The People of Gibraltar

2013 - Gates of Gibraltar - Tiene Tres Puertas Muy Grandes


Fernando Perez Pericon's book ( see LINK ) contains a long panegyric on Gibraltar. It includes the following lines;

Vuelvo pues a la ciudad. 
Tiene tres puertas muy grandes,
Una sale al Medio día, 
Si bien del monte no sale.
La de la mar, al occidente,
Y la de tierra el levante. 1

To write about the history of the gates of Gibraltar is to enter a world of some confusion and much conjecture.1, 2 There are innumerable problems. For a start there were very many more than the three gates mentioned in the poem. In medieval days there were at least nine but hardly any of these have survived making it hard to know where or when they were built. Others have either changed their names or were known over the years by more than one - sometimes in three different languages. Some are only mentioned once in the entire literature. 

Gates are usually the weakest link in any type of fortification and Gibraltar has always been famous for being the very essence of a fortified town. Constant improvement and additions to these over the centuries by Moorish, Spanish ( see LINK ) and British ( see LINK ) engineers, have taken their toll and today we have been left with five. Four of them - Waterport, Landport, Southport,  and Ragged Staff - sharing not even  a passing resemblance to what they once looked like - while the other two - Prince Edward's,  and the 20th century addition, Referendum Gate, remaining more or less unchanged from when they were built.

Gibraltar's principal street, today's Main Street or Calle Real, once took its cue from two of its gates. The section from Waterport gate to the Church of St Mary the Crowned was called Waterport Street - the Spaniards called it Calle de la Mar - from Puerta de la Mar. The area in front of the church was called Church Street during the 19th century but the continuation towards the south became Calle del Muro or Southport Street. 3


Early 20th century postcard

In fact, throughout their history, the gates have been not just places of exit and entry but also used as landmarks to determine official boundaries. In the early 17th century, Alfonso Hernández del Portillo's constituency as local judge mentions an area defined by both la Puerta de Mar and la Puerta de Tierra. 4 That of his colleague, the judge Pablo de Escot included la Puerta Nueva and la Puerta de los Baños. 5

To make it easier to read I have divided this article into separate sections each dealing with a particular gate. A click on each will take you to appropriate chapter.