The People of Gibraltar
1469 - Puerta de Tierra - To Keep the Enemy Out

Puerta de Tierra, Puerta de Villa Vieja, Puerta de España, the Land Gate, Landward Gate, Landport Gate, Landport Tunnel - whatever people wanted to call it, it was for many years the most important gate in town.

There is good evidence that it was already in existence  in 1469, as Enrique IV of Castile 1, mentions it in his decree conceding Gibraltar to Enrique de Guzman.  Although the date of its original construction is unknown to me it probably dates from either the very start of the Spanish period in the late 15th century - or even more likely from the Nasrid or Merinid period of the 14th.

In the mid 16th century a certain amount of remodelling must have taken place when the Italian engineers Giovanni Battista Calvi and Amadeo Agosstino were employed by the Spanish authorities to redesign the northern and other defensive walls. 2

In 1599 at the King's own command, Luis Bravo de Acuña rebuilt the entire gate and its surrounding walls reinforcing its defensive qualities by creating a moat in front of the north facing side that reached right down to the sea. By the mid 17th century it also acquired a newly  designed bridge of well dressed stone as well as a drawbridge. 3


The remodelled double gates of the Puerta de Tierra on the left and the heavily fortified Puerta de Granada above it ( 1625 - Luis Bravo de Acuña )

In 1624 Philip IV of Spain undertook a tour of Andalusia. He spent only one day in Gibraltar but it was  enough to leave behind a legend. Arriving by land from Sanlucar de Barrameda - capital town of the Duke of Medina Sidonia's - he was met by the Governor of Gibraltar, who happened to be Luis Bravo. All went well until they tried to enter the town itself  through the Puerta de Tierra and found that the Royal carriage was too wide to get through. The Duke of Medina Sidonia, who had accompanied the King was furious and made his displeasure known to Bravo. Why had he not anticipated the problem and had the gate widened appropriately.

Taken aback but far from dismayed Bravo is said to have replied that the gate had not been designed to allow carriages into town but to deter the enemy from entering. He might have been tempted to add that he had designed the gate himself. 4

La Puerta de Tierra was historically  one of the main gateways into Gibraltar from Spain. The other was La  Puerta de Granada. ( see LINK ) The latter was built in line with and just below the former and almost at sea level. The two gates were of similar construction with defensive towers on either side, although the Puerta de Tierra was rather less heavily built. 5 It was one of several entry points into the area of Gibraltar known as La Barcina ( see LINK


La Puerta de Tierra with the Puerta de Granada top left before the former was rebuilt by Luis Bravo de Acuña   ( 1567 - Anton Van den Wyngaede ) ( see LINK

Right through the  17th century the Puerta de Tierra was probably the main gate that led out of town and towards Spain making it important enough to have its own specific warden or governor. 6 By inference this suggests that the other northern gate - la Puerta de Granada - which led into Villa Vieja may have been either less popular or no longer available to the ordinary resident. In fact as far back as 1561, the literature suggests La Puerta de Tierra was the one and only gateway into town from land. 7

It is known that the name of the gate was changed to Puerta de España during the Renaissance in the late 15th century. 8 It suggests that the name of the gate may have been changed shortly after Gibraltar was transferred to the Spanish Crown in 1501. In 1637, perhaps in keeping with its new name, the front was decorated with two stones taken from nearby Carteia with rather inconsequential Latin inscriptions. 9

Almost immediately after the capture of Gibraltar by the British in 1704 the gate was identified as a weakness.  Among  a few other defensive improvements, it was armed with twenty cannon and the area in front of the moat was inundated making it an important obstacle to any approach from the north. 10 In 1726 at least one author mentions the existence of a long gallery or corridor which connected the Gate with the Moorish Castle further up the slop of the Rock.11 

A year later it was badly damaged as a result of the 13th Siege 12 and in 1729 the gate itself was reconstructed by the British. It was now called the Landgate. In 1751, however,  Jas Montressur - Gibraltar's Chief Engineer - proposed a new facade to the entrance facing Spain. It now seems to have been known as Land Port Gate. A quick comparison between the proposal - as shown in the picture below - and the gate as it appeared during the Great Siege - suggests that the proposal was put into effect. The design is also probably definitive as it looks very similar to that which exists today.




Northern facade of Landport by Jas Montressur, Chief Engineer of Gibraltar

By the time of the Great siege in the 1780s, a double palisade had been constructed along the middle of the moat and the inundation was strengthened by adding obstructions such as chevaux de frize - the equivalent of barbed wire in the 18th century - iron hoops and other inconveniences. 

To make doubly sure, the glacis in front of the gate was mined, 13 although from the evidence of several pre-Great siege maps, both the introduction of palisades and mining may have been carried out in the early part of the century. 


Q = Mines, R = Double palisade, S = Stone bridge, T = The Landgate - Landport Gate. The main area to the left of the gate once known as the Barcina is today's Casemates  ( 1704 - Col D'Harcourt - Detail )

Throughout the Siege Landport was directly in the line of fire and must have been damaged and repaired more than once with various reinforcements to the ditch and the bridge carried out periodically.14  During the well known event known as the Sortie ( see LINK ) the Anglo-Dutch forces exited the town through the sally port just below the actual gate under cover of darkness. 15


Landport gate, Sally port, bridge and ditch during the Great Siege. The ghostly figure top right is meant to represent the Governor, General Eliott  ( 1779 John Spilsbury ) ( see LINK )

The Peninsular Wars Landport again made Landport gate a matter of serious concern for the British authorities. At a time when Napoleon's Generals were wandering around threatening British held Tarifa, the Governor of Gibraltar at the time, Lieutenant General Sir Colin Campbell,  felt obliged to propose a series of major reinforcements. His overly ambitious plans involved increasing the size of the ditch so that it extended all the way from Landport to Waterport Gate adding several new drawbridges and floating bridges across it.

Not content he also wanted to fill the ditch with water so that it would become a proper moat and - more dramatically - do away with the gate altogether by filling it up and leaving only a gun embrasure. The proposal was sent to London by Lieutenant Colonel Sir Charles Holloway, Gibraltar's chief engineer, was reviewed by Major General Morse and by a committee that included Col William Fyers ( see LINK ) - both of them also at one time or the other chief engineers at Gibraltar - and was dismissed as ridiculous. A  twelve page reply by the committee destroyed every one of Campbell's arguments and the plan was never put into practice. 16

By the end of the 19th century the entrance had lost much of its importance as Casemates Gates took over as the main exit and entry by land into Spain. It was now known as either Landport Gate or Landport Tunnel. 


Top of Landport Gate. The front of the gate dates from its reconstruction in 1729 ( Unknown )

The commemorative plaque is incorrect. La Puerta de Granada was originally the only way into Gibraltar. Nor did it ever witness the first five sieges. It had yet to be built.