The People of Gibraltar
1462 - Gibraltar - The Spanish Fortress - Part 4
The 16th and 17th century - The Italian Engineers


 . . . . The theory described as the “symbolic destruction of the past” as applied to walled cities has managed to bypass Gibraltar. The theory suggests that the main culprits in this respect are generally demographic such as the need for space for the development of industry or in order to ease traffic flow - this last one an important factor in the destruction of monuments. In Algeciras the ancient walls of the town were destroyed purely on military grounds while those of Gibraltar have survived for similar reason right up to the present day.






Top - 1736 - The main town of Algeciras on the right and Villa Vieja on the left separated by the Rio de la Miel - Hardly anybody lived within its almost totally ruined walls
Bottom - 1776 -  Villa Vieja on the left and a suggestion of a more substantial population living in the main part of town where the walls are no longer shown


It could not have been otherwise considering the number of times the place has been besieged and the fact that it has always been surrounded by hostile neighbours right up to the present day. The walls of nearby Tarifa have also survived for similar reasons.




Plan of Tarifa     (1812 Edmund Hodges)


During the 15th and 16th century Gibraltar would experience the transformation of its medieval fortifications using modern principles of poliorcetics - in other words using contemporary knowledge on the art of conducting and resisting sieges. 

During the years in which of Charles I was king of Spain and both Álvaro de Bazán and his son were military governors of Gibraltar, the Moorish Almohad -Marinid fortress was modernised according to principles that were developed in Italy during the first half of the 16th century and in which bastions took pride of place.


Daniel Specklin


Specklin was an Alsation architect and expert on fortifications who developed many of the ideas later taken up by Italian engineers who worked in Gibraltar. The triangular shaped bastions shown on some of his drawings bear more than a passing resemblance to some of those constructed in Gibraltar such as Rosario and Santiago. (Mid 16th century)


According to Alonso Hernández del Portillo, Gibraltarians were of the opinion that the plans developed by Álvaro de Bazán father of the first Marquis of Santa Cruz and governor and owner of the Castle. As the saying goes - "The best part of the house is where the owner lives".

Nevertheless, three years after the raid on Gibraltar by the Turkish Squadron of Ali Hamet and Caramani, the fortress had only managed a few improvements on the northern defences. From then on and during the Hapsburg 16th and 17th the Rock was frequently if insufficiently reinforced. 
According to Verboom, whatever defensive improvements were carried out along the coast of the Bay they were done in Gibraltar - nothing in Algeciras.




Jorge Prospero Verboom - Flemish Engineer to the King - In 1727, King Philip V granted him the title of Marquis of Verboom


As far as I can make out Verboom is not really part of this particular story as apart from being a critic of what had been done in the past he was never actually employed in the development the defences of Gibraltar. His only intervention occurred outside the Rock and well after the place had been lost to Britain. Perhaps his most important Spanish contribution was his involvement in the construction of a defensive line across the isthmus known as la Línea de la Contravalación completed in 1737.


Plan of the line of defences that are being exectured in front of Gibraltar   (1730 - Prospero de Verboom)

In 1552 Charles I sent Juan Bautista Calvi to Gibraltar.


Calvi didn’t stay all that long in Gibraltar, although he did return in 1557 despite ill health. He is the fellow mostly responsible for the designing the baluartes of Nuestra Señora del Rosario (South Bastion) and Santiago (Flat Bastion) as well as leaving well alone as regards work carried out on Charles V Wall. According to some authorities his projects were actually put into practice by another Italian engineer - Amodeo Agustino 

In 1575 during the Reign of Philip II it was the turn of another engineer - Jacome Pelearo Fratin - El Fratino.


Fratino more or less took over after Calvi died in 1564. There is evidence, however,  that he did not spend too much of his valuable time in Gibraltar and that most of his projects were carried out by lesser known engineers. 

In 1578 another two - Juan Bautista Antonelli and Juan Bautista Cairato from Milan arrived on the Rock.


Antonelli was the somewhat less gifted brother of another Italian engineer Bautista Antonelli. He was nicknamed “il fratello”, a name which led the 17th century historian Portillo to confuse him with El Fratino. Cariato was in Gibraltar in 1581 spending much of his time elsewhere trying to fortify la Isla del Perejil on the other side of the Straits.


In 1587 Fabio Borzoto and Tiburcio Spannocchi were both involved - Spannocchi in particular was commissioned to remodel the Rock’s fortifications taking over that year from Juan Bautista Antonelli and like his predecessors attempting to put into practice the projects suggested by El Frattino.

Borzoto was mostly concerned with the silting up of the old Mole but was signally incapable of solving the problem.


