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

Flat Bastion Road  (21st Century)

The following is an essay written recently by Eric Orcese in which he describes what it was like to live in a patio-oriented district such as that of Flat Bastion Road - a way of life  which has now all but disappeared from Gibraltar.


Flat Bastion Road runs north-south. It was previously known in Spanish times as Senda Del Moro - the Path of the Moor. The traditional Llanito name for the road is Cuesta de Mistebon.  It is the last road before you entered the military territory leading to Devil’s Gap Battery. 

The road angles along the west side of the Rock to the fortification known as Flat Bastion. The original Spanish fortification was known as el Baluarte de Santiago. 

The fortification was built in the mid 16th century and formed part of the southern defences of the city of Gibraltar, together with Charles V Wall, Southport Gates, Southport Ditch, and South Bastion. The British version of the magazine dates to at least 1873 and was constructed to store about five thousand barrels of gunpowder. 

Prince Edward's Gate extends from the northwest corner of the bastion and overlooks Trafalgar Cemetery to the southwest and the former St. Jago's Cemetery to the northwest. In the nineteenth century the area was known to have suffered heavily from epidemics with outbreaks of yellow fever in the 1820s and of diphtheria in the 1880s, apparently due to faulty sewers.  

Prince Edward’s Gate looking north

There were some developments in the area included the first public school in 1833, a free English-language establishment for poor children. It was set up in a government-owned building funded by contributions from wealthy people. It was opened with 181 boys and 99 girls from all faiths. After 1897, it continued as a school for girls into the early 20th century. A Ladysmith Club where masked balls were held is recorded to have existed in this area. 

Flat Bastion Road or La Cuesta de Mistebon as it was colloquially known was referred to as an area where you came from just like in a big city you would refer to a district or a borough. The name of the Hill of Mr. Bourne relates to a rich man called Mr. Bourne who owned a foundry and many buildings in the area. It had always been the custom for rich people to invest in buildings and renting properties as the return was very profitable due to the lack of available accommodation on the Rock.      

Flat Bastion Road starts at the junction between Prince Edwards Road and Castle Road which was locally known as El Cruce de Carter - after the shop found at the crossing - and continues up hill in a southerly direction. 

Before levelling off by El Patio Baca you had El Patio Bishua named after the place where Mr. Bishua the gharry owner once lived. His real name was Louis Martinez. This patio had direct access to la Escalera del Monte. After El Patio Baca you had El Patio de la Palmera on the right and then El Patio Escuela that was once the local school. 

Mr Martinez - aka Bishua - and his gharry

Opposite was La Casa Rota an old building that was knocked down and became a carpark. There was an entrance to the shelter that led to the military tunnels and there are now lock up garages that connect to other areas of the World War II shelters down to the bottom of the road.  

El Patio Francisquin also housed the Astoria Social Club in Morellos Ramp. El Patio de las Bananas opposite was named after a fruit tree that once grew there. El Patio Francisquin has large arched doorways that were once stables for the carters’ mules.  The Patio de las Bananas had a shrine to the Virgin Mary built on the rock face by Mr. Vinet after following the death of his young son who fell down the stairs. 

The title of this etching is “Irish Town” but it looks much more like the view from St Jago’s Barracks looking up towards Flat Bastion Road -  According to a resident the large building  top left  looks like the one above the Astoria Social Club (1935 - J.R. Dugmore)

After El Patio Francisquin the road goes downhill with El Patio Carteros on the left to level off by Godley Mansions which has always been known as El Patio de las Tejas Verdes - “the house with green tiles” - on account of its roof tiles. The road ends in La Guardia where a guarded and locked gate prevented unauthorised entry into the Bastion and magazine that formed part of the military fortifications beyond. This gate only opened to the general public in the early 1970’s and now leads to Gardiners Road.  

Gardiner’s Battery Late 19th century

After passing the battery of the same name it exits the town through Charles V Wall and into Europa Road.  This “new” opening converted the road into a two-way traffic system that had previously had previously been a nightmare as all vehicles had in the past been forced to turn around at La Guardia in order to return to Prince Edwards Road.
Flat Bastion Road was one of the main districts for local people but like everywhere on the Rock, army married quarters were also built here as were also individual dwellings for officers. The road also links with Bacca’s Passage and Devil’s Gap Steps and many other ramps and gullies such as Morell’s Ramp, Gowland’s Ramp and Hargrave’s Ramp.

Married Quarters - Flat Bastion Road  (20th century)

Local families tended to be grouped into areas, immediate family generally living close to each other. People married neighbourhood sweethearts which made it an even more close-knit community. It meant that you played with your cousins and a member of the family was always at hand to assist with the care of the very young, the needy and the old.

 There were also people who for want of a better word were less fortunate than others. We had the dependents of poor families and some neglected children. Everyone looked out for those less fortunate. The infirmed, the lonely, the disabled were all cared for by the rest of the community. 

