The People of Gibraltar
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 14 – La Giralda and the Third Siege


Once upon a time, according to Alcantara, there was a tower known as La Giralda somewhere near Smith-Dorrien Bridge – or perhaps even on top of North Bastion . . . 
Maurice Harvey – Gibraltar 2002 p37
This was the Giralda Tower, now superseded by North Bastion.
But to tell you the truth I have no idea where he got this from from. Nor can I understand the connection between la Giralda and Alcantara’s quote from Thomas James. I would guess, however, that he is inferring that the bastion was once a large tower and that it was this tower that was once called la Giralda. 

However, as far as I can make out the words “la Giralda” do not appear anywhere in the two-volume history of the Herculean Straits. North Bastion itself, on the other hand, does.
Thomas James - Herculean Straits - Vol 2
The next . . . is the North Front . . . with the north bastion, anciently a Moorish tower: it retains still the same form, except the parapet in front, which is made of tapia . . .
This formidable bastion formed an important part of the northern defences of the town throughout the medieval era and continued to be highly thought of when the British were in charge. It was constructed by Gibraltar’s original Arabic masters, perhaps during the early 14th century and was seriously improved during the early 17th by the Spaniards – they had no less than four different names for it - el Baluarte del Canuto, del Cañuto, de San Sebastian and de San Pablo. It was also of course, modernised by British engineers throughout the 18th and beyond and renamed South Bastions.
Ángel J Sáez Rodríguez - La Montaña Inexpugnable - (2007)
The northern defences were finished off by the shores of the sea with a bastion known variously as el Baluarte del Canuto, Cañuto, San Sebastián or San Pablo - the last being the one most commonly used. (My translation)
The original structure - or “Baluarte” – seems to have had a complete make-over long when Charles V sent to Gibraltar a series of world-class engineers, among them, Calvi, El Frattino and Spannocci in the late 16th and Rojas and Bravo de Acuña in the early 17th Their general remit was to modernise Gibraltar’s out of date defences. Inevitably all of these engineers were influenced by new theories on bastion placements and architecture particularly those set out by Daniel Specklin in the 16th century.

The Imperial Engineer (17th century)
Darren Fa and Clive Finlayson – The Fortifications of Gibraltar 1068 – 1945)
1589 – the fortifications are extended and improved based on the designs of Daniel Speklin, the imperial engineer.
In essence, Gibraltar’s tall medieval walls and towers had proved far too vulnerable to new military hardware. They needed to be replaced by lower towers and bastions with thicker walls strong enough to resist canon fire as well as support the weight of heavier artillery. 
Tito Benady – Ingenieros Militares en Gibraltar en los siglos XVI y XVII
Las fortificaciones de Gibraltar se iniciaron en el siglo XII y fueron extendidas y mejoradas en el siglo XIV. El sistema de construcción de los muros y defensas empleado era medieval, pero los avances en la potencia, movilidad, precisión y cadencia del fuego de la artillería en el siglo XVI, introdujeron cambios muy importantes en el sistema de fortificación. Los altos muros medievales eran demasiado vulnerables en las nuevas condiciones, y tenían que ser reemplazadas con muros más bajos y suficientemente gruesos para poder soportar el peso de la artillería en sus terrados. . . 
The end result was that el Baluarte del Canuto (North Bastion) became a low platform with sloping walls for additional strength.

Crops from two sketches of the northern defences of the Rock ranging from the Moorish Castle to the sea (1567 – Wyngaerde)

These two sketches were created a couple of decades after Charles the V Wall had been built by the Emperor’s appointed engineers. The perspective on the top sketch by Wyngaerde is drawn from across the Bay looking more or less towards the east and is as expected – that is the Tower of Homage at the top of the hill followed by a series of defensive structures leading down to the bay. If you look closely you can make out the Baluarte de San Pablo and to its right with the beach leading to la Puerta de Mar – Waterport Gate.

For the bottom sketch, the artist placed himself somewhat further towards the north-east but curiously decided to distort his perspective showing a clearer view of San Pablo, the beach and la Puerta de Mar on the right-hand side. There are two important differences – cannons on top of San Pablo’s platform - as decreed by Specklin - and a tallish tower to its left which appears to be about to be in the process of being demolished – presumably part of the older and taller structures that were replaced by the new Baluarte.

Anton Van den Wyngaerde (1567)

The top crop was taken from this impressive sketch.