The town’s defences were also improved upon by work carried by the local council. In 1620 Phillip III involved himself for a while in the developments being carried out to improve the fortification on the Old Mole under the direction of Julio César Fontana although these were never completed.

Also under Phillip III some of these engineers issued their opinions or realised and directed their projects in Gibraltar - for example Cristóbal de Rojas (c1608), Bautista Antonelli (1609) and Andres Castoria (1619). 



Cristóbal de Rojas




Plan of the Bay of Gibraltar   (1608 - Cristóbal de Rojas)


In December 1598 after working in Cadiz for some time Rojas managed to fit in a visit to the Rock but soon realised that there was far too much to be done for him to tackle it himself. He advised the King that he should appoint in his place 'a man of science and awarenes' and recommended another engineer - the Licenciado Cedillo - who in turn would receive help from the architect or Maestro mayor, Diego Rodriquez.


During Phillip IV’s reign, the following engineers worked on the Rock - Juan Fajardo (1622) Luis Bravo de Acuña (prior to 1627), Andres Marin ( 1646) and others.




Gibraltar- Northern section    (1627 - Luis Bravo de Acuña)

Bravo was actually a military man. The many maps of Gibraltar that he produced are the oldest extant ones known to me.

All their efforts, however, were undermined by the lack of sufficient guns and troops to man the improved fortifications, a complaint frequently made by many of the above engineers although some of them were often over confident of the effectiveness of their own designs. 

In 1607 a Dutch fleet under Admiral Heemskerk gained an impressive victory against Spanish naval defences lead by Álvaro Dávila.




1607 - Battle of Gibraltar     (Vroom)


The picture depicts the moment when the Spanish flagship blows up - the Spanish flagship Virgin Mary is about to sink, the Spanish admiral Juan Álvarez Davila is dead, the sea is red with Catholic blood and a monk flies through the air, his buttocks showing. Meanwhile the Dutch look on impassively as thousands die. The overall impression one gets is that the artist felt a perverse delight in depicting the rather one sided nature of the battle.



1607 - Battle of Gibraltar    (Left - Vroom - Right - Adam Villaers)
On the left - a detail of the previous picture crediting Gibraltar with two major defensive towers - the Torre del Tuerto, bottom right, and another at the beginning of the Old Mole, top right.
On the right - a detail of another Dutch picture celebrating the event - Torre del Tuerto bottom . . . but no defensive tower over the old Mole. This one is the more accurate - the Old Mole was not properly defended in 1607

In 1609 the beginning of the Twelve Year Truce between the Habsburg rulers of Spain and the Southern Netherlands and the Dutch Republic meant that there was no chance of a new confrontation 1621 and the start of the Thirty Years War.

Meanwhile during the reign of Pillip III Gaspar de Acevedo trumped against the Turks in 1620. Although the Ottoman threat was in decline since the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 and Juan of Austria’s conquests of Tunis and Bizerte two years later, it was still sporadically present in the western Mediterranean.


The Battle of Lepanto - the last great naval engagement using galleys in which the Christian beat the Ottoman Turks (1571)
The Christian fleet advance in four great squadrons - the admiral in change of one of them was the mayor of Gibraltar - Álvaro de Bazán junior, the first Marquis of Santa Cruz 

The renewal of hostilities with the Low Countries in 1621, Fadrique de Toledo destroyed a Dutch fleet of 31 ships that were attempting to cross the Straits, despite the fact that he only had 8 ships at his disposal. 




Fadrique de Toledo


According to George Hills, the news arriving in England concerning this event included the following:
The Mole or safe harbour near Gibraltar is completed to the extent that artillery has been installed as well as a garrison to reside in it . . . . Fourteen galleons are required to stay there so as to protect the area under the command of Juan Faxardo.
Fajardo had also defeated a Dutch squadron near Fuengirola the previous year something which confirmed Spain’s interest in Gibraltar as a strategic naval base especial. It was something that was of interest to the enemies of the Spanish monarchy - especially that of England.

During the first years of the modern era Gibraltar was the only fortified town in the Bay of Algeciras other than that of watch towers of limited use from a defensive point of view. The population of Gibraltar had grown very slowly. In 1587 there were approximately 5000 inhabitants most of whom lived in the area of town known as la Turba. They were mostly involved in commercial activities such as fishing, agriculture and the cattle industry.

The topography of the Rock, however, did not lend itself either to the raising of cattle nor agriculture although the town was able to make use of available lands near Algeciras, where most of its cattle rearing was concentrated.  Viniculture made use of a substantial part of the north eastern area of the Bay although the appearance of phylloxera put an end to this.


The Bay of Gibraltar - The vines are represented by squiggly lines    (G. Van Kuelen) 


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