The People of Gibraltar
1331 - La Puerta de Mar - Back to the Future

Abd-al Mu'min and Abu l'Hassan - Ferdinand IV and Alonso Pérez de Guzmán
Charles V  and Alfonso XI of Castile - Admiral Alonso Jofre Tenoria
William Skinner and William Green - James Gabriel Montressor
General Trigge and the Earl of Chatham - Lieutenant General John Adye
Enrique IV of Castile and the Duke of Medina Sidonia

Tracing the origins of the northern sea gate or gates of Gibraltar is yet another historical nightmare for the amateur historian. The problem is threefold. For a start there were so many of them and secondly the majority were created to access the town through defensive walls which were constantly being either built or improved upon or indeed demolished. Worse still, the words 'Waterport Gate', 'Waterport' and 'Water Gate' are used indiscriminately by various authors when referring to a plethora of gates found in different places. 

Casemates Gates - built on the site of the original Moorish water gate - and part of the old market square ( Late 19th century - Unknown )

Up to the middle of the 12th century there was no real town on the Rock and no need for any gate. But even after the Almohad Emir Abd-al Mu'min ( see LINK ) had completed his little project and founded Medinat-al-Fath - the first blue-print for the town of Gibraltar - he probably never bothered to build a sea gate. The town was confined within walls that protected the castle and the main to 'town' faced more or less south - the so-called Bab-al-Fath - rather than towards the sea. To the west lay a sandy beach. There was no mole at that time and boats and galleys were simply dragged up on to the sand. 

In 1309, Ferdinand VI of Castile ( see LINK ) with a little help from Alonso Pérez de Guzmán ( see LINK ) captured the Rock. One of his many innovations was the construction of a galley house or atarazana. According to the medieval Cronicas de Fernando IV;
É otrosi mandó labrar una atarazana desde la villa fasta la mar, porque esloviesen las galeas en salvo . . . 1

Recent Casemates excavations - the remains of the atarazana ( 2007 - AquilaGib )

There was no mention of any sea gate and there probably was no need for one. Ships could still be easily dragged up on to the beach and into the atarazana wherever necessary. It is hard to believe that there was no gate giving access to the town from the atarazana area, but if there was I can find no reference to it anywhere. 

During Alfonso XI's failed attempt to recover the Rock from the Moors in 1331 2 the Spanish Admiral Alonso Jofre Tenoria found himself unable to sustain his attack on the Rock because  his Moorish enemies had constructed a palisade of tall, thick wooden poles right across the beach and in front of the atarazana. There is no mention of a gate and the very need for a defensive palisade suggests that there was none.  

By the mid 14th century with the Rock back in Moorish hands, the Marinid ruler, Abu l' Hasan ( see LINK ) ordered general improvements to be carried out on his newly acquired estate in Al Andalus. His efforts included the construction of a line wall.
Abu l Hasan again applied himself further to strengthen Gibraltar, by causing a thick wall to be built at the foot of the Rock, surrounding it on all sides as the halo surrounds the crescent moon  . . . 3
This well known quote is an exaggeration - the line wall only extended along the western shores from what was later known in Spanish times as the Baluarte de San Andres in the north up to what would eventually be the New Mole in the south. Later it was probably extended beyond this point and along Europa point. 

Nevertheless, this is the moment when the very first 'Water Gate' was created in order to allow traffic from the bay to get through Abu l Hasan's line wall and into the town. If it had a name, it would have been a Moorish one and I don't know it. What I do know is that it had an arched entrance which was protected by two strong defensive towers. The passageway itself used a common Moorish design with right angled bends. 4

In 1462 Christian forces finally managed to retake the Rock from the Moors in the name of Christianity and Enrique IV of Castile. ( see LINK ) Seven years later we have a definite sighting. An important sea gate was definitely in place in 1469 as it is specifically mentioned in a decree by Enrique IV when he ceded Gibraltar to Enrique de Guzman, Duque de Medina Sidonia. 5 

Curiously it seems quite possible that there were in fact two gates. An entrance to the atarazana - which is referred to as the Puerta de la Atarazana - and another for foot passengers - Puerta de Mar, or Puerta de la Mar. Some historians 6 believe that the two names referred to are one and the same gate and quote contemporary authors who only make mention of a single sea gate. 

But there may have been a good reason why these authors failed to mention the second one. During the beginning of the Spanish era, and prior to the construction of the Old Mole, the water would still rise right up to the dockyard making it easier to bring the galleys ashore. However, by the time the Old Mole had been built in 1570 some serious silting had taken place. ( see LINK ) The evidence suggests that the atarazana gate had outlived its purpose and it sea facing entrance had been bricked up. 7

The above is backed by Thomas James in his History of the Herculean Straits which was publishe in 1771;
. . . the ordinance shed on the esplanade, the place where they built their gallies, which was launched through a large arch, on the north of Water port; 
It was during the Spanish cycle of improvements to Gibraltar's fortifications carried out on the instructions of Charles V ( see LINK ) and continued during the next 60 years, 8 that the gate  normally refer to as the Puerta de Mar first makes its appearance as an identifiable element in a contemporary maps and sketches. It is usually depicted as a more or less fortified structure just north of the Old Mole itself.

