The People of Gibraltar
711-1492 - Medieval Gibraltar – Part 20 – Southern Defences and Moorish Baths


I am not entirely sure why Alcantara has decided to deal with this topic here. However, it is covered very nicely in “The Fortifications of Gibraltar 1068-1945” by Daren Fa and Clive Finlayson and in particular by Adam Hook’s illustration as shown below.

Section of southern wall of Castle complex (Adapted from Adam Hook– Thank you Adam)
1 = The Islamic gatehouse, 2 = curtain wall, 3 = The Outer Keep, 4 = The Inner keep 5 = The tower of Homage

Alcantara delves a bit deeper into the origins of the gatehouse on page 36. I will restrain myself until I get there in order to discuss appropriately.


This curious episode refers is the odd case of Ibn al-Hassan who declared himself king of the Rock in 1355 - although the date is arguable. This story obviously proved too good to be left out and is included in most serious general histories of the Rock.
Maurice Harvey – History - 2000 - P47
Isa Ibn al-Hassan appointed in 1356. (He gives no reference)
George Hills –The Rock of Contention 1974 - P86.
. . .in 1356 Abu Inan appointed a certain Isa ibn al-Hassan Governor of Gibraltar . . . Isa did more than take up his post. He declared himself King of Gibraltar. (He gives no reference)
William Jackson – The Rock of the Gibraltarians – 1990 – P55
In 1358 the authorities in Fez appointed Isa ibn al Hassan Governor of Gibraltar. He was an odiously obtuse man whose overpowering ambition led him to declare himself King of Gibraltar. (He gives J.H.Mann P71 as his reference)
Jackson’s reference is incorrect. It should be Frederic George Stephens – History – P171 as shown in the quote below. The mistake is an understandable one – Stephens wrote anonymously and his name does not appear on the cover of the book. However, the of the photographer responsible for the book’s illustrations –J.H.Mann (James Hollingworth Mann) – appears on the cover and is easily mistaken as being the author.
Frederic George Stephens – History – 1870 – P171
Meanwhile a striking event in the history of Gibraltar had happened in 1354 when the Wali of Gebal-Taric, Isa Ben Al-hassan Ben Abi Mandel Alascari, (Isa ibn al-Hassan) took possession of that fortress in his own name, and assumed the title of king. He had power to keep down the faithful inhabitants who would have opposed themselves to his rebellion, but his avarice and cruelty soon rendered him so abhorrent to all the people, that an insurrection ensued, wherein every one declared against him, and he was compelled to shut himself up In the citadel with his son, and but three weeks after the usurpation of the sovereign authority.
Being thus besieged by the people, he was, in a short time, reduced to surrender, when his victors sent him bound to Ceuta, and gave him up, together with his son, to the King Abu Anan. (Abu Inan Faris) That monarch then caused them both to be put to death with the most cruel and unparalleled tortures, as the reward of their disloyalty and rebellion. (He gives no reference)
My own view is that Stephens for some reason decided to go over the top and that in fact this little episode was simply par for the course at the time. Jackson’s description of Isa as “odiously obtuse” is odd to say the least. During the entire 14th century I would say that just about every main character that appears directly or indirectly in the history of Gibraltar, be they Muslim or Christian, King or Sultan could equally have warranted a similar epithet.

The "real" story is probablt that given by another Spanish Arabist. It is a lengthy one and I have taken the liberty of summarising the original Spanish version into a more compact English one.
Mariano Gaspar Remiro – Correspondencia Diplomática - Granada y Fez -1916
Isa Ibn al-Hassan was one of the great Marinid Sheiks of the era and one of the most influential members of Sultan’s council. So much so that when Abu l-hasan completed his much written about improvements to Gibraltar in the 1330s, he asked him to become Governor not just of Gibraltar but of all the Marinid properties in Iberia. 
Isa was also made inspector of all the region’s fortresses and paymaster general of its various garrisons – posts which he successfully carried out for successfully for quite a long period. So much so that whenever Abu al-hasan had to face any local problems in Tlemcen and Ifriquia he always turned to Isa for advice. 
When Abu al-hasan asked his councillor about the advisability to take on his enemies at home Isa told him not to do so as the Marinids were simply not strong enough. Unfortunately, in this case Abu al-hasan plowed ahead regardless and went to war against the rebelling African tribes. The result was a decisive defeat at the battle of Caireguan (Kairouan in Tunisia) and suffered its disastrous consequences for Abu al-hasan.
Isa immediately returned to Africa in order to help his old sultan against the machinations of his sons and especially Abuinan (Abu Inan Faris). They were about to do battle against each other when Abu Inan invited Isa to recognise his authority which he duly did as he realised that Abu al-hasan’s days were numbered. 
Isa travelled to Fez – Abu Inan’s capital – where he was made the president of the new Sultan’s private council. However, within a very short period of time Abu Inan was governing his domain as he damn well pleased and without asking for anybody’s advice. Understandably, Isa was none too pleased. 
After taking a short break – including a visit to Mecca – he asked for permission to return to al-Andalus so that he could continue to wage the holy war against the Christians. Abu Inan surprisingly agreed. On his arrival, Isa found that the man in charges of the all-important garrison payments was a fellow called Yahya el Fercachi whose unpleasant arrogance was even greater than that of Abuyahya Isa’s son and lieutenant. El Fercachi unadvisedly tried to humiliate both father and son by making them come to him to reclaim their payments to which Isa responded by putting the fellow in jail.
When news of all this came to the attention of Abu Inan, his immediate reaction was that Isa had come to some arrangement with Mohamed of Granada and Don Pedro of Castile. He therefore ordered his admiral Ahmed to send a few of his ships to Gibraltar. On their arrival the officers of the Garrison of Gibraltar as well as those of holy-war volunteers decided to rebel against their supposed master and agreed to take him instead back to Fez to face Abu Inan. Which they duly did. 
In 1355, after a lengthy trial in which Isa and his son simply offered remorse for their actions, both were returned to prison. Isa died after being riddled with spear wounds while his son had one hand and one foot amputated.


