The People of Gibraltar
1160 - The Windmills of Gibraltar - The Ravages of War

Windmills have always been part and parcel of the history of Gibraltar but although they are mentioned periodically here and there it has always proved hard to track down exactly how many they were, and where exactly one might find them.

The very first recorded windmill was in many ways the most exotic - and perhaps the least likely of the lot. This was a peculiar contraption built in 1160 on the very top of the Rock 1 as ordered by Abd-al Mu'min ( see LINK ) the founder of the city of Madinat al Fath, 

This rather odd place to position a windmill is confirmed by several Moorish historians but there is some dispute as to whether the top of the hill might have meant the summit of today's Windmill Hill rather than the top of the Rock itself. Whatever the case it didn't last too long.  Apparently it was not looked after properly 2

Windmill Hill itself would of course have been an ideal spot to set up several windmills - it is both flat and windy.  Unfortunately there is precious little evidence that this was in fact the case - other than of course the name itself. The original Spanish name for this southern plateau, however, makes no mention of windmills. They called it Los Tarfes - or sometimes Los Tarfes Altos to distinguish it from the Europa flats which were referred to as Los Tarfes Bajos. 

Nevertheless, the inference is that it was the presence of windmills that induced the new English landlords to give the plateau the name by which it has been known ever since. 

Late 16th century annotated sketch showing the Tarfes area - There are no discernible windmills. N = Torre de los Genoveses  G =Torre del Tuerto   ( 1567 - Anton van den Wyngaerde )

Early 17th century map of the Tarfes area - No windmills  ( 1608 - Cristobal Rojas - detail )

After 1704 windmills continue to appear in 18th century maps and paintings. 

A windmill on Windmill Hill  ( 1778 - William Booth  ) ( see LINK

Two or possibly three windmills can be identified on this map  which is titled ' A Survey of that Part of Gibraltar called the Wind-Mill-Hill' ( 1777 - William Green - detail  )

The British traveller Francis Carter ( see LINK ) who visited Gibraltar prior to the Great Siege, also refers to the view from the vineyard area and the presence of several windmills further south. 3

During the Great Siege the building of a new wind-mill - and its subsequent destruction by fire is well documented by various authors, 4 including John Drinkwater. 5 Yet another author confirms that it was used for grinding wheat sent over from England and that it was destroyed by fire during the Siege. 6

Ironically it is not Windmill Hill, hidden away in the south and relatively safe from multiple invasion attempts by sundry Moorish, Spanish, Franco-Spanish and Anglo-Dutch forces that brings to  mind the windmills of Gibraltar. Almost every military encounter involving the defence of the Rock has always entailed the encampment of large armies on the flat, sandy isthmus to the north of the Rock. Windmills were often part of the scenery and almost every picture or map of Gibraltar from the 16th century right up to the late 18th always seem to make a point of depicting them.

Possibly the first record available showing the presence of one of these in the isthmus is the previously mentioned annotated picture of the Rock by Anton van den Wyngaerde. ( see LINK )  It would seem that there was only one of them at the time.

The north of the Rock and the isthmus. One windmill and a tower - La Torre del Diablo to the right of it. The Torre was never a windmill and was constructed specifically to act as a watch tower  ( 1567 - Anton van den Wyngaerde - detail )

A single windmill appears again in a picture depicting the Battle of Gibraltar which took place in 1607. 

The Battle of Gibraltar - the tower to the left of the Windmill represents the Torre Carbonera on the top of the Spanish hill north of Gibraltar of the same name   ( 1607 - Adam Willaerts - detail  )

And a year later, the Spanish engineer Cristobal Rojas confirms the existence of a solitary mill.

The isthmus and the North ( 1608 - Cristobal Rojas - detail )

This state of affairs is confirmed by contemporary literature. When discussing the Fourth Siege of Gibraltar and the failed attempt by Alfonso XI to retake the place immediately after having lost it in 1333, the Gibraltarian historian Alonso Hernández del Portillo - writing in 1625 - alludes to the fact that the king camped adonde esta hoy el molino de viento. 7 The use of the definite article suggest there was still only one in 1625.

