I did not visit Morocco or Spain on any settled plan. I was on my way to Italy by sea, and passing through the Straits of Gibraltar, was so fascinated by the beauty and mysteries of the adjoining lands, that I relinquished my proposed excursion for the explorations which are here recorded.
This is the opening paragraph of David Urquhart's Pillars of Hercules which was published in 1850. Urquhart, a Scottish writer, politician, and Member of Parliament was a staunch supporter of the Nationalist side during the Greek War of Independence and - by the standards of the day - quite left-wing. Today he is best known - if anybody has ever given him much thought - as the man who introduced the Turkish Baths into Britain.
The following quotes are taken entirely from the section in which Urquhart writes about his experience and thoughts on places such as Gibraltar, Algeciras, Tarifa, Carteia, Ceuta and Cadiz. I have included my comments in those places where I found it impossible not to do so
There is no place of which it is more difficult to form an idea without seeing it, than Gibraltar. One naturally expects to find a fortress closing the Mediterranean with its celebrated galleries and enormous guns facing the Straits.
It is nothing of the kind.The Straits are, at the narrowest part, seven miles and a quarter wide; but that part is fifteen miles from Gibraltar. It is only after you have passed the Narrows that you see the "Rock" away to the left. Ceuta, in like manner recedes to the right; the width being here twelve miles. The current runs in the center, sweeping vessels along, and instead of being exposed to inconvenience from either fortress, they would generally find it difficult to get under their guns.
The Straits with the Gibraltar on the right ( Early 18th century French engraving )
The batteries and galleries face Spain, and look landward, not seaward. Whatever its value in other respects, it is quite a mistake to suppose that it commands the Straits, or has ever had a gun mounted for that purpose.
An interesting observation - especially as most uncritical readers will tend to suppose that the attribute of "Key to Mediterranean" equates with Gibraltar's ability to control the entry and exit of ships though the Strait. Long before and after Urquhart's comment the Rock has been unable to do anything of the sort. For a start all its guns are pointing the wrong way.
Gibraltar is a tongue three miles long and one broad, running out into the sea, pointing to Africa, and joined to Spain at the northern extremity by a low isthmus of sand: it presents an almost perpendicular face to the Spanish coast. . . .
Geologically speaking, it belongs to the African hills, which are limestone, and not to those of the opposite Spanish coast, which are crystalline. Mount Abyla is called by the Moors after Muza, who planned the expedition, and Calpe is now named after Tarif, the leader who conducted it.
By Muza Urquhart is referring to the Musa ibin Nusayr who was the military governor of Ifriqiya - the North African provinces of Al-Walid I who was the early 8th century Caliph of the Umayyads. The mountain opposite Gibraltar on the African coast - known among other names as Djebal Musa - takes its name from him.
Dejbal Musa in the distance behind the massive fortifications known as King's Bastion ( 1844 - George Lothian Hall ) (See LINK)
Tarif on the other hand was Tarif ibn Malik abu Zarah. He was one of Musa's military commanders. The name of the Spanish town of Tarifa is said to derive from his. The author is making the rather common mistake a common occurrence at the time - of confusing him with Tariq ibn Ziyad, another of Musa's generals. It was Tariq who was responsible for giving Gibraltar its name. (See LINK)
Seen from the mountains above Algeciras, the rock resembles a man lying on his back with his head on one side. The resemblance of Mount Athos to a man I have made out in a similar manner. The side toward the Mediterranean is now made inaccessible by scarping, but it was nearly so before.
Just after Anglo-Dutch forces captured Gibraltar in 1704 a local goatherd called Simon Susarte (see LINK) climbed the east face of the Rock from Catalan Bay leading the way for a number of Spanish soldiers who were supposed to surprise the Garrison and recapture the Gibraltar. They failed and the shepherd's path on the sheer east side of the Rock that was used in the attempt was scarped away by the British soon after.