Alcantara’s certainty as regards the origins of the baths is not shared by a contemporary historian.
George Palao – Our Heritage – 1979 P5
The original city of Gibraltar founded by Abd-al-mu’min during the Almohad Dynasty in 1160 AD which was designed by Al-Hajj-Ya’ish would have certainly included baths . . . but that existing underneath the present Gibraltar Museum dates from the Moorish reconquest from the Spaniards in 1333.
It is also contradicted by more recent opinions.
Kevin Lane et al – Myths Moors and Holy Wars – 2014 p153
The final excavation uncovering Islamic stratigraphy was at the Gibraltar Museum during the restoration of the Moorish baths or hammam that are to be found within the museum building itself. . . In terms of the archaeological material uncovered the pattern was similar to the cathedral excavation, a mix of mainly Nasrid and some Marinid material overlain by later Spanish and British material. This assemblage did yield one possible Almohad sherd, but it was so worn that a precise identification of the piece was not possible.
To boot, the “possible Almohad sherd” was found not within the Moorish bath area but to the entrance courtyard to the south of the baths.
Leopoldo Torres Balbás – Crónicas arqueológicas 1942 - P104 footnote
En el año 1930 el Gobierno de Gibraltar me invitó a visitar esa ciudad y a estudiar las posibilidades de restauración del Baño musulmán. El informe emitido con tal motivo - Notas para la restauración del Baño árabe de Gibraltar - traducido al inglés, se publicó en el Annual Journal, vol. I, 1930 (Gibraltar 1931), pp. 54-57 
“. . . la bóveda que la cubría, que era, según se ve en la parte conservada, de medio cañóncon luceras estrellada” (1942 Torres Balbás)
Ignoro si posteriormente se han realizado las obras de investigación y reparación que en él aconsejaba; la descripción que sigue responde al estado del edificio en ese año de 1930. Mi última visita a Gibraltar fue en 1934; esperaba completar el examen de las fortificaciones medievales en otra posterior. Como ésta no se realizó, ni es fácil que se presente ocasión propicia para hacerla, me he decido a publicar estas notas, algo incompletas.

Detalle de la habitación central (1942 – Torres Balbás)
Leopoldo Torres Balbás p104 to 112
El Baño - Cerca de la orilla del mar, en lugar próximo a donde estuvo la puerta del Baño, consérvense unos cuantos locales de un edificio de época musulmana dedicado a tal fin. Sobre ellos se han construido modernamente unas habitaciones destinadas a museo.
Torres Balbás then proceeds to give us a couple of plans, a photograph and several pages worth of measurements and descriptions no doubt taken from his 1930s research work. He does not, however, speculate on who was responsible for having the baths built nor the date in which it was constructed. He does however hint that it was pretty old.

“Baño Árabe” (1942 – Torres Balbas)
Leopoldo Torres Balbás p112
La disposición de este mutilado baño es análoga a la de los numerosos conservados en España y el Norte de África. Al que más se asemeja es a uno de los más antiguos de Fez, publicado por Ricard. Todos tienen tres habitaciones fundamentales: una cámara central, casi siempre cubierta con cúpula sobre columnas, con galerías en dos, en tres o en torno de sus cuatro lados, y otras dos estancias, estrechas y largas, una a cada lado, abovedadas . . .
My own view is that whoever built the baths it certainly wasn’t the Almohads. Why on earth would Abd-al-mu’min have ordered the construction of such a building such a distance from his walled town in the north. If a bath is what he wanted he would have surely had it built it close to all those palaces, mosques and other luxury buildings he is supposed to have ordered built within the Qasabah area or to the west of it.

Finally, as regards Alcantara’s mention of the baths being used as a stable:
George Palao – Our Heritage – 1979 P7
. . . when the Moorish Bath was being reconstructed as stables somebody buried a small coin I anew wall . . . the Spanish medio duro of King Charles III dated 1786, remained hidden until it came to light during a recent reconstruction. It is at present exhibited in our museum, still as bright and yellow as when it was first minted.

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

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