A stroll around Gibraltar No.19 : Whithams Cemetery

I may be had up for trade descriptions on this one, it’s more of a dig around Whithams Cemetery than a walk… (and no, it’s not what you think!).

If you have followed Postcard from Gibraltar for a while, you may remember that last year I took you for a stroll along Rosia Road and down to the sea; A stroll around Gibraltar No. 12. During that walk I went slightly off piste and showed you the fascinating place that is Whithams Cenetery.

I’ve become rather bewitched by this atmospheric place since the first time I happened to look over the wall which stands above it. The large abandoned graveyard is boxed in on all sides by buildings and looked so unloved and sad yet mesmerizing to me.

Since that first time I laid eyes on it a year or two ago, I have pressed my nose up to the cemetery gates many times craning to see more of what lay inside. Over the months, it became obvious that it hadn’t been completely forgotten about as the trees were pruned back and there was evidence that some work was underway to clear the area and attempt to restore it to its former glory.

A chance conversation with a friend of mine back in November revealed that she was one of the team of volunteers who are currently trying their best to wrestle the graveyard back from the brink of ruin. I went along one morning to lend a hand and join in.

I arrived dressed for the job, in old clothes and boots, brought my own spade and gardening gloves – which are necessary as there are lots of nettles and prickly weeds (the Heritage Trust did have a supply of gloves and tools for volunteers too).


We worked for just over 2 hours in the cool morning light. Thankfully, because of it’s position, it was only starting to get really sunny as we packed up. My grave digging (joke) pal and I made great progress clearing a stretch of about 3 metres across to about 6 rows of graves deep.

The team of volunteers bagged up a large pile of sacks containing weeds and unwanted shrubs to be taken away off site. A lot of progress was made, but as it’s such a large plot and the weeds keep coming back, it’s going to take quite a few more mornings like this one.

Sadly, a lot of the graves are in a very poor state of repair and some have been vandalised in the years that the cemetery was left abandoned. The Trust is planning to use a grant to repair some of them once the clearance work has been completed.

It really is a beautiful, atmospheric place, and not at all eery.

If you are in Gibraltar, are free on Monday mornings and fancy joining in with the rescue work going on at Whithams Cemetery, please get in touch with Gibraltar Heritage. You can get hold of them on: (+350) 20042844 or at their headquarters at the Main Guard in John Mackintosh Square – they would love to hear from you. 

 

 

 

A stroll around Gibraltar No. 18 : Moorish Castle

After a long school holiday at home with the Little Postcards, I escaped for a couple of hours on Saturday afternoon and headed out for a walk. Main Street was busy with bargain hunters hitting the sales so I decided to climb up out of the bustling town centre of Gibraltar and visit Moorish Castle.

The Tower of Homage, which can clearly be seen by visitors to Gibraltar as they approach from the airport is one of the last remaining buildings left by the Moors from when they controlled Gibraltar back in the 11th Century.

It’s a much visited destination on the usual Gibraltar tourist trail but, believe it or not, despite living here for so long, I haven’t been inside since our first ever visit to the Rock when we came for a look round and to find somewhere to live almost 8 years ago.

I climbed up higher and higher into the Upper Town leaving the shops and crowds enjoying the post Christmas sales on Main Street and found parts of Upper Town I’d never visited before. The street names refer to the Rock’s military past.

Wandering around the Moorish Castle Estate, I discovered great examples of community painting  projects from National Days gone-by.

I have to admit that I got lost a couple of times taking alleyways and paths assuming they would lead up to the castle and discovering dead ends! I have a feeling I will be visiting again soon as there are so many lovely examples of architecture which are crying out to be photographed… there are even headless men and children crossing the roads (see the sign below).

Never before have I seen such a festive washing line. I hope whoever the clean laundry belongs to doesn’t mind me sharing this, but wow what a lovely collection of Christmas table cloths, tea towels and aprons! Obviously being laundered to put away until next year!

As you walk up these roads and paths, you don’t realise how high you are climbing until you turn to look back at where you came from!

Nestled in amongst the post war government housing estate is an ancient structure which has a sign detailing it’s past. This building with battlements is probably the oldest building in Gibraltar. It was the original gatehouse for Moorish Castle and was occupied successively by Moorish, Spanish and British troops for over eight hundred years.

Just a little further up hill and there was the Castle.

You can completely understand why it was built in this position, what a great vantage point to observe our neighbours to the north. And just check out that cannon with it’s sight firmly set.

It was time to go inside..

The sign above the door reads:

When the Moors recaptured Gibraltar from the Spaniards in 1333 they rebuilt an earlier tower, ruined in the fighting, into this solid Tower of Homage, which has since withstood ten sieges.