Toward the point at the south, the rock lowers and breaks down till, on the Bay side, it shelves into the sea ; thence along the Bay, which in its natural state was an open beach of sand, gently sloping up until shouldered by the steep sides or precipices of the Rock. This level ground affords the site for the present town. The southern and larger portion has been converted into the beautiful pleasure-ground called the Almeida, (sic) (see LINK) or is occupied by barracks and private residences. T
Monument to General Eliott in the Alameda Gardens ( Late 19th century - Edward Angelo Goodall )
Half of this bristling tongue was formed unapproachable - man has fenced in the other. This sea-wall from end to end is the work of the Moors. Antiquarians have endeavoured to find here Roman and Phoenician remains. I should just as soon expect to find a Roman fortress at John O'Groat's, or a Phoenician emporium on Salisbury Plain. It was reserved for a shrewder people than Carthaginians, Romans, Greeks, or Goths, (see LINK) to discover Gibraltar's worth.
There are three elevations on the ridge, one in the center, and one at each extremity. That in the center is the highest; and here is the signal station, from which works are carried straight down to the beach at the ragged staff. (See LINK)
The highest part of the Rock is not in the centre but after the very last rise or "sugar Loaf. It is here that General O'Hara - Governor of the place in the very early 19th century - ordered the construction of his well known but completely useless tower. It would soon become known locally as O'Hara's Folly. (See LINK)
O'Hara's Tower ( 1844 - George Lothian Hall )
The upper part of the Rock is like a roof, and down it, like forked lightning, runs a zigzag wall. Below this stony thatching there is a story or two of precipices ; the line of defence drops over them and on the works, which shut in the town on the south, and which consist of a curtain-bastion and ditch.
In the rear of this wall (the zigzag) there are the remains of a still more ancient one. A great amount of labor has been expended upon this almost inaccessible height. These zigzag or flanking lines, are naturally assumed to be modern, and the wall goes by the name of Charles V, who restored the fortification below; but the loop holes are for cross-bows. The diagonal steps at the landing-places, the materials and the coating, as well as the whole aspect, show them to be Moorish. . . .
The modern interpretation is that Charles the V wall was built in the 16th century. (See LINK)
On the north, too, all our defences are restorations of the Moorish works: even in the galleries they have been our fore runners. Their open works were in advance of ours, and a staircase is cut out through the Rock down to the beach. In fact, save in what is requisite for the application of gunpowder, or what is superfluous for defence, the Moors had rendered Gibraltar what it is to-day.
They have even left us structures of the greatest service, as resisting the effects of gunpowder, and such as we are able neither to rival nor to imitate. On the great lines, in consequence of the many changes which have taken place, the original work has been displaced or covered up, and especially so along the sea-wall; but, ascend to the signal-post, crawl out on the face of the Rock to the north, examine even yet Europa Point, Rozier Bay, (see LINK) and everywhere you find the Moor.
South Barracks from Rosia Bay ( 1846 - J. M. Carter ) (See LINK)
It is impossible to move about at Gibraltar, without having the old tower in sight, and it is difficult to take one's eyes off it when it is so. (See LINK) No aspiring lines, no graceful sweeps, no columned terraces exert their fascination, nor is it ruin and dilapidation that speak to the heart. The building is plain in its aspect, mathematical in its forms, clean in its outlines, with a sturdy and stubborn middle-aged air, without a shade of fancy or of wildness.
"The old tower" is usually referred to as the Moorish Castle. The author's footnote suggests that the last "arrow-head" disappeared - presumably taken as a souvenir - while he was in Gibraltar.Nevertheless, the eye is drawn to it, and then your thoughts are fixed on it - and they are so, precisely because you cannot tell why. It constitutes the apex of a triangular fort, and, massy and lofty itself, it thus assumes a station of dignity and command. The annals of time are traced on it - here by the arrow-head still sticking,* there by the hollow of the shot and shell.
The Moorish Castle ( 19th century photograph )
It has borne the brunt of a score of sieges, and stands to-day without a single repair. On its summit, seventy feet from the ground, guns are planted. The terrace on the roof is cracked, but the surface is otherwise as smooth as if just finished. The pottery-pipes fitted in to carry away the water, are precisely such as might have been shipped from London.
A semicircular arch supports a gallery on the inner side. A window opening in this gallery, now blocked up, is like a church window with the Gothic arch chamfered. The exterior was plastered in fine lime, and there are traces of its having been divided off into figures. It has now, by the barbarians in possession, been rubbed over with dirty brown to make it look ancient.