The more or less diamond shaped structure in the middle of these plans is the Baluarte de San Pablo (1608 – Cristobal Rojas on the left – 1624 – Luis Bravo de Acuña on the right)

Side view of the Baluarte – here named as del Canuto - shown as a flat low platform in accordance with modern theory, at the end of the slope of the Rock from the Calahorra – the tower of Homage of the Moorish Castle


All this more or less explains the validity of James’s comment but has nothing to do with la Giralda. An eminent Spanish historian who dabbled in such matters suggested that a small tower that guarded the access to the Castle keep was once known as la Gurilanda. 
Ángel J Sáez Rodríguez - La Montaña Inexpugnable (2007)
The Moorish Castle . . . also had access to the exterior via its southeast front protected - according to Torres Balbás - by a small tower known as the Gurilanda - as it was known in the 16th century. (My translation)
Leopoldo Torres Balbás – Gibraltar, Llave y Guardia del Reino P193
En su frente de SO (south west) tuvo puerta de acceso desde el exterior, hoy tapiada, de la que se reconocen dentro un dintel despiezado de piedra y los huecos o gorrones para el giro de los ejes de las dos hojas que la cerraban. Protegía este ingreso una torrecilla próxima, situada algo más abajo, en la muralla que desciende para cercar la alcazaba; tal vez será la que, en el siglo XVI, llamaban la Gurilanda.

“En su frente de SO (south west) tuvo puerta de acceso desde el exterior” - my interpretation of Leopoldo Torres Balbás 
Julian Paz - Castillos y Fortalezas del Reino 1914 - P52
Tenía el siguiente armamento: En la Garrahola (sic): 10 barriles de pólvora . . . Más 
abajo, en la Gurilanda: medio barril de pólvora cinco servidores grandes . . .
Ángel J Sáez Rodríguez – Article Almohade y Meriním (2001)
Gurilanda might be a corruption of the word “Giralda”. (My translation)
They might be right but it is not particularly convincing. Incidentally I have never come across the word Gurilanda elsewhere in my travels through the literature whereas “Giralda” does warrant a mention here and there – the oldest one to date from our very own Alonso Hernández del Portillo writing in the early 17th century. 

He describes and locates la Giralda quite clearly as a very strong bastion lying in front of the Tower of Homage. It was, he wrote, powerful enough to support enough men to defend the fort should Gibraltar be under attack.
Alonso Hernández del Portillo – Historia de Gibraltar (early 17th Century). . . Castillo Calahorra - Tiene este castillo dentro de sí una torre que llaman la Calahorra, nombre a mi parecer árabe . . . Tiene por delante un reducto que llaman La Giralda, de fortísima muralla, y capaz de recibir gente bastante para defender la fuerza . . . En lo último e interior de esta Giralda que a mi parecer es citadela como de los italianos, está la torre Calahorra . . .

The main part of town of Gibraltar in the early 14th century (1996 - The Streets and of Gibraltar Tito Benady - adapted)

The above illustration suggests that Benady may have taken his cue from Portillo but remained unsure as to where exactly one might have found the elusive Giralda. The following early 17th century plans of the complex are not much help either.

“X” on left plan is labelled as “The Castle”
“W” on middle plan is also labelled as “The Castle”
“C” on right plan the castle complex is labelled as “The Castle” but omits the Tower of Homage.
Left - D’Harcourt 1704, middle - Homannishen Erben 1733, right – Unknown 1705

My own interpretation is based on Portillo’s description of it as a “reducto que llaman La Giralda, de fortísima muralla”. The Giralda had nothing to do with the Baluarte de San Pablo - aka North Bastion - nor was it necessarily la Gurilanda as described above. Rather I suspect it was an integral part of the Moorish Castle itself as suggested by at least one modern historian and together with an archaeologist. 
Ángel J. Sáez Rodríguez - Gibraltar Almohade y Meriní - 2001 P201
Dos recintos separaban la alcazaba de la Calahorra. El primero, de buena mampostería por hiladas, hacia función de barbacana o antemuro de la gran torre y se menciona a finales del siglo XVI con el nombre de Giralda o Gurilanda
To explain this, it might be a good idea to summarise the geography of the Castle which was, after all, the largest such structure in the whole of Islamic al-Andalus

The Moorish Castle

As shown above the keep was divided by defensive walls into inner and outer perimeters and stood at the north eastern end of the Castle complex. Together they must have at one time formed a powerful redoubt or bastion - “la citadela” described by Portillo – which I believe was once known as La Giralda. Doubly protected and within the inner keep of La Giralda, stood the formidable tower of Homage. As shown in the table below, I am not completely alone in believing this to be so. 

