The People of Gibraltar
2016 - Deadman’s Hole  - The Moorish Tower

Salvador Garcia

Once upon a time - or to be more precise about a hundred years ago - a lead coffin was discovered underneath what was supposed to have been a Moorish construction just a few yards west of what was then the lighthouse-keeper’s quarters at Europa point. 


The Trinity lighthouse – but impossible to tell whether one of the buildings shown is the lighthouse-keeper’s quarters  - or perhaps even a guardhouse ( 1879 – The National Archives )

In the mid 18th century the "Moorish construction" was identified as a tower.  Inside it had a "coved" room with “Roman” arches and a top bit with outside winding steps. Only traces of the steps were visible at the time but it was claimed that before the Line Wall was built at Europa Point these had been clearly visible.  

The tower was known as Deadman’s Hole because it was thought that at some time in the past – or at least as long ago as the mid 18th century - some unknown person had been buried under the floor of the tower – by which time it was already being used as a guardhouse.  

Only a few yards distant from the tower there was also a stone sentinel box which had been built on the top of a wave-worn rock thirty four yards and two feet from sea-level. It was claimed – incorrectly – that this particular location was the most southerly point in Europe. 


The southern area of Gibraltar ( 1608 - Cristobal Rojas – detail )

The name "Deadman's Hole" was given another airing in the late 18th century. During the Great Siege, a deserter was discovered to be a spy. He was carrying incriminating documents on which he had written that the cliffs between Europa Advance Battery, and the Deadman’s Hole were so high that it might be possible to land men on the Rock off the yards. The plan suggested that it should then have been possible to take possession of the movable cannons in Windmill Hill, take cart them off to South-parade and use them to bombard the town.  It never happened.

In the very early 20th century the Deadman’s Hole was in the news once again. The previously mentioned tower was now unequivocally described as being of Moorish origin but was somewhat differently placed as being close to the relatively new lighthouse and a few yards west of the Trinity House quarters. It surmounted a spiral staircase that gave access to the cliffs below it. None of which  is particularly clear nor does the following make things any easier to understand.  

When the previously mentioned lighthouse-keeper’s quarters were being built in 1894 a small circular room was found while digging its foundations. Underneath was the lead coffin. The whole lot had been completely covered over during the construction of the old lighthouse battery which by then was no longer in use. The room had walls that were four feet thick and about seven high topped by a dome shaped roof made of bricks.
 
Salvador Garcia – a local who was working on the site when both the circular building and the coffin were found in 1909 - was the man responsible for passing on this information to a certain Major Singer of the R.E. who in turn probably gave rise to the theory that the small room may have been part of the original chapel of our Lady of Europa. This theory was shown to be wrong when it was realised that the chapel appeared on an old map as opposite the guardhouse rather than on the site itself.  It was now also thought very likely that the lead coffin had been buried under the stone sentinel box and not the tower.
 
Whatever the pros and cons of all this, by the beginning of the 20th century both the tower and the stone sentinel box - as well as that of the wall above the Europa Advance Battery - were now thought of by those who cared about such things as being of Moorish origin. The 18th century mention of Roman arches was put to one side.
 
Finally – and to add to the general rather confusing state of affairs - the name of “Deadman’s Hole was given to a small bay at the north-east side of the lighthouse and into which – at the time - the main sewer discharged its waste.  Newer Ordnance Survey maps have apparently corrected this mistake but I have been unable to check this.
 
In general terms it seems to me that we will never find out exactly who was buried in the tower. Nor will we find out when the coffin was placed there. Nor is it really possible to pinpoint exactly where both these structures were originally. At any rate I cannot find any structure on any map at my disposal that identifies a  sentinel box or a Moorish tower anywhere near the lighthouse area.

Cross section of the Line Wall near the fountain in what is today John Mackintosh Square    (1771 - Thomas James – adapted )

As regards Gibraltar's well-known Line Wall, this has long been proved to have been of Moorish origin. The problem is - did it extend all the way to Europa Flats as suggested by my 20th century source? Ibn Battuta – an inveterate Muslim traveller of the mid 14th had this to say about the origins of the Wall:
Our late master, Abu'l Hassan built in it the huge keep at the top of the fortress, before that it was a small tower, which was laid in ruins by the stones from the catapults and he built a new one in its place. He built the arsenal there too ( for there was no arsenal in the place before ) as well as the great wall which surround the red mound, starting from the arsenal and extending to the tileyard
The Red Mound – or the Red Sands as it is better known today - is a largish area of Gibraltar. It begins just outside the town more or less from Charles V wall to the beginning of the New Mole area in the south and stretches from half way up the western slopes right down to the sea. 


Map showing the “Red Mound” appropriately shaded in red – ( 1740 – Domingo Sanchez )

Ibn Battuta's arsenal can be identified as being at the north end of the Rock close to the Old Mole but I cannot tell from the passage whether the wall continued onward after the Red Sands to Europa Flats as the location of the “tileyard” is not known.

Another and  much more frequently quoted version on the origins of the Wall can be found in the History of the Mohammedan Dynasties in Spain which was written by the Moorish historian Mohammed al-Makkarí in the early 17th century:
The sultan Abu-l-hasan  . . applied himself further to strengthen Gibraltar, by causing a thick wall to be built at the foot of the rock, surrounding it on all sides, as the halo surrounds the crescent moon; so that the enemy could discover no prospect of success in attacking it, nor did there appear any way through which he could force an entrance. 
The word “halo” suggests that Abu-l-hasan’s wall completely surrounded Gibraltar – something which seems highly unlikely. There are no walls on the eastern side of the Rock – and there are no signs whatsoever that there ever have been - for the simple reason that building these would have been a total waste of money and time. The sheer cliffs on that side of the Rock offer a better defense than any wall would ever achieve.
 
The word “crescent, however, is interesting in that one could interpret the “halo” effect as also being in the form of a crescent – in which case the Wall could very well have stretched from the north to south, curving right round  Europa Flats.  

Older maps are of course notoriously inaccurate – also map makers tended to save money by copying their versions from older ones without much regard for accuracy. However, the oldest extant map of Europa Flats dates from the mid 16th century. Accepting this version as correct, then the walls - at least from the Chapel of Our Lady of Europa eastward – must have been either Spanish or Moorish.


Part of the Europa Flats area   (1567 - Anton van den Wyngaerde - detail )

In other words, some sort of wall or fortification existed along the southern littoral from at least 1567 onward which unfortunately still allows for it to have been built by the Spaniards who finally managed to capture the Rock from its previous Moorish occupiers in 1462.

There is little doubt that after the Turkish raid on Gibraltar in 1540 the Spaniards seriously turned their attentions to improving Gibraltar’s southern defenses. But reading between the lines I would suggest that their engineers found it rather awkward and expensive to defend the south properly by trying to extend the Line Wall. Instead they opted for a compromise which led to the construction of walls extending from east to west that would at least offer a proper defense to the town itself – in other words the Charles V and Phillip II Walls which were built during the late 16th century.

But of course I am speculating and I suspect that the only way we will ever find out for sure is via archaeological research.  As for the coffin and the Deadman's Hole - who knows what that was all about.