The People of Gibraltar
1462 - Gibraltar - The Spanish Fortress - Part 17
The Moorish Castle


The fortress of Gibraltar during the 16th century is the same one that defended the city during the middle ages. But it is now no longer referred to as la Alcazaba. All available Christian documents refer to it as el Castillo or the Castle which is the name that will be used from now on. 


(Early 20th century postcard)

The important conversion of this Almohad-Marinid castle complex into a modern defensive system following the Bastion inspired theories that were being developed in Italy during the first half of the century began during the reign of Charles I (Emperor Charles V) .Nevertheless although many medieval Muslim and Christian castles were left stranded far from the battle fronts and were converted into renaissance palaces, the priority for the city of Gibraltar was quite different. 



19th century southern entrance to the western side of the Castle - the red packed earth walls on either side have been identified as possibly of Almohad origin   (Pre 1879 - From Captain Buckle’s album)   (See LINK)

Far from removing the castle from it military origins and making it into a stately home for the nobility the towers and walls of Gibraltar were to follow the technical innovations of the new era with regard to the generalisation of the importance of artillery.  This process would continue during the reigns of other members of the house of Austria who would periodically sent military engineers and considerable amounts of money to improve the defence of the place.

This second stage after the medieval one would end in the first decade of the 17th century when it was incorporated into the British Empire.  During the 18th reforms and enlargements of the complex would lead to the appearance that it has nowadays. Nevertheless during the years in which Álvaro de Bazán was governor, the austere fortress would suffer the minimum transformations required to convert it into a stately residence.

The Calahorra, referred to in later Castilian texts as la Torre de Homenaje - formed part of the nucleus of the original medina of Gibraltar.  Its actual military and residential role during the modern era allow it to be situated within an evolutionary process that during the passage of time would lead it be considered conceptually as a modern citadel, a heavily fortified redoubt both as a front to the interior of the town and as a face to its exterior.


The oldest extant photograph of the castle - the battery in front of the massive original south facing wall is of British origin    (1852 - Alfred Capel-Cure)

Nevertheless important formal changes were never carried out that might adapt it so it could be used in modern warfare. Nor did it lose completely its administrative role as it continued to be the residence of the mayor-governor of the fortress whilst it continued to be owned by the Duke of Medina Sidonia which in turn allowed for a strict control over the daily life of its citizens. Finally it was never a purely military element of the citadel, perhaps only just satisfying its role as a barracks, which became one of its principle uses.


Moorish Castle and keep   A = Torre de la Vela, Calahorra or Tower of Homage, - B = Sentry walk, C = Wall of the inner keep with its blocked up arches, D = Wall of the outer keep     (1975 - Adapted from George Palao)

Palao, who physically researched the castle, describes the tower of homage as essentially:
. . . a solid cube . . . . constructed principally of “tapia”, a kind of of a very strong mortar moulded in frames and apparently composed of lime, red sands, small limestone chips and occasional fragments of brick or pottery.
Portillo compares the Gibraltarian Calahorra with an Italian “citadel” as it has all the precise elements required for the defence of its Garrison:
. . . ovens, a very large and deep water tank, weapon rooms and parade grounds, and other gun rooms.

Plan of the tower (Adapted from Manuel Francis Grech)

It also had access to the exterior via its southeast front protected - according to Torres Balbas by a small tower known a Gurilanda - as it was known in the 16th century. Today one can enter it through a platform of a wall situated in the north east and through a door that has been opened in that part of the tower.

Gurilanda might be a corruption of the word “Giralda” - as Sáez himself acknowledges in his 2001 article - Gibraltar Almohade y Meriní”.  Portillo tends to back this interpretation:
Tiene este castillo . . . por delante un reducto que llaman La Giralda, de fortísima muralla . . . .
The water tanks of the Castle gradually deteriorated until no longer in use in the 16th century, the date in which El Fratino designed other ones in the Atajo Nuevo. The system used by Spanish engineers to supply drinking water to the inhabitants originated in the southern part of the Rock. The situation of these water tanks outside the Castle walls confirms the loss of its military value in comparison with that of the urban precinct


Water tanks being either newly built or extended and developed to the south of the southern walls of the Castle    (From an album of an unknown collector or photographer   (1860  - National Library of Ireland)

According to Ayala:
In the midst of it (the Red Sands) ran an aqueduct was constructed in 1571 but which only lasted a few years.
The aqueduct may have been short-lived but it seemed that some sort of underground version survived at least up to the late 18th century.


The aqueduct constructed in the 17th century was still in use in the 18th as suggested by this map   (1780 - Unknown French cartographer)


The Fountain in the Parade     (1771 - Thomas James - History of the Herculean Straits)


Air vents and general design of the 17th century aqueduct as it was in the mid 18th   (1771 - Thomas James - History of the Herculean Straits)

During the British era, and perhaps also during the Spanish, the water it carried crossed the ditch at Southport and ended up in the centre of town at a fountain erected in 1694 in the south west corner of the Parade (John Mackintosh Square). Colonel Thomas James, who was stationed in Gibraltar during the mid 18th century, claimed that he had drunk a bottle of this water fifteen years after having collected it from the fountain and found it as clear and pure as when it had first entered the aqueduct.

Spanish engineers were of the opinion that Islamic Alcazabas were designed as the last redoubt of the medina and encouraged the inhabitants to abandon the defence of the exterior walls in order to take refuge in them. This is what happened during the Turkish raid. 

During the 17th century Luis Bravo de Acuña proposed that both in Gibraltar and in Tarifa the castle walls that separated it from the rest of the town should be dismantled so that the population could no longer be confident that the castle would offer a better defence that the outer walls, realising that their neighbours’ lives were dependant on the manning of their combat posts. 