N.T Norris – Early Islamic Settlement in Gibraltar – 1961 

Incidentally, the tower has been known variously as la Calahorra, la Torre de Homenaje, la Torre de la Vela as well as la Torre Blanca – this last one for the reason given below. 
Leopoldo Torres Balbas – From R. DozyMás tarde se llamó también torre del Homenaje y Blanca, este último nombre por haber estado encalada hacia 1600. 
Any yet most Gibraltarians – in fact, just about everybody including myself – insist on calling the tower The Moorish Castle as we tend to think of it as representing the entire complex – which as evidenced by this particular article, is very far from the truth. 


14th century Gibraltar is not the easiest epoch for an amateur historian. The relationship that existed at the time between Marinid and Nasrid Islamic dynasties was byzantine in its complexity, as was the almost incomprehensible medieval rivalries between the various Spanish kings and noblemen.

The Marinid Dynasty or the Banu Marin, founded in 1244, were allies of the Umayyad Caliphs of Cordoba. Abu al-hassan was the Sultan when he captured Gibraltar in 1333. With the end of the Omayyad reign in Iberia, the Marinids became masters of Morocco and allies of the Nasrids in Granada. The Nasrids were the last Muslim dynasty in Iberia. They were founded in Granada in 1230 by Muhammad I and lasted until Granada was taken by the Catholic Kings in 1492. The Nasrids were the longest ruling Muslim dynasty in the Iberian Peninsula, reigning for more than 250 years.

At the start of the 14th century, Gibraltar still found itself under Islamic rule. The glorious days of Abd al-Mu'min and his Madinat-al-Fath were long gone and despite the Spanish interlude of 1309 one could be forgiven for thinking of Gibraltar as much a forgotten backwater as it had been before 1160.

Gibraltar now belonged to Muhammad III, the Nasrid Sultan of Granada who also happened to own Algeciras - a town across the Bay from the Rock that had become the main player in the long drawn out tussles for power in what was at the time a rather turbulent neighbourhood. 

The Alhambra of Granada, the modest home of Mohammad III

Although the plan to recover the Rock was initiated by the Nasrid sultan of the Kingdom of Granada - Muhammad IV - the real leading light was the Marinid ruler of Morocco, Abu Al'Hasan 'Ali ibn 'Othman whose name seems to have been spelt as either 'Hassan' or Hasan' depending on the fancy of the writer and who I will refer to from now on if I can remember - as Abu-l-hasan.

A “Who's Who” of the Nasrid leaders who were in control of Granada - and its Alhambra

A year earlier a very young Muhammad III arrived in Fez and arranged a meeting with Abu-l-hasan in which he proposed a joint campaign to retake Gibraltar from Spain. It was, he suggested, ripe for the taking. The Spanish governor of Gibraltar, Vasco Perez de Meira was less than likely to put up much resistance. For years he had been embezzling money intended for military provisions for the defence of the Rock and had even gone as far as to sell the town's entire supply of wheat to his enemies. He was making use of the King’s money to buy himself property in Xerez.
Ignacio López de Ayala – Historia de Gibraltar 1782 - James Bell translation
At this period, Vasco Perez de Meira, a Galician knight, was Governor; but he, more intent on laying the foundation of large entailed estates, than of the care of so important a charge, diverted to the purchase of large properties near Xerez . . the means granted by the King for the maintenance of the garrison . . . His covetousness led him even to sell the stores he possessed to the Moors, who gladly purchased with the premeditated intention of attacking when scarcity should prevail . . . 
Alonso Hernández del Portillo - Historia de Gibraltar - 1625
Estaba como diré aquí por este tiempo Alcaide Basco Pérez de Neyra, y habían en aquella sazón en Gibraltar grande falta de mantenimientos, que además de que aquel año debió de ser estéril y falto de ellos el Alcaide, con su codicia había vendido el trigo que tenía para su provisión y de su gente a los Moros; los cuales como le conocieron el humor, y le querían engaña y ganar la Ciudad, procurándolo desabastecer con la golosina del dinero. 
Crecía en gran manera de cada día más el hambre de la ciudad, y perdiérase más presto sino aportara aquí un navío cargado de trigo que vino huyendo de tormenta. Fue luego embargado y descargado, con que se remedio algo y mucha de la necesidad presente la cual causo la poca prudencia y mucha codicia de nuestro Alcaide, vicio abominable en cualquier acto humano y mucho más en la guerra e indigno el que está poseído de el de toda honra y aprovechamiento. 
Not surprisingly Muhammad’s proposal was met with warm approval by the newly installed Sultan of Fez. Abu-l-hasan, it must be stressed, was not just one of the most powerful men in Muslim circles but was also a survivor of the first water. Under him the Marinid Maghreb would eventually extend over an area that was larger than that of the Almohad Caliphate which had preceded him. He survived a revolt of his troops, the loss of many of his supporters and a nasty shipwreck. 