No one went hungry and no one was left on their own. It was in a sense an ideal ‘Care in the Community’ system.  Every district had its own colourful characters and in Flat Bastion Road we had a fair share of the eccentric, unhinged - not to say - drunken individuals. They were iconic characters and part of the fabric of the general society and were cherished as institutions or national treasures. These personalities were mainly housed in the family homes or lived independently in some of the patios. Those who could not fend properly for themselves were fed by neighbours and everyone kept an eye out for them.

Like other local districts, Flat Bastion Road had its own social club. The Astoria Recreational and Football Club mainly catered for the men in the evening and weekends. Traditionally many of the men lived in overcrowded flats with their in-laws and it suited everyone for the men to go down the social club - ‘el casino’ - for a game of cards, dominos and darts and later to watch the television over a drink and a chat with friends. 

The Astoria had its own football and darts teams. On Sunday afternoons, they used to house family bingo, ‘La Kina.’ What now seems strange is that children used to go with their pennies and take part with the adults in what was in real term a gambling game of chance. 

In the summer the club used to hold dances or ‘verbenas’ in the large Patio of Francisquin which overlooking the bay where everyone regardless of age were allowed to attend. Outings were also organised to the Spanish beaches such as Getares as well as picnics to the Almoriama cork woods. They were also fancy dress and Christmas children’s parties for members. The Astoria was also the first venue in the area to have a television that attracted young and old.

Children taking part in a dressing up competition - Flat Bastion Road    (20th century)

Every residential area had its local general grocery shops where people did their daily shopping. They were in essence the social centres at the heart of every community where people met, talked and gossiped. They were small and dark with products and produce piled high in shelves usually behind the counter. 

As homes had no refrigeration housewives would go to their trusted market stalls and local grocery shop for their daily needs. You went shopping with your empty bottle ready to be filled with oil. Potatoes, sugar, tea, even biscuits were all weighed and wrapped in brown paper bags. Butter, ham and cheese were all cut from a large block, weighed on scales and wrapped in greaseproof paper known to all housewives as ‘papel de cristal.’ 

Along Flat Bastion Road we had a shop by la Escalera Del Monte. Further up we had la Tienda de Ratcillfe that was also a tearoom. Even further up we was la Tienda de Anita by Bacca’s Passage. Past el Patio de las Bananas we had la Tienda de Santos - otherwise known as Hathaway.  

Devil’s Gap Steps - la Escalera del Monte

Not many people used this shop as it had a very limited stock, but it had the only public telephone in the street. Mr Santos was notorious for being reluctant to give small change and would offer you a box of matches instead of any small coins.  Above our flat at 46, we had la Tienda de Kitty Sanchez where we did most of our grocery shopping. We children were usually sent with a list in a little book and her son Pepe - who ran the shop - would serve us and add the prices to a running total in his book. Debts were paid up at the end of the working week when people got paid.

Some of the old houses have now been knocked down to build modern ones. Old buildings like the barracks have been renovated and converted into affordable housing. Large tenement buildings that once housed many people have been rearranged to allow tenants to have more living space. Most people, however, have opted to move to recently built housing developments in the newly reclaimed land from the Bay.  

Slowly families have begun to distance themselves from that close-knit framework and camaraderie that was once the backbone to our society. With modern technologies and hobbies children no longer play outdoors like in the old days. Corner shops have given way to large supermarkets, people are no longer seen in neighbourhood streets between shops and the whole character of the district is no longer the same. 

Nowadays there are so few people about that the whole area appears to have lost its soul. Only the old and the indifferent have opted to stay in the old buildings as their frozen rents have remained low. Consequently, private landlords seeing no real return on the rentable investments of their buildings are reluctant to modernise and repair them. 

The old town has become sadly neglected and has fallen into urban decay. Many older leases may soon expire and then the government may then consider condemning these properties allowing for compulsory purchase for development or demolition. The government is not prepared to rent the council flats that have become vacant as most have wooden floors and stairwells that make them unsafe under today’s Health and Safety regulations. Once empty of tenants they are being sold to private developers that are slowly but surely transforming them into modern luxury flats that in time it is hope will revitalise the old town. 

The southern section of the town from Flat Bastion Road in the late 19th century

One serious inconvenience is that most of the areas are not suitable for cars and parking is a huge problem. The accessibility for modern construction machinery with so many steps in the areas is another issue. Nor are the areas easy for young families with pushchairs. The lack of shops that once occupied many corners can be remedied with some investments. These areas need a new lease of life. The principal factor is that these areas must be made to be an attractive proposition for the people to return to live in these houses. Town planners under the watchful eye of the Heritage Trust are hopeful of a good balance between new and traditional styles to maintain the essential vernacular character of the old town. . . . . .

Thank you Eric for letting me post it on my Blog

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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