The People of Gibraltar
2019 - The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Part 12

Spider Cave
This is a very small cave located near the summit of Mediterranean steps. The cave was widened to by the military during WWII and very little remains of the original formations. As suggested by the name, the cave is home to quite a few of spiders including the Gibraltar funnel-web spider Macrothele calpeiana. The cave is listed on the World Heritage document as not having the potential for further research. 

Stone Pine Cave
Near and south of Spur Road Cave, it is almost a replica of it. In 2005 it was thought not to have been excavated previously.


Spur Road Cave
This cave lies south of St Michael’s Roof Passage Cave. It has a small entrance, which opens up into a largish chamber with formations which have been broken for souvenirs. It was discovered by George Palao in the 1960s.


A decade later It was used as a dump and the floor was left covered with litter. Nevertheless by 2005 the cave was thought to be a promising candidate for excavations that could provide an insight into the living conditions of early man.



Uninviting possible floor entrance holes in Spur Road Cave

St Michael’s Cave Complex
Just about the entire complex is deservedly listed in the 2018 - Heritage and Antiquities Act.



Old St. Michael’s Cave

One of the top tourist attractions on the Rock. I have never been inside . I suspect it was not as easy to access it just after WWII as it is today yet I must admit that whenever I read or hear the words St Michael’s Cave mentioned it is the old one that  comes to mind rather than any of the other ones -including the “New” cave which - as I mention in my introduction - is the only one I have actually visited.


Difficult to know where to start with St Michael's so let me try with the Massaliote Periplus which was written by an anonymous Greek in the 6th century BC.  It was one of the earliest works to describe the trade links between the people of the Mediterranean and those that lived in more northern lands. Interestingly it gives us our first name for the Rock – Calpe.
The Pillars of Hercules . . .  are in actual fact two paired mountains – Ábila and Calpe . . .  In the barbaric language of the Phoenicians . . .  Calpe is the name given by the Greeks to something that has a hollow appearance and looks like a curved mountain.


A section that was missing from a 13th century Roman world plan - the Tabula Peutingeriana. The missing section shown above was reconstructed in 1872 by a Konrad Miller. He included the Rock but not its name but corrected this in a 1916 edition by labelling it as Calpis.

The historian George Hills offers the theory that “Calpe” is derived from the Phoenician "kalph" - to hollow out - and backs it up with a quote by Strabo.
. . . an extraordinarily marvellous hollow with its opening half way op facing west; and from that opening for people going in there is no difficulty of movement, for as far as one can see it is all a cavity.
. . . in other words, St Michael's Cave. It is not in my opinion a convincing argument. That St Michael's is a rather large cave is indisputable but that this might have been extrapolated by the ancients into the belief that the entire Rock was completely hollow does not ring true.

To move on, the name of the cave is obviously of Spanish origin. One of the first references that I can find is by the mid-16th century Spanish soldier and author Pedro Barrantes Maldonado
En algunas partes de estas sierras de Gibraltar hay unas grandes cuevas cavadas en las peñas, donde dicen que solían habitar los antiguos gigantes, y sobre todas es más señalada la cueva que llaman de Sant Miguel. 
Gibraltar’s very own first historian Alonso del Portillo also refers to it as la Cueva de San Miguel and the name persisted after the British take-over although it appears that some attempt was made to change the name to a more patriotic St George’s Cave. The oldest literary British reference I can find is that of John Durant Breval calls it the Cave of Gibraltar




(1726 – John Durant Breval)

From then on authors such as John Drinkwater, Francis Carter and others refer to it simply as St Georges Cave, while Robert Montgomery Martin in volume VII of his massive British Colonial Library blunders badly:
The most celebrated cave is that called St. George's by the Spaniards, and St. Michael’s by the English.
But not everybody followed their example.




St Michael’s Cave (1796 - Rev Cooper Willyams)


However, even as late as 1891 Thomas Dunckerley in a letter to the earl of Chesterfield is still describing it as St Georges Cave. But it did not catch on generally and it has been known as St Michael’s ever since.


The French stuck to St Michael’s


During the mid-19th century the cave was often specially illuminated to entertain officers of the Garrison and their families.