He even managed to avoid the usual fratricidal consequences when his son, Abu Inan Faris later seized power in Fez. Later in 1350, he failed in his attempt to regain his throne but managed to seek refuge in the High Atlas Mountains and died in comfortable exile. On the other hand, some historians suggest he may have been killed in 1351 in the mountains of Hentetah.
Al-Makkari - History of the Mohammedan Dynasties in Spain - Vol 1 (1629) P498
Abu-l-hassan reined for twenty years and four months after which he was killed in the mountains of Hentetah. 
Although it offers no further clues as to his character, according to Andre Julien in his Histoire de l'Afrique du Nord - 1961, Abu-l-hasan's mother was Abyssinian and he himself is reputed to have had a dark complexion, hence his nickname of the 'Black Sultan' of Morocco. Whatever the colour of his skin, his description as the greatest of the Marinid Sultans is almost certainly correct.

The war flag of the Marinids

Nevertheless, Abu-l-hasan would probably not have been able to take Gibraltar without some help from his ally in Granada. By the end of the 13th century, Marinid naval power was at a very low ebb after heavy losses against the Spaniards in their tussle for control over the Straits of Gibraltar. To make matters worse, much of the timber growing regions in the western Mediterranean needed for shipbuilding were in the hands of the Christians.

Joseph F. O'Callagan - The Gibraltar Crusade - 2011

In 1333, Abu-l-hasan, accompanied by his son Abu Malik Abd al-Walid – who from now on I will call Abd’l Malik and who was also known as Abomelique by the Spanish - sailed with his fleet across the Straits to Algeciras together with a large army and set about organising what would later come to be known as the Third Siege of Gibraltar.
Al-Makkari - History of the Mohammedan Dynasties - 1620s - Vol 2 - P355
. . . taking one of his sons with him, Abu l-hasan sailed thither with his fleet and, being soon after his landing joined by the troops of Granada under the command of Mohammed himself . . . made himself master of it.
Other sources suggest Abu-l-hassan stayed at home and simply sent his son Abd’l Malik with 5000 soldiers to Algeciras to carry out the job.
Joseph F. O'Callagan - The Gibraltar Crusade -  (2011) P162
At the beginning of 1333, Abu I-hasan, “a king wise in the ways of war” despatched his son Abu Malik . . . with 5000 soldiers to Algeciras
His troops soon occupied the atarazana or shipyard. He then encircled the place, took control of the heights immediately behind the fortress that Abd al-Mu'min had built two hundred odd years previously and proceeded to batter it into rubble.
George Hills - Rock of Contention - 1974 - P 57
By February 1333 Abu Malik was in possession of the higher ground overlooking the Castle and the atarazana . . . The two towers were being demolished by the siege engines.
I am not at all sure about the “two towers” – one was the castle – the other might refer to the atarazana or perhaps part of the keep.

Alfonso XI of Castile, now twenty odd years old, did try to help out the governor Vasco Perez de Meira during his defence against Abd’l Malik. Unable to come himself as he was otherwise engaged - particularly against his cousin Juan Manuel’s ravaging of the Castilian countryside – he sent his galleys to help out.

Alfonso XI and his noblemen (14th century – Libro de la Coronación de los Reyes de Castilla)
Joseph F. O'Callagan - The Gibraltar Crusade – 2011 P 162
He commanded his admiral . . . to supply Gibraltar with food
His admiral, Alfonso Jofre Tenorio, unable to be of much use as regards helping to the siege, was reduced to catapulting sacks of flour from his galleys into a town in which the population been reduced to eating cats, dogs, rats and boiled leather. Hardly any of the flour actually made it into the Castle keep where most of the population – including Meyra which meant that those who benefitted most were the besieging forces who by now were in full control of the rest of the town.

