The People of Gibraltar
1580s - The Old Mole and the New - And All those Engineers

Alonso Hernández de Portillo and Fabio Borsoto
Bartolomé Quemado and Louis Bravo de Laguna
Juan Pedro Libadote  and Giliberto de Bedoya
Tibúrcio Spanochi and Cristóbal de Rojas
Luis Fajardo and the Duke of Medina Sidonia
Juan Battista Antonelli and Jerónimo de Soto.
Julio César Fontana and Luis Bravo de Acuña  
Giovanni Baptista Antonelli and Juan de Zuñega

From the 16th century and probably right up until the late 19th, Gibraltar's two main ports were invariably referred to as the New and Old Moles.  But as so often happens with relative terms such as 'new' and 'old', it was easy to make a mistake. After all, the 'new' soon becomes the old and the 'old' was once the new.

1704 - Detail of a map of the Bay of Gibraltar showing several correctly identified buildings and geographical details - but all of them slightly out of position - particularly the New and Old Moles ( Louis Boudan )               ( see LINK )             

Written evidence of these two moles can be found in Alonso Hernández de Portillo's 17th century Historia de Gibraltar.( see LINK )  He wrote.
Tiene esta ciudad una bahía y puerto de los buenos de España, y tal que muy poco le hacen ventaja, y el sí a muchos. Es muy grande y capaz y para mayores armadas de las que en él se pueden juntar. Tiene un muelle comenzado para mayor abrigo de las galeras que tiene de cargo; y otro muelle que en la Torre del Tuerto se comenzó a hacer año de 1519 y se va prosiguiendo y está hoy en catorce brazas y el Rey Phelipe cuarto entró en el año 1624 y mandó proseguir la obra que ha costado hasta hoy más de trescientos mil ducados 

From a handwritten copy of Alonso Hernandez del Portillo's History of Gibraltar 

The mole in front of the Torre del Tuerto was the 'New Mole' and if the 1519 date is correct, it must have been a slow work in progress. Nor was it the longest harbour in the world - one braza being approximately two meters means the New Mole was roughly 28 meters long at the time. 

By inference one might also conclude that the Old Mole must have been constructed before 1519 as it was still being built at the time of writing. It also means that one might arrive at the rather unlikely conclusion that both moles were still under construction more than a hundred years later. 

Elsewhere, Portillo refers to the Old Mole once again.
. . . pues en nuestros días a antes de la fabrica del muelle vimos todos entrar la mar por esta otra puerta hasta dentro de las casas con estar mucha oblicuidad e impedida con un ante muro por delante aunque hoy por causa del muelle no llega la creciente con algunos pasos a el muro ni puerta . . .  

From a handwritten copy of Alonso Hernandez del Portillo's History of Gibraltar 

Although the entire phrase is open to all sorts of interpretations, one of these might be that the construction of the Old Mole was actually started during Portillo's lifetime. This leads to yet another absurd conclusion -  that the Old Mole was newer than the New Mole. 

All this presumes that Portillo wasn't talking through his hat - although as someone who was a strong believer in all sorts of astrological nonsense  - including a conviction  that the most important events in Gibraltar had occurred on a Friday - this is by no means outside the realms of possibility. In fact it must almost be taken it as a given that the date of 1519 is incorrect

Long before Portillo, however, there were good indications that the Old Mole itself was not a figment of anybody's imagination. A map dated 1587 with the title - Plano de la Fortificación de Gibraltar - shows a very elongated but recognisable Old Mole in exactly the place one would expect it to be. 

1587 - Plan of Gibraltar's fortifications by an unknown author.

The following year, however, the area surrounding the Mole became clogged up with sand and waste making it almost unusable. A certain Fabio Borsoto was appointed to clean the place up but what records exist suggest he had little success - although it is hard to understand why.

Borsoto - or Fabbiano Bursotto - was no run-of-the-mill rubbish collector. He was the man responsible for designing the harbours at Malaga and at Palermo. The later was considered by many to be the first modern port ever built not just in Sicily but in the world. 

