The People of Gibraltar
BC - The Names of the Bay of Gibraltar

Baia de Gibraltar y Algeciras   (1658 - Pedro Teixeira Albernas )  (See LINK)

There are plenty of classical references to the names given to the Rock over the centuries - and even more for the Strait of Gibraltar. The Bay of Gibraltar, however, is another story. Gibraltarians on the whole embrace whole-heartedly the fact that the Rock was once known as Calpe or indeed Mons Calpe, and hardly an eyebrow will be raised if they were told that the Strait was once known as Fretum Ibericus or perhaps Fretum Gaditanum. However, any suggestion that the Bay might have been referred to in the past - or might be called by some in the present - as the Bay of Algeciras will raise many a hackle.  

The reason for what is invariably a disproportionately passionate response is of course political - the causes of which lie outside the scope of this essay but are well known to every Gibraltarian. What follows is simply what I believe is the history of the changing fortunes of the very few known names of the Bay in question.

The Bay from Sierra Carbonera with the ruins of Carteia bottom right   ( 1829 - Edmund Patten )

Carteia: The original local Iberian inhabitants as well as the Phoenician, Carthaginians and Greeks who later traded with them probably had a name for the Bay of Gibraltar - but we don't seem to know what it was. Perhaps it took its name from Carteia - or from its original Phoenician name of K'r't - which according to the 1st century Greek geographer Strabo was founded in 940 BC and remained the principle city in the Bay for at least 1500 years.

The Romans: During its more or less last 500 years of existence the Phoenician name for the Rock of Gibraltar- Kalpe - had been extended by the Romans to Mons Calpe but again I can find no mention of a Bay of Mons Calpe. One problem was that the ancients had the notion that the Atlantic Ocean began immediately beyond the Pillars of Hercules. In other words to them there probably there was no Bay. According to the 1st century BC historian Livy in his History of Rome:
Laelius meantime sailed down the strait into the Ocean and came with his fleet to Carteia. This city is situated on the coast of the Ocean, where the sea begins to open out after the narrow entrance.

An early 18th century map confirming  the confusion shown by early travellers as regards the position of the Bay in relation to the Strait - the second map corrects the caption of the Bay of Gibraltar and places it in a more logical place  
( 1730 - J. Fielding, J. Sewell, J. Debrett )

The Battles in the BayIt was at the start of Roman dominance in Iberia that what might claim to be the first recorded battle within the Bay took place. During the very early third century BC, Adherbal, the Governor of Gades, acting against the term of their surrender to the Romans made an attempt to leave Carteia with a large fleet. As his ships moved out of the Bay he was met by the Roman admiral Gaius Laelius who tried to block his escape. The Carthaginians lost but a storm intervened and Adherbal managed to make his escape. Interestingly most historians refer to both the location and the name of the battle as the Bay and Battle of Carteia respectively. 

Yet another battle was fought in 46 BC between one of Caesar's lieutenants - Gaius Didius  -and a Pompeian fleet under the command of Publius Attius Varus. It took place inside the Bay and very close to Carteia. Despite the relative importance of these historical events none of the commentators actually name the Bay.

Jebel Tariq: The Rock hardly seems to have been affected by its rather dramatic involvement as the stepping stone to the Moorish Conquest of Spain and it must have taken another couple of hundred years before the Rock acquired its new Arabic name of Jebel Tariq  - the mountain of Tarik -  honouring the name of the Berber general Tariq ibn Ziyad (see LINK) who had started the conquest by landing his invasion army either on the Rock or somewhere along its isthmus.   

According to the British historian George Hills, the earliest extant record of the words in its original Arabic script are found in Abd el-Hakem's History of the Conquest of Spain which was published in 9th century:
After that Tarik went to llyan (Count Julian) who was in Septa (Ceuta) on the straits. The latter rejoicing at his coming, said, I will bring thee to Andalus. But there was a mountain called the mountain of Tarik ( Jebal Tariq ) between the two landing places, that is, between Septa and Andalus.

Jebal Tariq in Arabic script

Despite its nice new name Jebel-Tariq  seems to have remained a generally uninhabited backwater for centuries. In fact it was another Moorish city Al-Jazirah al-Khadra - the modern day Algeciras - that prospered during this period. Carteia had long since ceased to exist and it was it Al-Jazirah that became the Bay's prominent port.

