The People of Gibraltar
1627 - Luis Bravo de Acuña - The Insect Intruder

Luis Bravo de Laguna and Giliberto de Bedoya.
Cristóbal Messia Bocanegra and Andrea Castoria,
Gaspar de Guzmán, Conde de Olivares


The Bay and Straits of Gibraltar

Don Luis Bravo de Acuña - Caballero de la Orden de Calatrava, de los Consejos de Guerra, y Hacienda de S.M. e igualmente Su Embajador de Venecia y Gobernador de Cádiz, Virrey de Navarra, General de Guipúzcoa, y Gentilhombre de la Cámara del Infante Cardenal - was no ordinary man in the street. 

Born in the late 16th century he was already a soldier of considerable repute. In 1611 he was put in charge of all military forces and Spanish galleys in Portugal and shortly after was made overseer of all the galleys of Spain and Italy.

It is thought that Bravo was a nephew of Luis Bravo de Laguna ( See LINK- another Gibraltar engineer who was responsible for designing one of Gibraltar's most well-known medieval buildings - La Torre del Diablo or The Devil's Tower. It no longer exists but it once formed part of a series of beacon type towers constructed along the Spanish coast line of the Campo and beyond in the 1580s. The actual builder of the Devil's Tower is thought to have been Giliberto de Bedoya.


The Devil's Tower ( Early 20th century photograph )

Today Luis Bravo is better known - at least in Gibraltar - as the engineer responsible for  writing an extraordinarily detailed report on the state of the Rock's fortifications as well as recommendations for converting them into the 'Modern Style' which was developed by Italian engineers previously sent to the Rock by Charles I and Philip II.


The Northern Defences


Detail of the plan shown above. Bravo used three colours - grey for older defensive structures, red for those that had been repaired and yellow for any new work that had been carried out from 1625 to 1627

In 1627, Bravo arrived in Gibraltar flourishing a Royal Letters Patent signed by Phillip IV of Spain. He had been instructed to check and improve upon the fortifications of both Gibraltar and Cadiz. A recent unsuccessful English naval attempt to capture the Spanish port had highlighted the weakness of its defences. The Spanish authorities were now worried they would be unable to repulse a second attempt - this time perhaps against Gibraltar - by a newer and even more powerful English Fleet.


The Northern and Bay defenses

Bravo had already visited the Rock a short time previously. For this second visit, however, his instructions allowed him to do more whatever he fancied as regards surveying the Rock's and its fortifications. The letter, addressed to Cristóbal Messia Bocanegra - the mayor and military Governor of the Rock and to his minions, stresses that;
. . . . in everything and for everything they should comply with all orders that you ( Bravo ) might give them referring to the said fortifications and constructions on the mole, in the manner that they should and ought to be done when you are in that city.

Middle section of the Rock showing the New Mole and the Red Sands area

During his relatively short stay he prepared a series of incredibly detailed plans. They are supposed to have been drawn by Andrea Castoria, another royal engineer who was a resident in Gibraltar. Bravo must have thought highly of Castoria.  When he visited Tarifa that same year for a similar review of its fortifications he took Castoria with him. 


The Old Mole - in a state of disrepair. The circled building is the Torre de San Andres. To its left is the Puerta de Mar and its defences.

The end result of the Gibraltar project was a series of proposals all of which were included in Bravo's report to Gaspar de Guzman - Gibraltar fortificada: por mando de el Rey nuestro señor D. Philippe IIIº. Consejo, y cuidado de D. Gaspar de Guzman, Conde de Olivares, Duque de Sanlucar - an imposing title for an imposing piece of work. All the pictures in this article - apart from that of the Devil's Tower - are from the report.

Olivares, incidentally was a renown map and atlas collector and probably owned  innumerable views of Spanish towns perhaps even others of Gibraltar. Unfortunately he left his collection to the Escorial Library when he died, and most of it perished in a fire in 1671.


The Moorish Castle and its defensive walls. The insect drawing is difficult to understand. It does not appear on the original map from which the one on the left is taken

Bravo's report, which was essentially an atlas, was not among those destroyed and eventually found its way to the British Library. Those lucky enough to be able to view them will be able to appreciate any number of beautifully detailed maps, drawings and diagrams showing the state of affairs at the time and proposals for the future. For the uninitiated - such as me for example - it is quite hard to distinguish between them. 


Perhaps the oldest extant map of the town of Gibraltar.

Technically many of Bravo's maps give semi-realistic perspective views that are almost planimetric. They give the uninformed map reader a very good impression of the layout of the Rock and its town. 

One can gather from his report that on the whole Bravo found himself reasonably satisfied with the state of Gibraltar's defences. He found them all 'en buen estado'.  It was a surprising conclusion when one considers the continual criticisms levelled against Gibraltar's fortifications at the start of the century.


The South. The buildings - circled or otherwise - are from the left, the Torre de los Genoveses, an unknown structure,  the Nun's Well, the Hermita de Nuestra Señora de Europa and another small unknown building


Detail from main map showing on the right the Convent of St Francis and its gardens and on the left la Puerta Nueva, Baluarte del Rosario and Charles V's  Wall


A truly exceptional book from which many of the illustrations in this article are taken from