There is also something else that ought to be kept in mind  when considering the poor success rate of the very many projects submitted throughout the 16th and 17th century on improvements and repairs to Gibraltar's defences and moles.

Plans were invariably drawn up by licensed and - in the case of Gibraltar - usually well known  engineers. However, the actual work was carried out by local people under the supervision of somebody who was known as a Maestro Mayor. In Gibraltar the fellow doing this work at that time was Bartolomé Quemado. He had started off in 1558 and had kept going until 1591. It was a job for life. Whether Bartolomé had the usual stereotypical tradesmen's traits is unknown - but reading between the lines he probably did.

Nor could failures be attributed to medieval Union trouble or the lack of a suitable work force. By the end of the century officially employed workers were required to be at least eighteen years old and in good health. During the months of April right through to August their timetable was usually from dawn to dusk Breakfast was at seven, lunch at eleven and there was half an hour off in the evening for supper. During the rest of the year everything was pushed back an hour. 

According to another engineer, Louis Bravo de Laguna, there were also approximately 5000 people living in la Turba at the time - many almost certainly out of work.  And Bravo was somebody one would tend to believe. According to the Gibraltarian historian Tito Benady, Bravo, with the help of another engineer called Juan Pedro Libadote was responsible for the design of a well-known but no longer existing Gibraltarian landmark - la Torre del Diablo. The actual work was carried out by Giliberto de Bedoya and probably finished in the late 1580s. 

Other historians are less certain of the tower's origins but there is a curious connection between its name and that of the small promontory on which the Old Mole was built. It was called la Punta del Diablo - which is not to be confused with the more modern and unconnected name of Devil's Tongue.

But neither the filth of its main harbour nor the possible inefficiency of its Maestro Major did anything to  stop Gibraltar being considered by the powers that be as - 'el ojo derecho de España' - and -  'la placa más importante que hay en toda la costa de España.' As such they never seemed loath to ask for the opinions of the best that money could buy. Actually putting into practice the suggestions of these people was a different story.

By 1604, the Old Mole found itself not just filthy but also badly damaged by a winter storm. The job of coming up with a plan for its repair was given to one of the many military engineers who were being sent to Gibraltar at the time in order to improve its antiquated defences. The culprit in this particular case was Tibúrcio Spanochi -  or Spannocchi - ( see LINK ) a brilliant Sienese engineer who was also a full time employee of Phillip II. 

In 1605 a plan dealing with the repairs to the Old  Mole was drawn up by an unknown draftsman.

1605 - Plans for the repairs of the Old Mole ( Unknown )

This plan may have been drafted by Spanochi himself. Among other things he suggested that it might be a good idea to increase the length of the mole by a couple of hundred feet. Then, somewhat casually, the project was passed on to Cristóbal de Rojas, a Spanish architect and military engineer who had recently come to prominence as a pupil of the very same Spanochi. Conveniently he happened to be in Gibraltar collaborating with his master since 1586.

A serious lack of cash - repairing the Old Mole was estimated at 5000 Ducat and its increase in length a less than trifling 12000 - meant that hardly any work was done. The fact that Rosas essentially became an absentee overseer during this period did not make things any easier. 

Two years later in 1607, with the Old Mole still in a state of total disrepair, Spanish galleys under Juan Álvarez Davila's were heavily defeated by a Dutch fleet commanded by Jacob van Heemskerk in the Battle of Gibraltar. 

1607 - Battle of Gibraltar by Adam Willaers

Davila was killed and his fleet was wiped out but it is Willaers' picture of the event  that is of interest. In it the Torre del Tuerto is shown as a two sectioned affair similar to that drawn by other contemporary artists and engineers of the day. The Old Mole is also shown - but there is no New Mole. The inclusion of the Torre del Molino on the isthmus and other small details suggest that this picture is not as fanciful as one might have thought at first sight.