A nice touch as the "barbarians" were of course the British. The mention that its exterior might have once been decorated in some way is perhaps unique in the literature of the day. I personally have never come across the suggestion anywhere.
The turrets on the walls below have been furbished up to look like cruet-stands, and the staring face of a clock is stuck in a Saracen tower.
The clock was inaugurated in 1845 and the tower - which may or may not have have been built in 1160 by order of Abd-al-Mu'min (see LINK) - was renamed the 'Stanley Tower' in honour of Lord Stanley the Secretary of State for the Colonies who - it has been said - actually bought the clock. In another footnote the author acknowledges the role of Lord Stanley but considers the addition of the clock as an act of vandalism.
The "Stanley Tower" - " A clock stuck in a Saracen tower" ) ( From a 19th century postcard )
The upper story only is explored and open; the flooring is perfectly smooth, and the roof stuccoed. There is a bath-room and a mosk; (sic) the former has a figured aperture slanting through ten or twelve feet of wall, to admit the light, as in the domes of Eastern baths. The other parts of the building are as much unknown as those of the unopened Pyramids. If these ruins had been in the hands of the tribe that live on the rock above, there would have been exhibited at least as much taste, and certainly more curiosity.
The "tribe that live in the rock above" are Gibraltar's well-known if rather obnoxious Barbary apes.
Entertaining the tourists in the late 19th century
The standing walls adjoining the towers exhibit faces of arches that covered in halls and surrounded courts. The second portion of the fort is at present used as a prison. The lower incisures is of greater extent, and in the line of the wall is a remarkable Egyptian-looking building, square with buttresses at the angles and a pyramidal roof - roof and walls one mass of Moorish concrete (Tapia).
It is as perfect as it was a thousand years ago, and may be equally so a thousand years hence. It is at present used as a powder-magazine, and is divided into two stories. The flooring of the upper hall is supported in the middle by a block of masonry some fifty feet square. This apartment is curiously ventilated.
The building with the pyramidal roof is the old Gate House which has been identified by some historians as the site of Bab al Fath - the Gate of Victory - which was ordered by Abd-al-Mu'min as part of his castle complex. It was later used as a powder magazine by both the Spaniards and the British. The pyramidal roof was a later addition.
The Gate House ( 19th century photograph )
This Moorish fort is, as a whole, a building of great interest. An architect of the last century speaks of it as one of the most remarkable on the soil of Europe. It was no embellishment of, or defence for, a capital; it was raised in time of trouble on a remote promontory as a protection for insurgents.
It was antecedent to art in Europe, - the people who raised it did not imitate Rome; they must have brought this art with them. It stands a match for man and time, defying at once the inventions of the one and the ravages of the other. Here is an original in design and substance, a work surpassing those of the Romans in strength, and equalling those of the Egyptians in durability.
A rather over-the-top description of what is certainly one of the largest examples of any Moorish castle in Iberia but certainly not the most elegant.
As the zigzag lines have been attributed to the Spaniards, so on high authority is a much more recent date than that which I here assign to them given to the Moorish fort and tower ; but supposing them to be of no earlier date than the fourteenth century, they would still illustrate a style of architecture which the Moors introduced, and which, like language, is lost in the mists of antiquity.Charles V Wall zigzagging its way up the Rock ( Early 20th century )
They are now busy in demolishing the works that connected the Moorish fort with the harbor. While tracing the old wall from the former to the latter, I came upon a large arch, and satisfied myself that this had been an entrance to an inner harbor. On subsequent reference to James's "History of Gibraltar", (see LINK) I find that this was well known in his time.
During these researches, in which I spent a month, I had not the aid that is generally obtained from the observations of others. I often attempted to look into books, but was always constrained to throw them aside, and return to the writings on the wall. What manner of men were these Moors? - The ruins suggested the question, and books furnished no answer.
