The People of Gibraltar
1462 - Gibraltar - The Spanish Fortress - Part 8
The Old Mole

This zone of the sea Line wall produced a daily event that compromised the defences of Gibraltar. It was a custom at the time for the inhabitants to throw their rubbish over the wall which meant that over time the waste became high enough to allow an enemy to walk over it. Tiburcio Spannocci denounced this bad habit as follows.
It has become impossible to travel through this passageway and might impede defenders responding to a surprise attack.
The rubbish - together with sand displaced by the east wind, cast-offs from fishermen, straw left-over’s from bales loaded in the port and urban waste washed down by the rain towards the Puerta de Mar - filled up the anchorage making the entire zone to the north unusable.

This problem brings to mind a similar one that took place during the Middle-Ages in which Ordoño II of Galicia took Évora in 913.


Ordoño II

The Emir of Cordoba at the time could boast about his military Power, conquering rebel fortresses and pacifying the entire Al-Andalus. The Lusitanian city felt confident. It was situated hundreds of miles from the Duero frontier:
 (Its) defensive walls were low without and secondary walls or towers . . .  and in one particular place there were mountains of rubbish which had been chucked over the gateway from inside the city. It certain places it was almost as high as the city walls. The Christians took advantage of this fortuitous ladder to enter the city and conquer it. 
This problem would also occur to a lesser extent on the southern side of the Old Mole that Rain water carrying faecal waste discharged into the Bay on this side.


Mid 19th century view of Devil’s Tongue still showing debris on both its northern and southern sides

El Caño de Machin o de Machina which gave its name to one of the city streets ended at this spot - the southern side of the Old Mole


By almost universal agreement 18th and 19th century British Gibraltar was a truly dirty place, even by the generally unhygienic standards of the time. That 16th and 17th century Spanish Gibraltar was at very least equally filthy can almost be taken as a given.


The early 17th century construction known as “el Caño de Machín” or “de Machina”was a sewer which ran south-west at the northern end of Calle de Santa Ana - today’s Irish Town - ending up by the Line Wall at an opening known as la Torre de Machin. The road through which the sewer ran probably corresponds with today’s Cooperage Lane. 


(Luis Bravo de Acuna -1627 - adapted)

Another major source of pollution was the abattoir mentioned by Portillo when he describes the ward of one of Gibraltar’s councillors or Jurors called Pedro de Morales.

. . . that is from the corner of the Plaza up to the sea wall and the Puerta de la Barcia, Calle Sta Ana (Irish Town) and the wall of the slaughterhouse (and) the brothel up to the Albacar.

The Slaughter House   (Early 19th century - Bulteel Fisher)


The Parade - today's John Mackintosh Square  - The building immediately to the left of the fountain is the slaughterhouse shown above - It was used as a barracks by the British Garrison    (1750s James Montressor))

Abattoir waste invariably ended up being chucked over the Line Wall, polluting the litoral waters and creating problems for the southern section of the Old Mole.

On the southern side of the Alcazaba, Villa Vieja and la Barcina the sea wall served to protect the southern section of the Rock and the suburb of la Turba. This area appears to have taken its name from the mound of red sands over which it was built - al-turba-alhamra.

Historians who have discussed the above are uncertain as to when the suburb came into existence. Barrantes Maldonado suggests that it was developed after the Spaniards took over.
Next to la Barcina is the suburb which became populated after it was taken from the Moors. Within it is la plaza, the main church, San Francisco and las Turbas which are wells from which the people of the town get their water. 
The “plaza” was the eventual John Mackintosh Square, “the main church”, St Mary the Crowned and “San Francisco” the Convent. Naming the “wells” as “las Turbas” suggests that this is where Maldonado thought La Turba may have got its name from.


La Turba - A comparison of plans of the town over the years

The comparisons are as follows - fom top: Moorish era (Pre 1462), Luis Bravo de Acuña (1627), Hermann Moll (1720), Unknown Spanish plan (1799), W.H. Smyth (1831)

(As regards the origin of the name) Portillo refers to Roman interventions
La Turba is defined by its name which must have been given to it by the Romans as Turba in Latin means “a crowd” or confused people.  
However, he also mentions the location of the Marinid baths and a mesquita in la Turba which appear to point towards Moorish origins, something which seems to be confirmed by recent archaeological excavations.

The Medieval Archaeology group of the Gibraltar Museum has recently detected vestiges of the Almohad on the red sands of the Moorish baths without finding any traces of any building. Those constructions that have been found date from the Marinid and Nasrid periods between the 14th and the 16th century.  The Cathedral of Saint Mary the Crown is known to have once been a mesquite all of which suggests that Portillo’s Roman suggestion is incorrect. 


The Moorish Baths     ( Kenyon - 1910)


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