The People of Gibraltar
1400 - The Genoese Connection - El Castil de Ginoveses

Abu-l-Hasan and Abu Malik - Bartolomé Sánchez

The three parts of the medieval Spanish text of the Crónicas de Juan II - each one more unreadable than the next - were written by a collection of contemporary historians. 1 As one would expect from its title, it more or less covers the history of the reign of Juan II of Castile from 1406 to 1454. The first section describes the earlier years. It mentions Gibraltar several times. 

Crónicas de Juan II

One particular chapter deals with a naval skirmish between Christian and Moorish forces which took place on Friday 26th of August 1406. The confrontation began when the Christian ships became aware of their Moorish counterparts moving out of Gibraltar:
E . . . vieron la flota de los moros junta con el muro de Gibraltar, e que comensava a mover . . . e anduvieron paso a paso fasta que doblaron Castil de Ginoveses . . . .La flota de los moros tomaron junto con el monte de Gibraltar. . . . E las galeas de los cristianos siguieron a las de los moros; e llegando junto con Castil de Ginoveses, vino el cielo una neblina tan obscura que era gran maravilla. . .e luego ovieron vista las galeras de los cristianos de las de los moros, e de los moros de las de los cristianos, que estavan de la otra parte, en el arraval de Gibraltar.
In this context the word "arraval" or "arrabal" can be translated as - a neighbourhood outside of the population to which it belongs, the extreme site of a population or even a place attached to a larger population. It suggests that the Castil de Ginoveses might have been a building within a medieval community somewhere outside the walls or boundaries of the town proper, specifically in an area called Los Tarfes which encompassed what is today known as Windmill Hill and the Europa Flats.

In the foreground are the Europa Flats. Out of sight and above the cliffs forming a plateau is Windmill Hill. Beyond lies that part of the Rock once known as the Sugar Loaf   ( 1880s - G.W. Wilson )    (See LINK)

In a recent article 2 the Spanish historian, Gómez de Avellaneda Sabio discusses several early 15th century naval actions which took place near Gibraltar between Castilians and Moors - including the one mentioned above. More to the point, however, is the author's contention that the double mention of this Castil de Ginoveses in the Crónicas argues in favour of a Genoese settlement in Gibraltar dating back at least to the early 15th century - or as he put it:
. . . uno de los asentamientos comerciales con que los genoveses escalonaron sus rutas comerciales, y del cual no se tenía noticia hasta ahora. Tal como se menciona en la  crónica es indudable su situación en el extremo sur de la península donde se asienta el Peñón, que más tarde se  llamaría  Punta  Europa.  
Sabio further claims that:
Estas  factorías  constituían  pequeñas  comunidades  separadas  de  la  población autóctona,  con  carácter  autosuficiente, que  tenían almacenes y cierta  capacidad  de  hospedaje  para  los marinos  y  comerciantes  en  tránsito,  situándose  a  orillas  del  mar  para  mejor  cumplir  sus  funciones.   
Está demostrado  que  disponían  de  iglesia  propia,  incluso  en  tierra  de  moros.  Hubo  tratados  de  tipo  comercial entre la república de Génova y el reino de Granada, desde el siglo XIII e incluso antes, que se renovaban periódicamente. Se conoce la existencia de un “Fondak” genovés en Ceuta ya desde el siglo XII y se venían  firmando  tratados  de  paz  y  comercio  entre  almohades  y  genoveses  desde  1161 . . . 
In fact there were probably quite a few Fondaks. For example, there was a small fortress known as the Castil de Ginoveses in the mid 16th century Larache. 3 However, If Sabio is correct about this Genoese settlement in Gibraltar then one would have expected at least a modicum of historical evidence or archaeological remnants of this pre-15th century community in the southern part of the Rock. But first the Castil itself

El Castil de Genoveses 
I am somewhat taken aback by Sabio's surprise at this mention of a Genoese Castle or tower in the southern area of Gibraltar. It - or something very similar - has been regularly described by sundry visitors over a period of over six hundred years. Its appearance in the Crónicas de Juan II simply puts its construction date somewhat further back than previous thought. 

For example, Pedro Tafur (see LINK) writing in the 1430s had this to say.
A la parte del monte por do el rey don Alonso entró, e su hijo Don Juan combatiese la Torre del Tuerto, que es en el monte; esto por la mar, e  . . el Casal de Ginoveses, que es la punta en cabo de todo el monte. 4
Tafur's use of the word Casal is interesting. It can be used to refer to a place that might be the equivalent to a small village - as against Castil which refers to a small fortified community. Sabio's contention is that Castil or Casal de Ginoveses was used to identify the entirety of Europa Point but that by the 15th century the area had been downgraded from Castil to Casal.  