Having attempted similar research on Moorish Gibraltar I am very inclined to agree with Urquhart. His footnote - both interesting and revealing - is worth quoting in full:
Afterward, at Madrid, Don P. Gayangos referred me to Ibn Batuta (see LINK) as fixing the date in the fourteenth century. On consulting that traveller, I find that he spoke of repairs under Abn El Haran, who ascended the throne of Fez in 1330. An inscription which existed in the last century, and of which a facsimile (see LINK) is given in Col James's History of Gibraltar, seems to fix the date at AD. 750.The following is the passage from Ibn Batuta:
"A despicable foe had had possession of it for twenty years, until our lord the Sultan Abn El Haran reduced him; he then rebuilt and strengthened its fortifications and walls, and stored it with cavalry, treasure, and warlike machines."
Pascual de Gayangos y Arce was a well known 19th century Spanish scholar and orientalist whose translations of various medieval Arab texts are still quoted today. The "despicable foe" was a reference to the short lived Spanish interlude on the Rock when Ferdinand IV of Castile captured Gibraltar from the Moors in 1309. (See LINK) They held on to it until Abu-l-hasan - (also known as Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn Othman but misquoted by the author as Abn El Haran)) recaptured it in 1333. (See LINK)
To continue with the book:
On the sea-side, Gibraltar is open to the fire of vessels, and would have been captured on one occasion, but for the dissensions between the combined forces. We have retained it only by a new invention, red-hot shot.The "red-hot shot" is a reference to heated cannonballs used against Franco-Spanish floating batteries during the Great Siege of Gibraltar. (See LINK)
The Siege of Gibraltar 1782 - Floating batteries on fire while more cannonballs are heated to red-hot ( George Carter )
The land-entrance is defended as follows: first, the isthmus round the north face of the Rock is dug out and filled with water, and between this basin, called the Inundation, and the Bay, a causeway only is left, which can be swept away at once, by the enormous guns from the overhanging caverns.
Behind the Inundation, is the glacis, elaborately mined ; and behind the ditch there is a curtain, mounting eighteen or twenty guns, which fills up the gap between the Rock and the works on the port. As you advance along the narrow causeway between the Inundation and the Bay, you have this curtain in front.
To the right stretches out into the water, a long low mole called the "Devil's Tongue," and between it and the curtain, there is tier upon tier of embrasures over the Port and the Port entrance. To the left of the curtain, the sharp engineering lines scale the rocks, and link the chain of defence to the Moorish Tower.
The embrasures refer to those of the Galleries. (See LINK)
Gallery embrasures ( 19th Century Lady Sofia Dunbar )
Thence the cliffs sweep away round to the left, parallel to the causeway, along which you are advancing. The Rock is shaved into lines for musketry, or pierced with port-holes, which stretch away in rows far and high. On the crest of the first precipice, batteries and guns are scattered. You see them again on the loftiest summit of the Rock, so that as you approach, you pass over ground swept with metal, and through successive centres of converging fire.
This is by the Spaniards called "Bocca del Fuego."At each step, from all around, above, below, from Merlon, rock, and cavern, mouths of iron - some of them caverns themselves - open upon you. This is the only portion of the contour of the place that an assailant could approach or batter. With a sufficient garrison, and superiority at sea, so as to throw in provisions, the place is clearly impregnable.
The breaching batteries would have to be advanced beyond the guns on the northern portion of the rock, and the advanced works would be looked into, and down upon. In no sieges had either breach been attempted, or third parallel drawn. The batteries on the crest of the Rock, termed Willis's were the effectual defence, by their plunging fire into the Spanish works.
The siege, properly speaking, was an attempt to starve, by cutting off supplies at sea, and to break down by sheer superiority of fire and shelling. The operations from the sea would have been successful but for the red-hot shot.The vaunted galleries have been constructed since the siege, and are mere matters of ostentation. Gibraltar has neither dock nor harbor. The Bay and anchorage are commanded by the Spanish forts, St. Barbara and St. Philip. These are levelled at present; but they will arise on the only occasion that we can require protection - that is to say, a war with Spain.
The Spanish Lines with Santa Barbara on the left and San Felipe on the right - Gibraltar lies out of sight to the top of the plan ( 1779 - Juan Cavallero )
They, therefore, must be restored in the mind's eye, if you would form any estimate of the value of this fortress in case of war. They were dismantled during the late war by the Spanish government, lest the French should occupy them, and destroy the English shipping. The Spanish government, however, formally reserved its right to rebuild them. The question has been lately raised by our sinking one of their men-of-war in their own waters, while pursuing a smuggler.
