The People of Gibraltar
1726 - John Durant Breval - St Michael's Dwarf-Wall

John Durant Breval, born 1680, was an English classicist,  a military man who was a confidant of the Duke of Marlborough and a man of many talents. He travelled throughout Spain and Portugal several times and published his experiences in 1726 in two volumes.


As he himself expresses it in his book - 'the investigation of antiquities was' his 'principal aim throughout'. Nevertheless the section in his second volume on Gibraltar - which he refers to as a town that 'cannot be new to my countrymen who have been twenty years in possession of this important place' - does offer several worthwhile comments some of which are included in the quotes below.  They are of particular interest in that they were written by somebody who was not just a tourist but had actually been a resident of Gibraltar. 


Book first published in 1708

The pictures are all either from his book or from engravings taken from them at a later date. 

Algeciras
 . . is remarkable only at present for the ruins of a Moorish wall of prodigious solidity, which lye partly buried in the sea and partly under earth, weeds and rubbish  . . . 




Gibraltar 
To say nothing of the present State of Gibraltar, (which cannot be new to our countrymen, who have been twenty Years in Possession of this important Place) I shall only inform the English Reader, that the foundations of  the town; are said to have been laid here first by the very same Hercules, whom I have so often had occasion to mention in the foregoing pages. . .

The most remarkable curiosities of this wonderful Rock (which yields as great a variety of noble prospects as can possibly be expected in a scene of this Nature) are the famous Cave, the Moorish Castle called Torre del Omenage, and the old Reservoirs or subterraneous baths towards Europa Point. 

St Michael's Cave
The first of these Places has its Orifice or Entrance (behind an old dwarf-wall) more than half way up the Hill, and almost in the very steepest part of it on the side of the Bay (for the other towards the Mediterranean is inaccessible) among briars and shrubs, through which the Path that leads to it is found with some difficulty, unless by such as have trod it at least twice or thrice before. 


St Michael's, although no sign of the 'Dwarf-Wall' 

For three or four paces the mouth of this cave, like that of the Sibyl's Grott near Baize, is narrow and low; but expands itself by degrees the farther you advance, till at last by the help of torches or lanthorns (with which people usually provide themselves on these occasions) you are amazed to find yourself under a vault of great height, and of an extent  every way proportionable, which vault or arched roof, as well as the sides, and natural pillars that support it, seems at first sight to be cut out -and wrought into innumerable figures and ornaments not unlike those of a Gothic Cathedral.. . . .

The Spaniards, who never fail of some astonishing tradition wherever there is an old Castle or Cavern of more than ordinary  depth, believe and relate a thousand extravagant stories concerning the place in question, and have made the Moors bury incredible treasures there, at the time when they were forced to give up Gibraltar to Henry IV King of Castile ( see LINK )

Probable it is indeed that many of the Infidels might retire to this cave from the rage of the Spaniards upon that occasion, choosing rather to perish here with cold and famine, than to lie at the mercy of their conquerors, as we have good reason to conjecture from the many skulls and human bones that have been found here at several times. 

St Michael's is not the only cave in Gibraltar that is supposed to have hidden treasure. Another is the as yet unidentified Cueva de la Paloma which may have been located somewhere in the southern section of the Rock. Whatever he might have meant about a 'dwarf-wall', it has long since disappeared. 


Moorish Castle
The Castle or Torre del Omenage, (so called from a certain homage the Maghrib Kings or Governors were used to receive in it from their subjects or slaves) ( see LINK ) was built about eight hundred Years ago, according to the Spanish historians, and (tho' little more than the outside wall is now remaining) has still a great air of majesty; and from several tracks of gilding, sculpture, Arabic characters and mosaick, shows that the Architect had no less an eye to its beauty, than to its strength and duration. 

The walls are of an immense thickness . . . . and built of a kind of brick cast with marble, upon the northern part of the rock, and had likewise communication with the Bay by the means of a long gallery or corridor, part of which is yet standing over the Landport Gate. 


Reservoir of Water ( The Nuns' Well )
The great cistern or reservoir of water, (which some pretend served as a bathing-place for the Moorish Kings) is a square chamber under-ground, the arched roof of which is supported by three or four Rows of square pillars, much in the same manner (allowing for the difference in height and bigness) with the Piscina Mirabilis near Baize. 



Of the 'old reservoirs' towards Europa point only one seems to have survived - if there ever was more than one. It is known today as 'the Nuns' Well'. ( See LINK