Admiral Alfonso Jofre Tenorio (From a 14th century document)
Joseph F. O'Callagan - The Gibraltar Crusade – 2011 P 163
The starving defenders were reduced to boiling and eating the leather of their shields and shoes as well as stray rats, cats and dogs
Crónicas de Don Alfonso XI
Et el Almirante que lo sabía algo desto, quisieralos acorrer con vianda: et fizo poner dos trabucos en dos naves, et con aquellos trabucos lanzabanÍes las talegas de la fariña: et como quiera que algo caía dentro en el castíello, pero lo más caía fuera, et tomábanlo los Moros: et por esto el Almirante non dexaba de les mandar ir lanzar fariña con aquellos trabucos. Et los Moros, por tirar que los del castíello non oviesen aquel acorro, posieron dos engeños con que tiraban aquellas dos naves en que estaban los trabucos: et los marineros de las naves ovieronlas arredrar, por rescelo que ge las quebrarían;
Meyra must have seen the writing on the wall and shortly after met with Abd’l Malik and surrendered Gibraltar – although he did manage to persuade him to allow the Spaniards to leave the town. Ironically, he did so while still holding on to a secret store of food that might have allowed him to keep the enemy at bay for another five days – enough time perhaps to allow Alfonso XI to come riding to his rescue. It was not to be and the 3rd Siege ended just as the 4th was about to start.
Crónicas de Don Alfonso XI
Et Vasco Pérez, veyendo que le non acorrían con vianda, et aquellas gentes laceraban tanto, salió al Infante Abomelique et entrególe el castíello, et pedióle que le dexase salir los Christianos á salvo. Et el Infante otorgógelo, et pedióle los Moros que él tenía de quien coydaba aver grand rendición, et diógelos. Et los Moros, desque cobraron el castiello, metieron toda la su flota en la atarazana de la villa de Gibraltar . . .
By 1333 it was all over and Gibraltar was once more a Moorish stronghold.


Alfonso XI did try to recapture the Gibraltar:
Poema de Alfonso Onceno – Leopoldo Torres Balbás P179
Los cristianos se tornaron
A Gibraltar foser guerra,
El castillo bien sercaron
Por la mar e por la tierra.  
A la Ínsola legaron,
E aportaron en tierra,
E Gibraltar bien sercaron,
Commo yvan con la sierra.
Cercado fué Gibraltar,
Muy noble miente syn falla,
E comenzaron le dar
Con engenos gran batalla.
And so they did, but a series of ill-conceived and poorly executed military manoeuvres meant that the assault soon petered out into an ineffective siege - the fourth suffered by Gibraltar during its long military history and the only one that can claim the dubious honour of its besiegers being besieged themselves.

The reason for this absurd state of affairs can be laid at the door of the decision by the successor of Mohammad III of Granada to give Abd’l Malik a helping hand as well as the advice Alfonso received from his own knights and noblemen – as will be made clear in the next instalment.

THE FOURTH SIEGE (Continued in the next chapter)

To read the booklet without any interruptions from me - click on the link below:

711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar - J.J. Alcantara

To read the rest of my commentary click on the appropriate link below:

711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 1 - The Visigoths and Islam
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 2 - Tarik and Gibraltar
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 3 - Tarik’s Mountain
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 4 - Tarik Invades
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 5 - Covadonga
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 6 - Vikings and Almoravids
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 7 - Yusuf Ibn Tashfin
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 8 - Abd al-Mu’min
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 9 - Madinat-al-Fath
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 10 - Moorish Wall, Aqueduct and Town
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 11 - Abd al-Mu’min Revisited
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 12 - The First Siege
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 13 - Christian Gibraltar and the Second Siege
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 14 - La Giralda and the Third Siege
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 15 - Abu al-hasan
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 16 - The Tower of Homage
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 17 - The Line Wall and the Shrine
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 18 - The Mosque, St Mary the Crowned and Rio Salado
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 19 - Siege of Algeciras and Ibn Battuta
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 20 - Southern Defences and Moorish Baths
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 21 - The Nuns’ Well
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 22 - The Gatehouse
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 23 - The 6th and 7th Sieges

711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 24 - The 8th Siege – Castilian Gibraltar