The People of Gibraltar
1436 - Pedro Tafur - Andanças e viajes

Pedro Tafur or Pero Tafur was a distinguished Spanish nobleman of the royal house of Guzmán. He was born in Córdoba around 1410 and was renowned as a traveller and as a writer. Tafur journeyed extensively over a period of over three years from 1436 to 1439. During his voyages he took part in several battles and visited innumerable exotic shrines. He also seemed to have found time to carry out various diplomatic tasks for Juan II of Castile. He returned to Spain in 1439 and married Doña Juana de Horozco and continued to play a prominent role in local affairs.

Pedro Tafur's signature

It was probably between 1453 and 1454 that he wrote about his travelling experiences in a book called Andanças e viajes de Pero Tafur por diversas partes del mundo avidos . It remained unpublished until the late 19th century and was first translated into English in 1926 by Malcolm Letts. It is one of the few travel books written by a Spaniard during the medieval period and among the many other places mentioned in his book, he left us a number of comments on Gibraltar.

Tafur's Account
The story actually begins with Gibraltar as he disembarks from the boat that had brought him from San Lucar de Barrameda - the place where his odyssey had began - and was met by Henry, the second Count Niebla who was camped about half a league from the Rock with 1200 horsemen and 5000 foot soldiers.

The Count was delighted to meet him and explained what he was he was doing there with his soldiers; he intended to take the Rock of Gibraltar from the Moors. Niebla's tactics were relatively simple. According to Tafur Henry had been assured that:
. . . in Gibraltar there were not ten Moors who were fighting men, whereas to defend so great a fortress not even a thousand would be sufficient, and that it could be taken by assault. 
He proposed to muster his horsemen at the entrance which is on land, while he with his men-at-arms launched an attack close to the dockyard, on the side . . . His son Don Juan was to march against the Torre del Tuerto, which is on the mountain. This was to be from the sea. Meanwhile the Biscayans with their ships and the galley were to attack the Casal de Ginoveses which is at the very summit of the mountain. 

Map of the Bay of Gibraltar ( 1608 - Cristobal Rojas )    (see LINK

The 'dockyard' was the atarazana or galley house built by Ferdinand VI of Castile (see LINKnear the Old Mole and the Torre del Tuerto was a defensive structure well to the south just above the area that would one day become the New Mole. (see LINK) As regards the Casal de Ginoveses, Tafur's actual words were:
 . .el Casal de Ginoveses que es en la puntas en cabo de todo el monte'
In other words, not on the 'summit of the mountain' but somewhere on the southern end of the peninsular an interpretation which concords rather more closely with its usually accepted position on the western side of the Tarfes or Windmill Hill.

In the event the whole thing turned out to be a complete disaster. The Count himself drowned while trying to escape by boat after being attacked along the isthmus by Moorish horseman. Then to add insult to mortal injury his body was taken back to Gibraltar where it was beheaded and hoisted in a basket over the walls in full sight of every passing ship. It was a fiasco known to history as the Seventh Siege of Gibraltar. (see LINK

Tafur's description of the Rock is therefore limited to a general review of what could be seen from outside its walls.
Gibraltar is a very strong fortress and famous all the world over. It stands at the mouth of the Straits where the Atlantic Ocean joins the Mediterranean Sea, and it is a very fruitful place. The town commands the entrance to the mainland which is very narrow, and it is about a league from there to the end of the Rock. It is very well walled, with orchards, vines and excellent water, and it lies very low on the edge of the sea. Behind it stands the rock which is so high that it seems to reach to the clouds. It rises straight up, and although it looks formidable from the west, it is seen to greater advantage from the east.

The west side in perhaps the oldest extant annotated Rock of Gibraltar but it is still a view that is over a hundred years older than when Pedro Tafur described it. Nevertheless the battlements, especially around the Moorish Castle were probably more or less the same - as of course was the Rock itself. N is labelled as la Torre de los Tarfes and may possibly have been one and the same as Tafur's Casal de Ginoveses
( 1567 Anton Van Den Wyngaerde )    (see LINK)