A timely comment about the galleries which are often written about elsewhere as if they had been massively and effectively used during the Great Siege. In fact as far as I know they have never actually been used in anger since they were constructed. As regards the Spanish forts of St. Barbara and St. Philip these were actually demolished by the British albeit by mutual consent - although many would argue against the word "mutual" -
The stones obtained from the demolition of the two Spanish forts were used in the construction of the large building behind the fountain ( Late 19th century postcard )
The guns of St. Barbara command the anchorage and batter the harbour; the shells from it and St. Philip pass clean over the Rock, lengthways, and can be dropped into every creek where a shoulder of rock might shelter a vessel from the direct fire. During the siege by France and Spain the post was of no use. Unless when superior at sea, we had to sink our vessels to save them.
In Gibraltar, there is little trade except contraband; the natural commerce having been systematically discouraged, that the martial departments might not be troubled, and with the view of reducing it to a mere military establishment. The fiscal regulations of Spain, which sustain this traffic would long since have fallen but for its retention by England. We, therefore, lose the legitimate trade of all Spain for the smuggling profits (which go to the Spaniards) at this port.
Smuggling profits were also made by Gibraltar merchants of every hue. Smuggling was a way of life in Gibraltar ever since it became both British and a free port. British born or local men - directly involved or simply acting as suppliers - a hell of a lot of people made a hell of a lot of money through contraband (See LINK)
Smugglers form Gibraltar - seen in the far distance - taking their contraband to Ronda (1830 - J.F.Lewis ) ( See LINK)
Gibraltar does not command the Straits. It does not present means of repairs for the navy. It does not afford shelter for shipping in case of war. It does not advantage, but seriously incommodes our trade. It does not afford the means of invading or of overawing, or even in any way annoying Spain, however much it may irritate her ; for no fertile country, populous region, or wealthy city is exposed to it, and there is no highway by land or sea which it can command.
William III, when he conspired for the partition of the Spanish monarchy, on the demise of Charles the Second, stipulated for Gibraltar, the ports of Mahon, and Oran, and a portion of Spain's transatlantic dominions. On the death of the last of the line of Philip Le Bel, Louis XIV was bought off by the offer of the crown for his grandson.
The English and the Dutch then set up Charles the Third, and sent a squadron in his name to summon Gibraltar to surrender. The garrison consisted only of one hundred and ninety men; but it held out. The Dutch and English battered, and took it. The flag of Charles the Third was hoisted, but suddenly hauled down and replaced by the English, to the surprise and indignation of our Dutch allies.
The taking of Gibraltar (1704 )Thus was revealed the secret condition of the compact. Gibraltar was all that England did get out of that war, and as this robbery went a great way to insure her discomfiture, and to establish Philip the Fifth upon the throne, we may consider Gibraltar as the cause of the first of those ruinous wars which, made without due authority, and carried on by anticipations of Revenue, have introduced among us those social diseases which have counterbalanced and perverted the mechanical advancement of modern times.
Gibraltar was confirmed to us at the treaty of Utrecht, (see LINK) but without any jurisdiction attached to it, and upon the condition that no smuggling should be carried on thence into Spain. These conditions we daily violate. We exercise jurisdiction by cannon shot in the Spanish waters (for the Bay is all Spanish).
Signing the Treaty of Utrecht - Queen Anne on the right ( 1713 - Unknown )
Under our batteries, the smuggler runs for protection; he ships his bales at our quays ; he is either the agent of our merchants, or is insured by them ; and the flag-post at the top of the Rock is used to signal to him the movements of the Spanish cruisers.
We take it for granted that Gibraltar has been honourably, some will even say chivalrously, won in fair fight ; that it has been secured by treaty and is retained on duly observed conditions ; or, perhaps, we never trouble ourselves about such matters, and imagine, therefore, that other nations are equally, indifferent ; but if any one of us would take the trouble to imagine the fortress of Dover in the possession of France, or Austria, or Russia, he would then comprehend why Napoleon said that:
"Gibraltar was a pledge which England had given to France by securing to herself the undying hatred of Spain."Urquhart expands on this in a footnote:
Napoleon, in captivity, being asked if he really had the intention of attacking Gibraltar, or the hope of getting possession of it, answered," It was not my business to relieve England from such a possession. It shuts nothing, it opens nothing, it leads to nothing, - it is a pledge given by England to France, because it insures to England the undying hatred of Spain."So much for the demolishing of the Spanish forts of Sta Barbara and San Felipe.