In 1658, the Portuguese map maker Pedro Teixeira Albernas ( see LINK ) agrees - his map shows a single windmill to the north of the Rock - although it could be argued that it is not quite in the right place.

Annotated plan of Gibraltar. The solitary windmill is placed so far towards the North West that it might as well be in Spain    ( 1658 -Pedro Teixeira Albernas - detail  )

In 1704 commenting on Spanish manoeuvres just after the Anglo-Dutch attack on the Rock,  a correspondent of the Gaceta de Madrid suggests that some of these took place near the Molino más inmediato de la Plaza or Gibraltar. 8  The inference is that there was more than one windmill on the isthmus at that time.

Alejandro Correa de Franca contemporary historian of the city of Ceuta just across the straits from Gibraltar agrees with this interpretation using the phrase  'hasta los molinos de vientos' -  in plural - to describe it. 9

The historian Ignacio López de Ayala ( see LINK ) is more ambiguous - the Franco-Spanish forces began their attack close to a windmill which he claims no longer existed at the time of writing which must have been just before the Great Siege 10 . It is hard to determine which windmill he is referring to. 

According to yet another Spanish historian - Ángel J. Sáez Rodríguez - there were definitely at least two known windmills - la Torre del Molino and a second known as La Torre Quebrada de Gibraltar. 11 This second windmill was closer to Gibraltar than the first and was incorporated into the advance Spanish battery of San Miguel which was designed to counteract the effectiveness of the British guns of the Devil's Tongue. The name Quebrada suggests that the tower was either in poor condition or a ruin.

Map showing three windmills  ( 1704/5 - Unknown )

French map dated 1705 showing three towers. The 'tour' closest to Gibraltar can be identified as La Torre Quebrada, as it appears to be part of the the Spanish battery directing its fire at the Old Mole ( 1705 - Unknown - Detail )

By the end of the 1720s, there are several map references showing that the number of towers or windmills had grown to three. 

Map of Bay of isthmus ( 1712 - G. van Keulen detail )

Map of the Isthmus with la Torre de los Genoveses and la Torre Quebrada suitably labelled ( Unknown )

Map of the Bay of Gibraltar - Three windmills ( 1700s - Unknown  - detail )

Perspectiva de Gibraltar - Three windmills or towers  ( 1726 - Unknown )

In this case three windmills are placed further north than expected  
( Early 18th century - Pieter Huson - detail )

During the 12th Siege of Gibraltar, the English Admiral John Leake surprised the French fleet under Admiral Pontis in the Bay of Gibraltar. This map suggests that at least one of three windmills was a casualty of this 1705 engagement   ( Early 18th century - Pieter Huson - detail )

In 1727, during the 13th Siege of Gibraltar, Spanish military engineers built a battery alongside a windmill which was now referred to - perhaps for the first time - as La Torre del Molino. 12  This particular windmill is by far the best known of any other windmill that might have been built on the isthmus. A plan of the 'tower' dated 1727 identifies it under that name.

Plan of the Torre del Molino - The proposed alterations were never put into effect  
( 1727 - Antonio de Montaigu de la Perille )

Just before commencement of hostilities in 1727, a curious argument ensued between the Governor of Gibraltar at the time Jasper Clayton, and the commander of the Spanish forces, Conde de la Torre.  The former protested that the Spaniards were encroaching into British territory. De la Torre's reply was that he was entitled to build fortifications near the mill . According to the Treaty of Utrecht ( see LINK ), that particular stretch of the isthmus belonged to them. In essence they were arguing about who actually owned the land on which the mill was built. 13

Post 13th Siege maps of the mid 18th century offer a rather confusing picture. Several important etchings - some of them ordered by military engineers - show anything from none to two windmills or towers. In one particular map one of the windmill towers is identified as La Torre de los Genoveses. A tower of exactly the same name is known to have existed in the southern area of the Rock.