(1846 – John Murray Carter)

Carter included a lengthy note in which he explained his picture:
At the time appointed the party assembled on the terrace . . .  a military band stationed in the inner cave plays . . . only a sufficient number of candles . . . just to indicate the road . . .  when lo! As if by the wave of a magician’s hand . . . the Cave is instantly and brilliantly illuminated by coloured lights . . .  
By the middle of the 19th century caving became a very popular pastime among the Garrison officers of the Rock and St Michael’s was a firm favourite. Among the many reasons for its popularity were the various myths associated with it – that it was bottomless. It isn’t. That it was connected by a tunnel with Africa. It wasn’t. That the apes disappear down this tunnel when they die. They don’t . . . 


1840 was the year in which Colonel Mitchell and his friend Brett apparently lost their lives under mysterious circumstances while exploring the cave – their bodies were never found – thereby adding yet another layer to the general mythology of the Cave.


Also in 1840 Captain Webber-Smith perhaps the first proper survey and produced an overall plan of the cave and different parts and bits and pieces of the place began to acquire specific names – Brown’s Bath, the Grotto, Smith’s Hole, the Prison, Hanson’s Passage and Hanson’s Grove, the Clincher . . .  this last one being mentioned in 1909 by W.W. Cole Verner remembering an incident when he was having a go himself:
. . .  he succeeded in becoming jammed in "Clincher Hole” . . . his sticking: was more of the nature of a fish-bone across the gullet type. Anyway, he became fixed to the consternation of those below him who thus saw their retreat cut off. The tale goes that at one time it was under consideration to sacrifice him for the good of the majority and remove him piecemeal. Happily, he was eventually dragged out.


Exploration of St Michaels cave, Gibraltar, by Naval Officers (1884- Possibly The Graphic)




The “Cathedral” of St Michael’s Cave (1930s – E.R. Kenyon)


The cave we know today was first opened for tourists - and as an auditorium -for various appropriate functions in 1960. It has never looked back 

New St Michael’s Cave
This cave was discovered in 1942 and was kept a military secret for a year. The first public record appeared in the Times in March 1943 and in May that same year it appeared as  “picture of the week” in Life Magazine.






Picture of the Week (1943 - Life Magazine)

It too soon had most of its more distinctive bits and pieces suitably named - The Bottomless Pit - which is actually only 54 ft deep, Preston’s Rift with higher than normal Carbon Dioxide level, the rather dull Northern Series, the Lake. . . The New Cave has proved just as interesting and spectacular as the old one.




The Lake - New St Michael’s Cave (2016 – Nature Reserve Document)

Old Lower St Michael’s Cave
Information on this part of the system is hard to come by perhaps because it usually considered as simply a less exciting bottom section of the main Old Cave. Apparently, it was an attempt to make it easier to move from the top to the bottom section of the older cave that led to the discovery of the New St Michael’s Cave. 

St Michael’s Roof Passage
The roof passage lies 60m to the south of the natural entrance to Old St. Michael’s Cave. There is an opening here with a small, exposed and very dangerous narrow ledge from where the Old Cave can be observed some 25m below. The consensus seems to be that the roof passage should be sealed off to prevent accidents – perhaps it already has.



2019 - The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Introduction
2019 - The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Part 1 - All’s Well - Beefsteak
2019 - The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Part 2 - Blackstrap - Buena Vista
2019 - The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Part 3 - Cave S - Coptic
2019 - The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Part 4 - Devil’s Fall - Devil’s Tower
2019 - The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Part 5 - Europa Pass - Forbes’ Quarry
2019 - The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Part 6 - Genista - George’s Bottom
2019 - The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Part 7 - Gorham’s - Harley Street
2019 - The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Part 8 - Holy Boys - Ibex
2019 - The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Part 9 - Judge’s Cave - Martin’s Cave
2019 - The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Part 10 - Monkey’s - O’Hara’s
2019 - The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Part 11 - Poca Roca - Ragged Staff
2019 - The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Part 12 - Spur Road - St Michael’s -
2019 - The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Part 13 - Star Chamber - Viney Quarry