Now let us see the cost. The first item in the account is the Spanish War of Succession. From the consequences of that war and the retention of Gibraltar, the family compact of the Bourbons arose. The subsequent European wars are thus partly the cost-price of Gibraltar. This combined power weighed constantly against England and her fortune. If these effects were to be calculated in money, it would be by hundreds of millions. The actual outlay, however, is enormous. Gibraltar must have cost at least, £50,000,000 . . .
. . . To the Moors it owes its reputation and its strength; and it had for them value. It was acquired by them in a fair, open, stand-up fight. It was selected with judgment, fortified with skill, and defended with valour.The reason why the place was of importance to the Moors was that they were invading Spain from Africa, and that, without the superiority at sea. We have had experience of Gibraltar for a century and a half: we have carried on great wars during that time, maritime and territorial combined. The Mediterranean, as much as the ocean, has been the field of our operations. Spain has been the arena of contest.
In the history of time, there has been no series of events so calculated to bring out the value of this fortress, if it had any (except as above stated), yet what have we to show? Merely a position which we have defended. We never acted from it; we have never invaded Spain by it; we have never supported Spain through it; we have never refitted at it. It has figured in war solely in consequence of operations against it, or by the necessity of accumulating and locking up there our resources for its protection.
Perhaps indirectly but Britain and Spain did make good use of Gibraltar during the Peninsular War. (See LINK)
The question of its value for England can only arise in the case of Spain being against us. Spain being with England, Gibraltar would be at our disposal as Ceuta was during the last war. In the hands of Spain no sane man would ever think of attacking it . . . .
The Carthaginians attacked Spain from Africa. The Romans, like the English, supported Spain; at least, they began by doing so. Yet neither Carthaginian nor Roman fixed upon-Gibraltar. Scipio has told the whole story, and Livy has preserved his words, yet no one seems to have read them. They are of special value; for the contest for Spain, and through Spain, for the world, was not so much between Rome and Carthage, as between two families, the Scipios and the Barcas. . . .
Had the Moors been able to do what the Carthaginians did, they would not have fixed on this rock. Having been defeated at sea before the first invasion, they had to steal over by the nearest point. Gibraltar was their tete de pont across the Straits. Ceuta, their place of arms, was immediately opposite, yet, with all these propitious circumstances, Gibraltar came to be of importance only as commanding the bay of Algesiras, which they had made strong, though not naturally so, by sheer building and fortification.
Gibraltar now lives on its former credit. . . .We are now men learned in facts. Gibraltar being a place of great strength, it is assumed to be a place of great value, and we are perfectly content with having for the sake of it disturbed Europe, endured the abomination and the load of public debt, sullied our name, and squandered our treasure. . . .
A contemporary map of Gibraltar ( 1862 - Sayer )
And there you have it - an almost repetitive description of Gibraltar as an expensive waste of time and money. Urquhart was by no means alone in his analysis although on the whole other contemporary authors tended to view the place with a certain sense of pride - a worthy icon of British Imperial power. Not that there was anything particularly wrong in what Urquhart's complaints considered from the viewpoint of the mid 19th century.
Later - after the modernisation of its harbour - it would prove its worth as a naval base and as a stepping stone into Africa during the Second World War. Today its military worthiness has faded into the background and all that remains is the intractable problem of Spanish territorial claims against those of its present civilian population.
It is perhaps ironic that an author who felt so passionately about the Rock having ended up in the wrong hands and for the wrong reasons should have failed to foresee that the main problem with Gibraltar would end up being neither economic nor military.
As with just about every 19th century British writer Urquhart made a crucial mistake - he failed to take into account the rapidly growing local non-British born civilian population. In 1844 just a few years before Urquhart published his book there were - officially - 15 823 civilians living permanently on the Rock. He never mentions them anywhere in his book.