Fresco of the Battle of Gibraltar in 1563    ( 16th century - Unknown )   (See LINK)
The Building on the extreme south of the Rock could be the Chapel of Our Lady of Europa. The Tower just above could be the Castil de Ginoveses

In 1469 the Albalá de Repartimiento of Enrique IV 5 makes no direct mention of the tower but offers the following rather ambiguous Statement.
E para dos atalayas que ha de haber una en la torre de omenaje y la otra en el atarfe . . .
That other tower in the atarfe - or Tarfe - might just possibly be the Castil in question.

Elsewhere the Castil has been given a variety of names - In 1567 it appears on a panoramic sketch by Anton Van Den Wyngaerde (see LINK) as La Torre de los Tarfes.  In 1608 the Spanish engineer Capitán Cristóbal de Rojas  (see LINK) called it the Torre Ginobeses and in 1627 by Luis Bravo de Acuña and by the local historian Alonso Hernández del Portillo 6 (see LINK) as the Torre de los Genoveses.

Gibraltar looking south-east  ( 1567 - Anton Van Den Wyngaerde - detail )

Los Tarfes - H is the Torre de los Genoveses   ( 1627 - Luis Bravo de Acuña )  (See LINK)

Although we have no clear idea as to what it actually looked like the Torre de los Genoveses has been compared by at least one observer 7 as being similar in structure to another tower which once crowned the summit of Sierra Carbonera. This comparison is probably not all that helpful as the Torre de Sierra Carbonera is known to have been constructed at a much later date.

Torre de Sierra Carbonera

Torre Ginobeses and other buildings in the Tarfes  - The building in front of the tower were probably built at a later date   ( 1608 - Cristóbal de Rojas - detail )

An officer 8 stationed on the Rock in the mid 18th century and who had actually seen it described it as follows:
The tower at Europa-point has a room-arched at the foundation in the Roman style, and winding stairs on the outside of the top, easily to be traced, but before the building of Europa line wall, the most part of the steps were entire . . . . The coved room now is made use of for a guard of soldiers and vulgarly called the Dead Man's Hole, on account that a gentleman was, at his particular desire, buried there under the floor of the above room. 
Curiously, other structures or towers found on the opposite side of the Rock - specifically on the isthmus - and usually identified as la Torre Quebrada and la Torre del Molino - are also described as Genoese on certain maps. One Spanish mid 19th century historian 9 identifies at least one of them as La Torre de los Genoves que ya no existe. 

French map showing a "Genoese" tower and a "Genoese"mill in the Neutral Ground  ( 1704 - Unknown )

Corral de Fez 
During the 15th century the entire lower area of Europa Point was apparently known as the Coral de Fez instead of - or as well as - los Tarfes Bajos. The name 'corral' refers to a kind of market or Moorish baths often found in certain towns in Barbary where slaves were either sold off or held until ransomed. 10 During the defence of Tarifa against the Moors in 1294, Alonzo Pérez de Guzmán (see LINK) stiffened the moral of his troops by telling them that if they fled instead of fighting and happened to be taken alive, they would be tied up and carted off to the Corral de Fez to be sold as slaves. It is hard to tell whether the Corral de Fez he might have been referring to was the one in Gibraltar.

Puerta de Corral de Fez 
The gate leading into the Corral (see LINK) was probably built in the mid 14th century either by the Marinid conqueror of the Rock Abu-l-Hassan (see LINK) or by his son Abu-Inan Faris.  It was probably intended as a sea gate interrupting the Moorish Line Wall along the southern part of the Rock somewhere near the Cala del Laudero. It must have been an important entry point into the Tarfes area. 11 

The Aljibe or Nuns' Well 
The various theories suggested as to the origins and purpose of this enigmatic structure is dealt with in a separate article (see LINK) However, according to Alonso Hernández del Portillo in his Historia de Gibraltar : 
A la parte  de  los Tarfes y corral de Fez ninguna  agua  natural  hay  para  beber, salvo la de  un  aljibe, que  en aquella  parte se hace,  donde  se  recogen  aguas  llovedizas, el cual se hizo en  tiempo  de  moros ó de gentiles, con veinte  arcos  y pilares debajo  de tierra,  cosa  muy  superba  y  notable; y desta  agua se aprovechan  los  que tratan  en  aquella parte.
Once again - and despite Portillo's addition of the gentiles as possible architects, the most likely candidates for the construction of the Aljibe were the Marinid or Nasrid rulers of Gibraltar of the mid 14th century.