Map of the western side of the isthmus - L = La Torre Quebrada - K = La Torre de los Genoveses    ( 1730 - Isidoro Prospero de Verboom - Detail )

Torre de los Ginobeses - ( 1608 - Cristobal Rojas ) 

French map showing two windmills  
Unusually, the two windmills are clearly labelled as being "Genoese", the one to the south being described as a partially collapsed ruin  ( Early 18th century and possibly referring to 1704 )

The North Face - no towers or windmills ( 1740 - Williams from Skinner  - detail )

The west side of the Rock - two 'tower' windmills ( 1744 - R.Erskine and G. Knowles - detail )

The Rock from the North - One 'tower' windmill   (1750s  - William Henry Toms )

In 1762 a Spanish spy Francisco del Pozo ( see LINK ) created a map for his superiors in showing a prominent tower on the isthmus. The caption read as follows.
Windmill in Spanish territory. It is possible to build a battery here with cannon and mortars. A path could be built out of sight of the enemy as the place is covered with large sand dunes. It could all be set up in one night the day before the assault so it could be used during a frontal attack. The forts of San Felipe and Santa Barbara would not be of any use in this respect.

Map of isthmus showing a prominent tower close to the Inundation   (1762 - Francisco del Pozo )

The major historical event of the 18th century - in so far as Gibraltar is concerned - was the Great Siege. ( see LINK ) A single windmill makes its appearance once again when it is mentioned by Drinkwater in his well known history of that event. 14 In 1779 the windmill - with its sails removed -was used as an advance post by infantry men of the Escopeteros de Getares.

Uniform of a member of the Escopeteros de Getares ( late 18th century - Unknown )

It was also in the news when it was partly destroyed during the assault known as the Sortie an event which occurred during the Siege and is dealt with at length elsewhere. ( see LINK )

The prominent position of the 'milltower' during the Sortie ( 1792 -  A.C. de Poggi - detail )

Throughout  the progress of the Great Siege - and long after that - an extraordinary number of maps and annotated engravings were produced depicting the event - many of them with large dollops of artistic licence. 

The Great Siege of Gibraltar   ( 1779 - John Martin Will )

The more accurate ones restricted themselves to showing a single tower - the very same "milltower" - which was incorporated into the advance fortifications created by the Franco-Spanish forces in 1780 and destroyed in 1781. 

Contemporary Spanish painting showing advance fortifications which incorporated the milltower    ( 1780 Unknown - detail )

After the Great Siege most map makers seem to show an understandable lack of interest in the relatively barren and uninteresting geography of the so called Neutral Ground. Those few example that do so show anything restrict themselves to a single windmill, usually described as a ruin.

The Neutral Ground   ( 1799 - Barbie du Bocage - Jean Denis Hardy )

During the secondary epidemics of yellow fever of the early 19th century ( see LINK ) the Governor of Gibraltar - General General Don - managed to persuade General Alos, his Spanish counterpart in the Campo Area - to allow a large number of the civilian population to  set themselves up temporarily on the isthmus. Several battalions of engineers were also allowed to camp near to the Molino de Viento 15  which must have been little more than a ruin by that time.  

Early 19th century map showing various encampments on the isthmus. The oddly shaped object in the middle of the lower camp - Village ou Baraques de L'Ouest - is probably the ruin of the old windmill   (1830's - Piaget et Lailavoix - detail )

By the end of the 19th century there were no windmills left standing in the isthmus. Those rather enigmatic towers had finally been abandoned as ruins and either dismantled or allowed to crumble back into the white sands of the Neutral Ground. I am still not entirely sure how many were built over the years. Nor am I sure when they were built, what they were all called or even the exact dates when they each ceased to exist.

It is also perhaps a paradox that these essentially civilian structures all ended their days as a result of the ravages of war. Yet all those other military towers built over the centuries along the entire hinterland were rarely if ever destroyed by enemy fire. Unlike the windmills, many of them are still standing.