After making your way through a steel gate, you reach the inner stairwell. Modern stairs lead the way up and down the tower now, but it’s clear to see what’s left of the original Moorish stairwell with arched sections left on some of the walls. The tower you see today was built at the same time as the Alhambra in Granada.

The first part you come to is an original Moorish bath house. The interlinking rooms are cleaned back to the stone and the subtle lighting means you can see the lovely brick work and arches which feature so heavily in the design.

A much larger example of a Moorish bath house can be found in the basement of the Gibraltar Museum. That is a truly atmospheric place and well worth a visit if you are over here.

Back into the stair well and this tiny window gave a great view of the town below. I wonder how many soldiers have stood with their weapons pointed out of there over the centuries?

These walls have stood the test of time and many attacks, in addition to the many sieges, in 1540, hundreds of people headed to the castle to shelter safely while Turkish pirates attacked the Rock.

Don’t look down!

I headed on up the stair well and up out of a little door at the top…

…to the roof and the most amazing panoramic view.

The Union Jack flapped in the breeze as gusts blew the clouds across the moody sky. In 1704 Admiral Rooke hoisted the British flag at this spot when he captured Gibraltar, one has flown here ever since.

Here’s Gibraltar’s famous runway which is bisected by the only road off the Rock, the Spanish town of La Linea lies on the other side of the border. Despite the fact many people mistakenly think Gibraltar is an island, you can clearly see we are well and truly attached to the rest of mainland Europe!

Down below the castle you get a good view of Casemates Square (bottom centre of the photo). In it’s heyday the Moorish Castle complex stretched all the way down to where Casemates is today.

Immediately below the tower is the remains of the former Gibraltar Prison. The Prison was still in use here when we arrived to live on the Rock, but it has now relocated to a purpose-built facility above Europa Point.

It wasn’t just me and a handful of tourists who were taking a moment to appreciate the view up there.

Can you can see the old building with scaffolding around in the centre of the picture? That is the orginal gatehouse which I mentioned before – it’s hard to imagine now, but the castle must have covered a really large area.

In addition to the town below, you get a brilliant view of the sea and the coast further north. It was looking a bit blustery on the Mediterranean coast up towards Santa Margarita.

In the Bay of Gibraltar, it was more sheltered, but this small group of yachts was making the most of the breeze off the western end of the runway.

I enjoyed my visit to Moorish Castle, I’m so glad I decided to forgo the joys of Saturday afternoon sales shopping in town in favour of this.

Goodbye for now Moorish Castle, I promise I won’t leave it so long before visiting you again!

 

Mapping Gibraltar’s Past

An absolutely fascinating exhibition of documents and maps from the Gibraltar Archives are on public display at the Fine Arts Gallery in Casemates Square at the moment. The exhibition, which has been put on to ‘remind’ the public that the archives are there for anyone who’s interested to access and find out more about the history of the Rock we live on.

I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to the history and geography of where I’m living, we’ve moved about quite a bit since we got married and I always like to find out about the place where we call home. 


A chance visit to the Fine Art Gallery on an errand for a friend brought me face to face with some fascinating documents dating from when Gibraltar was ruled by Spain up to the latest 2016 Ordinance Survey map of Gibraltar.



Among the items on display are plans drawn up by the Royal Engineers for the Devil’s Gap Battery (you may remember my post about it A stroll around Gibraltar No. 10: Devil’s Gap Battery). There were also plans of Kings Bastion (now our leisure centre, housing a cinema, bowling alley and ice skating rink).

The exhibition, put on by the Gibraltar National Archives forms part of the department’s outreach programme for this year. The idea being to showcase original documents and digital images of many of the important items stored within the archive.

There are over one hundred maps on display and several thousand available digitally. Some feature battles fought by war ships off the coast of the Rock, the one above shows locations of where missiles landed which were fired from the ships in the Bay. 


Another exhibit  charts the route taken by the Queen and Prince Phillip on their visit to Gibraltar in the 1950s.


An interesting plan drawn up in the 1980s shows all the properties along Main Street, detailing the shops or businesses contained in each and what kind of state each building was in at the time. Either freshly painted, in need of attention or dilapidated!

It looks like the outside of what is now Marks & Spencer needed a clean!

There are even plans from twenty years ago, when a formal garden was planned for Casemates Square in 1996.

If you want to see it for yourself and are in Gibraltar, or will be visiting before the end of the week, you will need to be quick as the exhibition closes on Friday. Do pop in though if you have the chance because it’s really interesting and there are experts on hand to speak to about the exhibits or answer any questions you may have.