The post mortem excuse for this defeat was that the enemy armada had been much bigger than that of the Spaniards and that their ships had been far more powerful. But not everything on the Spanish side was exonerated. The lack of a proper mole in the south and a damaged and unfortified one in the north had certainly not made matters any easier. 

Rosas was recalled. He arrived in Gibraltar in 1608 in the company of Luis Fajardo, Captain General of the Napolitan Galleys. They came to a very quick and very obvious conclusions.  The Old Mole needed repairing and cleaning up and a new one needed building in the south. Among the many plans produced in 1608 is the following one of the entire Bay of Gibraltar. Details of this map showing the areas of the two moles are shown below it.

1608 - Map of the Bay of Gibraltar and Straits ( Cristóbal de Rojas )

1608 - Old Mole area   (Detail from map - Cristóbal Rojas )

1608 - New Mole area ( Detail from map by Cristóbal Rojas )

A separate plan was also produced showing the extent of the damage to the Old Mole. Its title was;
Planta y perfil del muelle de Gibraltar que demuestran las partes destruidas que hay que reparar y lo que se mantiene en pie en donde se ven varios barcos cuatro de ellos amarrados.

1608 - Plan for the repair of the Old Mole ( Cristóbal Rojas )

A year later, yet another plan was drafted, this one with the title:
Perspectiva del Muelle de Gibraltar podra este al reparo de este muelle quatro andanas de galeras  . . . . 

1609 - Plan showing what the repaired Old Mole would look like  ( Unknown but possibly by Rojas )

The proposals for the Old Mole were fully discussed with the Duke of Medina Sidonia and he in turn passed the matter on to the King who approved them in principle. The design was then promptly changed by yet other set of prominent engineers of the day including Juan Battista Antonelli and Jeronimo de Soto. A bastion was incorporated as a feature at the top end of the mole.

Meanwhile the Governor of Gibraltar at the time, General Juan de Zuñega looked on with trepidation as lime kilns were set up in Getares and the costs began to spiral out of control. By the time the work had actually started in 1615, Rosas had been dead for more than a year. 

In 1620 Philip III sent yet another engineer - Julio César Fontana - in what appears to have been an exasperated attempt to get things on the move again. It didn't, hence Portillo's ambiguous reference to a similar move by his successor Philip IV. 

While all this was taking place there is very little news of anything at all going on as regards work on the New Mole.

In 1627 Luis Bravo de Acuña ( see LINK ) Spanish soldier and politician of some note who also happened to be the nephew of the previously mentioned Louis Bravo de Laguna creator of la Torre del Diablo, was asked to carry out yet another review of the state of Gibraltar's fortifications.  He soon produced a  lengthy report in which the following  plans  takes pride of place. 

1627 - Map of the town of Gibraltar with a very prominent Old Mole   ( Louis Bravo )

1627 - Straits and Bay of Gibraltar - This plan shows - albeit on a small scale - both the Old and New Moles  (Louis Bravo )

After the continual criticisms levelled against Gibraltar's fortifications at the start of the century it is surprising to read that on the whole Bravo found himself reasonably satisfied with the state of its defenses. He found them all 'en buen estado'.  However, he strongly recommended that the work on both the Old and New Moles should be completed as soon as possible and insisted that in the case of the later something should be done to make it easier to defend.

The drawings below formed part of Bravo's report. Both refer to plans for improvements of the New Mole.

1627 - Plans for improving the defenses of the New Mole  ( Louis Bravo )

The first drawing shows a proposal for what would become known as the fort of the New Mole or el Fuerte del Tuerto. If subsequent maps are anything to go by, the complex seems to have been built more or less as shown. The New Mole itself is just out of the picture and starts at the middle top. 

The second rather awkwardly drawn sketch shows the proposed new mole - or extension. The tower is unidentifiable but may represent the Torre del Tuerto or a replacement. The four windowed fortification was actually built. It was known as el Baluartillo de la Cabeza del Muelle Nuevo. It survived right up to the 19th century. 