During the 12th century AD, the first Almohad Emir - Abd al Mu'min (see LINK) - crossed the strait and built Gibraltar's first known town. He called it Medinat-al-Fath and the Rock became known as Gebel-al-Fath - the Mountain of Victory. The name never really seems to have caught on and Jebel-Tariq became the most widely accepted name for the Rock.

The corruption from Jebel-Tariq to Gibraltar - pronounced as if it were "hibraltar " - was almost certainly a Spanish creation as must have been the name of the Bahía de Gibraltar.  The oldest example of the use of this name in a search through the literature reveals that it was already in use in 1540 by Pedro Barrantes Maldonado (see LINK) who mentions it in his Dialogos. 
¿En la bahía de Gibraltar, cuando entraron los turcos . . .?

La "vaya" de Gibraltar ( 1608 - Cristobal Rojas  )   (See LINK)

The mid-16th century Spanish polymath Pedro de Medina also mentions the Bay in his Cronicas de Medina Sidonia:
 . . . . llegaron  á  la  bahía  de Gibraltar,  donde  el  conde  de  Niebla  salió  de  su  galea . . . .
The phrase then becomes a commonplace among Spanish historians and writers right up to Ángel María Monti for example who calls it the Bahía de Gibraltar throughout his version of the history of the Rock which was published in 1851.

Although probably unprovable it seems logical that the English version - a straight translation into the Bay of Gibraltar - must have taken place sometime after the Spanish version became the norm. I can find very few Spanish or English maps dating from before the 18th century in which the Bay is identified by name. However after 1704 and after the capture of the town (see LINK) by Anglo Dutch forces during the War of the Spanish Succession, Gibraltar became international news and a whole raft of maps were produced by English, Spanish, French, and Dutch map publishers in which the Bay invariably appears as that of Gibraltar.

Gibraltar Bay - English  ( Early 18th century - Charles Prince )

Bahía de Gibraltar - Spanish ( Early 18th century - detail - Unknown )

Baja de Gibraltar - Dutch Map  ( Early 18th century - Carel Allard )

Golfo de Gibraltar   (Early 18th century - Louis Boudan - detail ) 

The Great Siege of Gibraltar also proved a boon to map-makers everywhere with similar results. Everybody called it the Bay of Gibraltar.

Bay van Gibraltar - Dutch  (1738 - J Van Keulen - detail )  (See LINK)

Gibraltar Bay - English  ( Late 18th century - E.Vidal )

Bahía de Gibraltar - Spanish ( Late 18th century - Caballero ) 

Baie de Gibralter - Dutch  ( Late 18th century -Johann  Martin Will )

Baye de Gibraltar - French  ( Late 18th century - unknown )

The oldest example of the modern alternative of Bahía de Algeciras that I have been able to find turns out not to be that modern. It appears in España Sagrada which was written by Enrique Flores in 1749:
 . . .se halla con más de siete leguas de mar que hay entre España y África por causa de la Bahia de Gibraltar, y Algeciras . . . 
Several years later in 1787 Vicente Tofiño de San Miquel mentions it again in his Derrotero de las Costas de España:
A entrar en la Bahía de Algeciras y Gibraltar . . . 
From then on it appears periodically on numerous 19th century maps - Spanish, English and French.
Bay of Algeciras - English  ( 1829 - Unknown encyclopaedia )

Baye d'Aleciras (1821 - Calmet-Beauvoisin )

La Bahía de Algeciras - Spanish (1896 - La Importancia Militar de Gibraltar )

The name also appears in any number of modern maps and publications not all of them of Spanish origin. For example an Encyclopaedia of World's Coastal Landforms edited by Eric C.F. Bird and published in 2010 states that:
  . . on the northern shore of the Strait of Gibraltar, to the broad Bahía de Algeciras . . 

1950s Baedeker

Reviewing the evidence it seems to me that there are reasonable arguments for the name of the Bay to be claimed by both Gibraltar and Algeciras. The first because the Gibraltar is the most dominant and remarkable geographical feature on it as well as the fact that the name finds its origins at least as far back as 14th century when Gibraltar was - albeit temporarily - under Spanish rule. (See LINK)  As regards the second, there is little doubt that Algeciras has now become by far the largest and most important city on the Bay.

In any case - what does it matter? In the final analysis the Bay belongs to all of us and in particular to those who live along its shores.  By my book we can call it whatever we like. 

The modern Bay of Algeciras . . .  or is it the Bay of Gibraltar