The People of Gibraltar
2019 - Patio Schammarri - Gibraltar

Patio Schammari (1930s - Gil Podesta)

There are more spelling variants to the name of this Rosia patio than perhaps for any other in Gibraltar - quite something in a town where the inhabitants enjoy mispronouncing and misspelling just about any word almost as a matter of course. During my admittedly somewhat shallow research I have come across el Patio Chamari, Chamarie, Chamary, Shamari, Shamary, Shamery, Shamori, Shammery . . . and have probably missed a few others. 

However I would seriously suggest that the one and only semi-official name I have ever come across - the caption to the sketch above - would have been the one least likely to have been used by the people who actually lived there. I certainly wouldn’t have. Incidentally none of the alternatives appears as an address on any census right up to the early 20th century. Nor does yet another totally different name by which it was apparently and confusingly also known as - Patio Ondo or Patio Hondo - confusing because there was another patio elsewhere on the Rock with the same name. For consistency I will call it Shamari throughout this essay.

A selection of people who at one time or another live in the Patio Shamari   (Mid 20th century - with acknowledgments and thanks to Joseph Alfred Almeida)

I don’t know when patio Shamari came into existence but it is touted to be one of the oldest. The suggestion is that it was originally built by an immigrant Maltese gentleman - a Mr. Azopardi - who owned the land on which it was built. The name of the patio derives from his Maltese nickname of Shamari.

I have very little to offer about this gentleman and what I do sounds suspiciously wrong. For example some have suggested that he was once a member of "los Carreteros del Rey". In the 1880’s, military transport in Gib was in the hands of Gibraltarian auxiliaries of the War Department who were known locally by this name. They were attached to the Army Service Corps and were employed as drivers of long carts known locally as ‘trucos’ - Llanito patois for “trucks” - which were pulled by varying numbers of mules. Some of these men took part in the British-Egyptian and Suakin Campaigns of 1882-1889.

Los Carreteros del Rey 

In the 1920’s the old mule drivers were retrained to drive lorries. However . . . it was not the kind of job that you would expect anybody to end up making a lot of money from. In other words in so far as Azopardi is concerned, it does not ring true. Another myth suggests that this gentleman had hidden away a large stash of gold somewhere within Shamari - and which has so far never been found. 

This also sounds exactly what it probably is - a myth. What does appear to be a fact, however, is that the Azzopardi family were still living there at the turn of the past century as were other members directly or indirectly connected with the family right up to the mid 20th century.

To go back a bit, historically the decades of Maltese immigration into Gibraltar corresponded with several lethal outbreaks of cholera for which they were often unjustly accused of being the cause. People like the Roman Catholic Bishop Scandella was unjustifiably scathing when offering his opinions about them to the Governor. With only a few exceptions, he wrote, “only the scum of that people” came to Gibraltar. Most of them, he argued were recently released convicts who had only come to Gibraltar because nobody trusted them enough to give them work in their own country. It was not just unfair but demonstrably wrong.

Bishop Juan B. Scandella (1870)

In the 1860s the Church of St Joseph was built on land donated by Antonio Mateos - a well-off Maltese business man - and the surrounding southern districts, in particular that of Rosia, seem to have offered several Maltese families the chance to develop their own small communities - such as the one in the Patio Shamari.

St Joseph’s Church

During the 18th and early 19th century, this largish area formed part of what was known as the Vineyard - a garden that was touted as one of the most pleasant of places in the entire Rock. Colonel Thomas James writing in the mid 18th century describes it as follows:
Between the hospital and barracks - is a large enclosed piece of ground called the Vineyard; in it are many trees, and plenty of roots, herbs, salads, etc in their proper season, and is by far the pleasantest spot on the Rock: it was originally a religious house called St. Rosia. 
Even during the next century and beyond - by which time the old Vineyard lost much of its charms - the plot of land on to which the patio was built was still being used as an allotment in which vegetables continued to be grown for sale in the town market, goats kept for their milk and chickens for eggs and eating.