The imposing walls of the tower of Homage  (Possibly late 19th century)

The Council of War of Gibraltar had come to the conclusion in 1597 that the Castle walls surrounding the tower known as la “Carrachola” should be dismantled and replaced with half-bastions. This remodelling which had been suggested by Cristóbal Rojas was delayed because of the priority given to the repairs at la Punta de Europa and was eventually forgotten about. 

The word Calahorra referring to the Tower of Homage seems to have been hard to pronounce or spell in the 16th century. “Carrachola” is not the only alternative version - Barrantes Maldonado spelt it “Carrahola”.

The idea nevertheless was in accordance with modern defensive theories of the 16th century.  A quarter of a century later Bravo de Acuña proposed a plan for the defence of the New Mole that followed a similar system - retain la Torre del Tuerto, dismantle the old medieval walls that surrounded it, and build semi-bastions in their place. 

Although bastion style defences generally proposed the use of pentagonal ones that could offer flanking fire along their entire circumference, in practice certain flexibility was allowed depending on circumstances. In effect the construction of semi-bastions in such places which were irregular or uneven as in Gibraltar, offered excellent testing ground for the adaptability of this kind of model.


Plan for King’s Bastion “Subterraneous plan of the new bastion at Gibraltar - 1779” 

According to T.W. J. Connoly in his History of the Sappers published in 1855:
General Boyd . . . did not conceal his uneasiness from the Secretary of State; and in urging upon Lord Rochford the necessity for his being furnished with the means for completing the (King’s) Bastion, he quaintly remarked: 
" There is an idea of glory, my lord, in the thought of being killed in defending a breach made by the enemy, but to be knocked o' th' head in the defence of one of our own making would be a ridiculous death."

Robert Boyd

The demi-bastion offered a compromise that took into account topographical conditions, savings in materials, resources, and the need for structures to defend a single front. All in all the demi-bastion was eminently adequate for the defence of medieval towers of homage and donjons - as was the case for la Torre del Tuerto and that of the abandoned scheme for la Calahorra.


Prince of Orange Demi-Bastion     (1773 - William Green)

As the nucleus of the Castle, the Calahorra continued to serve as a defensive bastion during the early middle ages and the Renaissance. This is what happened when the mayor of the city, Esteban de Villacreces retired behind its walls with a few defenders for several months against the attack of the 1st duke of Medina Sidonia between 1466 and 1467. The Governor was confirming Barrantes Maldonado's words written a few years previously:
This is the principle fortress in Gibraltar as it is possible to defend it with twenty soldiers even if the rest of the Castle and the town be taken which would require two hundred men to defend.
Portillo would later refer to the same place as follows:
It has in front of it a redoubt that is called the Giralda which has a very strong wall capable of holding enough people to defend the fortress.
It was here also that Gibraltarians too refuge from the 1540 Turkish attack even though it was only possible to use crossbows (ballestas) against the enemy as the artillery had not been set up.

As viewed by military engineers of the modern era the castle and its tower hardly held any advantages. As Tiburcio Spannachi explained in 1587:
Hardly worth mentioning as it quite far removed from the marina and does not defend any part of the town.
Bravo de Acuña is quite explicit:
If there is any weakness in the town it is that it has a castle . . .  it is well away from anything, inconveniently large as is well known. There are few places that have not been conquered because they have a castle available to those that have to defend it. . . . . as was seen in Cadiz in 88 (1588) 
Don Pedro de Acuña defended himself against an English fleet with five galleys whilst those that had to defend on land retreated to the castle  where seventeen people perished at its entrance. Similarly in Gibraltar twenty six died when they were attacked by the Turks. This would not have happened if they had more honourably risked their lives and reputations by fighting.

Bravo adds the example of Hernán Cortes who sank the ships that would take them back home to Spain when they arrived in the Indies. If he had only known about it Bravo could have used the much more appropriate myth in which Tariq ibn Ziyad burned his boats after his arrival at Gibraltar - or thereabouts - in 711 to encourage his troops to forget about any thought of retreat


Tariq burning his boats in 711      (Fareed Suhelmat)

 On the other hand the abbot of Vairac had a different opinion.
Even if its fortifications are old fashioned and very irregular, it still serves as a great defence for the town because of its position on the escarpment which makes it very strong. 

La Calahorra acts as would la torre de homenaje in other more conventional castles. The lord of the city lived there. Álvaro de Bazán, father of the first marquis of Santa Cruz, being the mayor of the city, ordered interior reforms in order to make it more comfortable. His faithful architectural description appears in the work of the already mentioned Torres Balbas. The castle also served its purpose as a watchtower as explained by Portillo.
At the top of this tower (la torre de la calahorra) there is a bell that is rung every night as well as when enemies approach our town, a warning either in daytime or at night to the other towers in town. As a response all the people of the town whether on foot or on horseback arm themselves to fight on land or on sea as required.
Tradition had it that the great tower held the bones the bones of the second conde de Niebla, Enrique de Guzman, who was killed during the attack of 1436 in the bay to the north of la Torre del Tuerto. 



The inside  of the chapel in the Calahorra tower, as well as the coffin which had been placed there. The text reads as follows “La sepulcra donde estan Los ossos Dol Condo de neblos coberto do Brocado”    (1567 - Anton Van den Wyngaerde)

This is confirmed in the document in which the fourth Duque de Medina Sidonia delivered Gibraltar to the Catholic Kings. Juan Alonso, the third Duque de Niebla must have recovered them when the place was taken by his governor of Tarifa - Alonso de Arcos - in 1462.  A century later they were still in the chapel of la Calahorra. Wyngaerde touches on this tradition in his sketch of the Castle.


La torre aqui stano los osses del Condo de Neblas no Jubilaltar -  (1567 - Anton Van den Wyngaerde)

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