area above several coves on the south western side of the Rock. This tower, which no longer exists, may possibly have also been called La Torre de los Genoveses. (See LINK) According to Alonso Hernández del Portillo (see LINK) in his Historia de Gibraltar:
En este Tarfe esta una torre antiquísima dicha ahora de los Genoveses. no se sabe porque se le dio este nombre; a lo que de ella se pude conjeturar es que por estar esta torre en correspondencia de otra que est fuera de esta ciudad casi de la misma fabricación de ella en lo alto de la sierra de la Carbonera, la  debieron de hacer los Cartaginenses o Romanos para avisar a Carteya de las armadas que venían por la mar.
It sounds a rather unlikely theory. Others have argued that it was of Moorish construction, yet others that there was once a small thriving Genoese community living in the area of los Tarfes hence the name of what might have been one of their main buildings.


O = Aqui fu La Batalla de don Henryco - This is a reference to Don Enrique Perez de Guzman, the second Conde de Niebla who drowned just below the Line Wall at this spot during his failed attempt to take Gibraltar from the Moors in 1433. (See LINK) His body was decapitated, placed in a wicker basket - a barcina - and hung near the water gate in full view of any passing ship. It stayed there until Gibraltar was recaptured by his grandson in 1462. For many years, the area of town just behind the water gate - today's Casemates - was known as La Barcina.

G = La torre torto - La Torre del Tuerto. Portillo suggests that its original name may have been La Torre del Puerto. As with the old Mole I can’t make out any new mole either.

H = Ceuto - Ceuta - The town on the opposite side of the Straits of Gibraltar on the Barbary Coast. At the time of the drawing it belonged to Portugal but it would one day be part of Phillip II’s empire.


Section 5

I = El Puento de Carnero - Punta Carnero 

K = Azegires - Algeciras - A rather small town in those days.

L. La Cymera - Mount Abyla, the second Pillar of Hercules. (See LINK

The small self portrait gives the viewer an idea of where the artist positioned himself in order to draw his picture.

Wyngaerde also seems to have drawn a preliminary sketch for his final plan of the Rock with the same captions as he ended up using in the final version as shown above. 


Preliminary sketch of the Rock and Town

Although very similar to the final version there are several curious differences between the two drawings. For a start he gives us a sketch of a chapel found inside the Castle. 



Detail on the lower left hand section of the preliminary sketch of the entire Rock


This sketch shows the inside of the chapel in the Calahorra tower, as well as the coffin which had been placed there. The text for the coffin reads as follows:
La sepulcra donde estan Los ossos Dol Condo de neblos coberto do Brocado.  
In other words the sepulchre in which the remains - or bones, if one takes the text literally - of poor old Don Enrique Guzmán, Conde de Niebla. The brocade may have been made of silk with gold or silver threads. My guess is that the covering was ordered by his son, Don Juan de Guzman. The bones would not stay there for much longer as according to a somewhat sceptical Alonso Hernández del Portillo writing in the early 17th century:
En un aposento (del Castillo) están los huesos del conde de Niebla Don Enrique de Guzmán, que murió sobre esta ciudad,  de cuyos descendientes fue algún tiempo, como se dirá, adonde de ordinario se dice misa por su anima, se que han tenido y tienen buen cuidado los Duques de Medina sus sucesores. 

Otros creen que estos huesos son de Don Juan de Guzmán primer Duque de Medina, a quien los Moros la entregaron. Quito de esta fortaleza esta memoria el Duque don Alonso año 1612 y pásola a Sanlúcar a la Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad.

Comparison between the Rock as it appears on the preliminary sketch (bottom) and the final version (top)


The top plan is more carefully drawn than the bottom one in which, for example, the Castle is simply represented as a shapeless structure. But perhaps one important difference is that the breakwater on the northern side does not appear at all on the preliminary sketch. What does surprise - yet again - is the lack of a proper Old Mole on either version.

Nevertheless I must say that I can find it very easy to forgive Anton for whatever mistakes he may or may not have made - in fact I can only thank him for having left such a wonderful record of what my home town looked like all those years ago.

See also the following links:

1567 - Anton van den Wyngaerde - Gibraltar - Part 2
1567 - Anton van den Wyngaerde - Gibraltar - Part 3