Goat’s milk being sold downtown as late as the 1930s

In 1857 gas works with their ugly gasometers were constructed and the area lost its claim to being the most pleasant place in town. It was now a Vineyard in name only.

The tiled roof peaking at the bottom of the photo belonged to one of the buildings of the Patio Chamari

Despite Scandella’s libellous opinions, Maltese communities were as useful additions to the three centuries worth of immigrants that form the bulk of Gibraltar’s population as any other. For a start they brought with them the Maltese karozzin and in so doing introduced into Gibraltar its long enduring - if now defunct - traditional form of tourist transport - The Gibraltar gharry. 

A browse through the records also reveals that quite a few Maltese families with the Azopardi surname immigrated to Gibraltar from at least 1868 onwards. Between that date and 1914 several gharry drivers can be identified as living in nearby Scud Hill. They may have been influenced by the fact that the patio  was now a favourite place for people like themselves - and at least a few race horse owners - to stable their horses. This despite the fact that horses usually struggled to climb the steep incline into the patio from Rosia Lane. 

Typical Gibraltar gharry somewhere up the Rock - This style of coach was a Maltese import and was often referred to as a Malta gharry during the late 19th and early 20th century - In Malta it was known as  a "karozzin" ( 1890s )

Mr. Patra Vella a Maltese gentleman and presumably a gharry driver, horse stabled, gharry to be cleaned - By now there were no longer any stables so I am not sure where Mr. Vella kept his horse       (Patio Shamari)

A short but pleasant ride (Patio Shamari)

I am not sure what happened to the place during WWII but when the locals came back to Gibraltar from their enforced evacuation I am certain that one priority was to return to their old homes. Those from el Patio Shamari were no exception. The following series of reminiscences by someone from a family in whch more than one generation had been disrupted by the war describes what life in the old patio was like during the late 1940s and 1950s.
The return to the patio in 1948 found the flats practically devoid of furniture. If you wanted to cook anything you had to use a thoroughly impractical “ornilla” - a traditional built-in brick stove. Many of the residents refused to use it and instead acquired paraffin stoves to cook their food. Fuel was obtained from a bowser driven by a white horse that came up to Cumberland Road from town once a week. The installation of a gas supply and the use of a gas cookers came later. 
The patio consisted of about twenty-one flats each with two bedrooms, a kitchen and a toilet. Fresh water was available from a courtyard pump and piped brackish water was used for flushing toilets. Such luxuries as baths were carried out in galvanised versions which were also used - together with wooden boards - for the washing clothes.

Notes at the back of the sketch at the beginning of this essay   (Gil Podesta)

I am not sure what has happened since but if the caption at the back of Gil Podesta’s sketch is correct, by the beginning of the 21st century the entire patio would have been by now either demolished or converted into a car park. However as far as I can make out -  at least according to Google Maps - it hasn’t. The courtyard and buildings still appear to be standing. Pleasing to see one of Gibraltar’s oldest patios fighting the Philistines and refusing to accept such an ignominious end.

El Patio Chamari     (2019 Google Maps)

With acknowledgments and thanks to Joseph Alfred Almeida 

2019 - Patios of Gibraltar - Introduction

2019 - Patios of Flat Bastion Road - Gibraltar
2019 - Patios of Lynch’s and Turnbull’s Lane - Gibraltar
2019 - Patio Arengo - Gibraltar
2019 - Downtown Patios - Gibraltar
2019 - Rosia Patios - Gibraltar
2019 - Patios de la Buena Vista - Gibraltar
2019 - Castle Steps Patios and Beyond - Gibraltar
2019 - Upper Town Patios - Gibraltar
2019 - Patio Schammarri - Gibraltar
2019 - The Patios of Fraser’s Ramp - Gibraltar
2019 - Other Patios - Gibraltar
2019 - Patio Schott 1 - Gibraltar
2019 - Patio Schott 2 - Gibraltar

2019 - Los Patios de Gibraltar - A Disappearing Way of Life