Baluartillo de la Cabeza del Muelle Nuevo ( 1800s - Unknown )

The New Mole is known to have been completed in the 1660s with a final length of 110 meters - an improvement on what it was like in Portillo's day. Finding any record  of when the work on the Old Mole was completed has proved elusive. At a guess it would probably also have been around 1660 as for the New Mole. 

The problem of deciphering when the two moles were originally created is rather more difficult. Starting with the Old Mole, there still seems to be considerable ambiguity as to its original date of its construction. Several historians have used Cesáreo Fernández Duro and his Historia de la Armada Española - published in the late 19th century - as a source.

According to Duro when Don John of Austria paid Gibraltar a visit in 1568 he discovered that it was a place without a harbour. The actual phrase Don Juan used is:
En Cartagena, Gibraltar y Cádiz  echó de menos muelles y fortificaciones . . . 
It is not a very convincing argument. For a start, whatever might have been said about the state of Gibraltar's fortifications in 1568 it would have been obtuse to say that it didn't have any. Could the good Don Juan have been referring to the fact that as harbours go he was accustomed to better things than the one he found in Gibraltar?

The modern Spanish historian Angel J. Saéz Rodriquez seems to agree by suggesting that the origins of the Old Mole lies prior to the 14th century, although he offers no evidence to back up his claim. His actual words are; 
A pies de la Torre de San Andrés nacía el Muelle Viejo, cuya construcción se prolongó durante parte de los siglos XVI y XVII  . . 
There is however, one other bit of evidence that suggests that the 1568 date may be the more likely one. In 1567, Anton Den Wyngarde's produced his well-known sketch of Gibraltar. ( see LINK ) 

1567 -  The 'Old Mole' area ( Detail - Anton Van Den Wyngaerde )  

As local historian Darren Fa has pointed out the Old Mole as we know it lies to the south of Water Port Gate. The mole shown in Wyngaerd's does not.  Da's conclusion is  that the object drawn by Wyngaerde was just a simple breakwater, the apparently rugged top surface shown on the sketch suggesting that it was built of large rocks piled one on top of the other. 

Portillo, who was born in 1543 and died in 1624, also seems to suggest that the old mole was built during his own lifetime. All of which allows one to make a guess that the construction of a brand new 'Old Mole began sometime during the 1580s 

The designer of the original construction is unknown but some suggest Giovanni Baptista Antonielli as a likely candidate. If this is correct, then there is a nicely rounded outcome to the history of the Mole as he was an elder brother of Juan Baptista who had already been involved in the plans for its final 17th century reconstruction. 

As regards the New Mole it does not appear on Wyngaerde's sketch.

1567 - The Torre de Tuerto area -  The tower is labelled G. ( Detail - Anton Van Den Wyngaerde. ) 

The lack of any New Mole is hardly surprising as the first tinkering with whatever landing places were available below the Torre del Tuerto probably began in the 1610s well before the final official finishing date of the mole in 1660 - hence Portillo's statement  that work was being carried out in the area at the time when he was writing his history. 

By the mid 17th century and from the point of view of the civilian population, the Old Mole was the real port of Gibraltar and the New something of an afterthought. 

Not so of course in the 18th when it was the New Mole that became the main harbour for the Royal Navy. To quote Thomas James ( see LINK ) writing in 1771 in his monumental History of the Herculean Straits;
  . . to the southward of the town is a mole, in which you may lie in five or six fathom water; and to the northward of the said town is another mole called the Old Mole, but fit only for small craft, for there is not above six feet at low water. The ground between these two moles is very foul and rocky near the shore . . .
Modern accretions, reconstructions and the demands of the Royal Navy have made something of a mockery of the old moles of Gibraltar. By the beginning of the 20th century the rump of the Old Mole was overtaken by the many alterations to the North Mole, and on the south, a hugely elongated New Mole was now given the more appropriate name of South Mole. History had finally caught up with both of them.

1921 - Gibraltar Harbour ( U.S. Navy Ports of the World )