Puerta de Mar is shown as an opening on the line wall in the middle and bottom of the picture. The Old Mole which would lie to the south of the Puerta de Mar has not yet been built. A breakwater juts out from a beach area just outside the town walls ( 1567 Anton Van Den Wyngaerde - detail ) ( see LINK

A strongly fortified Puerta de Mar just to the north of the Old Mole  ( 1608 - Cristobal de Rojas ) ( see LINK )

Drawing of the Puerta de Mar  as seen from the west ( 1627 - Luis Bravo de Acuña - detail ) ( see LINK

This new version of the gate was probably not built directly in front of the atarazana - in what was now known as the Barcina area - as the shoreline had now receded to such an extent that all thoughts of dragging galleys into it had long been abandoned.

One would also guess from the information available from various maps that the actual design of the gate changed over the years, mostly perhaps entailing those changes that were necessary to keep its defences up to date. 

When the British took over the Gibraltar in the early 18th century, the entire line wall defences were further improved upon by a succession of British engineers such as William Skinner, ( see LINK )  William Green ( see LINK ) and  James Montresor. ( see LINK ) Although maps suggest that various external changes to the single gate may have been carried out over the years, its actual position of seems to have remained unchanged. 

Pre Great Siege map showing Waterport Gate ( 23 ). The old atarazana - the rectangular building behind it - has been left high and dry but is still roughly in line with the gate. ( 1780s - Johann Argathelu - detail  )

It has been suggested that in 1804, the then Governor General Trigge was responsible for improving the gate. Whether this was true or not in 1824, John Pitt, Earl of Chatham the Governor at the time did have the original gate widened. In 1859 Major General Savage, the Commander of the Royal Engineers, opened a new entrance for pedestrians and twenty five years later in 1884 it was the turn of yet another Governor, Lieutenant General John Adye, ( see LINK ) to inaugurate a second gate beside the original one to ease traffic into and out of Casemates. A further pedestrian gate was added later. The gates came to be known as the "Grand Casemates Gates on site of Water Gate."

View of the Moorish Castle and the old town from the market place showing a single gate on the line wall  ( 1881 - Tristam Ellis )

In the early 19th century there was an added complication. In 1823 British engineers decided to build a new defensive wall. Orange Counterguard, later known as Chatham's Counterguard, lay just in front of the older curtain wall with the wharf and the Bay to its west.  It meant that another entrance was required. This one - somewhat confusingly known as Waterport Gate - was built in 1825. 9

Photograph showing the Old Mole at the top, a six sided wharf top right, a single Waterport Gate through Chatham's Counterguard and in the centre and diagonally from it but in line with the wharf, the vehicle and pedestrian gates built on the site of the original Puerta de Mar, today known as Grand Casemates Gates ( 1870s  - G. W. Wilson ) ( see LINK

The gate to the right of the vehicle and pedestrian Casemates Gates was not a passageway through to the market. It probably led into the building which appears on the top of the wall ( 1860s - Unknown )

The old Gibraltar market place selling vegetables, fish and eggs and then known as the Moor's Market now found itself between sandwiched between two defensive walls. A 'new' market inaugurated in 1876 ( see LINK ) was built in the same spot as the old version. Although one would have imagined that an improvement to traffic flow from the wharf to the market would have been a priority, the single gate remained the only access into town from the sea. In 1902 a second vehicle gate was finally built to cope with extra traffic and a year later the pedestrian gate was reconstructed 10 presumably for aesthetic reasons. 

The two vehicle Waterport Gates as seen when entering the market from the wharf and towards the Casemates Gates. The pedestrian passageway is hidden on the right  ( Early 20th century - Unknown )

On the left the two vehicle Water Gates and single pedestrian passageway ( Early 20th century postcard )

Guards at Waterport Gate   ( Early 20th century postcard )

View of the two Casemates Gates through one of the Waterport Gates ( Unknown )

By the beginning of the 20th century with the advent of motor vehicles and a rapid increase in both tourism and commerce both sets of gates were finding it difficult to cope. In 1927, the authorities decided that something had to be done and hit on the rather drastic solution of demolishing the three Waterport gates as well as those sections of Chatham's Counterguard which stood on either side of them.

Area of Chatham's Counterguard which was demolished in 1927 together with the three Waterport Gates - as identified by the sign on the side of the wall on the left

Grand Casemates Gates - on the site of the ancient Moorish Water Gate, was now and still remains, the only direct northern entrance to the town from the sea ( Unknown )