La Torre del Tuerto
It is certain that the tower existed in 1469 and was important enough to warrant mention by Enrique IV previously cited Albalá de Repartimiento:
Para el Alcayde que tuviere la dicha cibdad de tenencia con la fortaleza della é su castillo . . . la guardia e tenencia de la puerta de tierra, é de la puerta de la mar, é de la puerta de Algeciras , e de la torre del tuerto 
. . 12
During the next century it underwent a considerable metamorphosis when it was included in the general upgrading of the Rock's fortifications as carried out by the Italian Engineer el Frattino. (see LINK) By the 17th century the main purpose of the tower itself was simply to house equipment for the galleys and warships of the day. Other improvements carried out in 1620 incorporated the tower into a complex which could best be described as a fortified area with several habitable rooms. It had also acquired a bell - similar to that found in the Moorish Castle. It was presumably used in as a warning signal. 6

The walls close to the tower itself had by now deteriorated considerably and the few buildings close to the tower were Moorish in appearance.  In general terms Portillo describes the tower as a pentagonal or five sided building. Near the entrance that led to the steps of the tower there was also a broken, unidentifiable Greek style statue in alabaster of a youth. Crucially Portillo also mentions a sort of badge on one of the walls which has been identified as being a Nasrid coat of arms. 6

La Torre del Tuerto in action in the 1607 Battle of Gibraltar   ( Early 17th century - Adam Willaers )

As regards the origins of the name, the most obvious theory is that it is a corruption of La Torre del Puerto.

Torre del Puerto   (1658 - Pedro Teixeira Albernas)   (See LINK)

But there is another rather more intriguing alternative. When Abu-l-Hasan recaptured Gibraltar from Castile in 1333, most of the hard work was done by his son, Abu Malik Abd al-Walid - known to older Spanish historians by the rather snappy name of Abomelique. Although a more than useful commander Abu Malik had lost the use of one eye - hence a suggestion that the tower might have been constructed during this period and attributed to - or built in honour of - the man with one eye - la Torre del Tuerto. 13

As with many of the structures which once graced los Tarfes, La Torre del Tuerto no longer exists - it blew up during the assault against Gibraltar by the Anglo-Dutch forces in 1704 with considerable loss of life on both sides.

The ruin in the middle of the picture carries the following text - "Remains of an Ancient Lighthouse supposed to be Built by the Carthaginians". It is actually all that was left of La Torre del Tuerto  ( 1740- William Test -  William Skinner )

Cueva de los Abades
According to Portillo:
Están un poco más adelante junto a la cueva que se dice de los Abades, peñas que tienen pegadas e incorporadas en ellas huesos humanos, y tan asidos a estas peñas que espantan porque con mucha dificultad se despegan de la peña con una punta de daga, y se ha probado muchas veces a hacerlo. 
No están estas piedras labradas en forma de sepulturas sino que a mi parecer  se conforma aquí una opinión de algunos filósofos que afirman que las piedras crecen por adición juntándoseles otra cosa que con la largueza y diuturnidad del tiempo la abrazan tanto en sí que hacen una misma cosa consigo.
Known today as Abbot's Cave the bones in question were no doubt fossils of some sort. John Drinkwater (see LINK) even finds time to mention them as a curiosity:
Among the natural curiosities of Gibraltar, the petrified bones, found in the cavities of rocks, have greatly attracted the attention of the curious . . .  from the rocks near Rosia Bay . . . great quantities  . . .have been collected.
They certainly captured the attention of Thomas James (see LINK) who collected one or two and couldn't quite make out why on earth they were there. From our point of view of course, whatever they happened to be they were certainly not Genoese bones.

Cueva de las Palomas
There is very little one can say about this as Portillo is the only source. It had once been inhabited and the structures found inside were very old. Apparently there was treasure hidden inside the cave. 13a

The Inquisition Buildings
According to Thomas James in his History of the Herculean Straits:
 . . on the plain called upper Europa, are the ruins of a house commonly called the inquisition, which name it acquired by the English, being raised close to the ruins of a circular buildings
Although dealt with elsewhere at length (see LINK) it is curious to note that these building do not seem to correspond with any of those mentioned by Portillo in the 17th century - despite the fact that Thomas suggests it was probably built in the 15th century. In fact as far as I can make out, Thomas seems to have been the only person to have recorded their existence. This has given rise to the idea that the main building may actually have been the ruins of the Torre de los Genoveses itself. 14

This part of the Rock would of course have been an ideal spot to set up several windmills (see LINK) - it is both flat and windy.  There is some evidence that this was in fact the case - other than of course the name itself although the original Spanish name for this southern plateau makes no mention of windmills. Thomas James however mentions two old towers on the windmill hill plateau which were originally designed as corn mills. 15 

Mills on the southern end of Windmill Hill   (1743 - John Hardesty - detail )

Windmill Hill in Windmill Hill  ( 1778 - William Booth )  (See LINK)

These covered the entire section of the Corral de Fez - including the area in front of the Mosque - future Chapel of our Lady of Europa - and extended right up to la Caleta del Laudero. These unlikely vineyards were populated by "old vines" 16 from which one was supposed to infer - with some stretching of the imagination - that they were tended by a long settled community. Gibraltar was in fact well known for its excellent wine although it is very likely that most of the grapes were harvested from vineyards in the Campo area rather than on the Rock itself. 17

The Rock under a heavy "levante" and covered in vines - both in the Tarfes area and to the north of the Neutral Ground (  1712 - G Van Keulen )

Other Towers
Thomas James mentions an old watch tower near the edge of Europa point itself. 18 Francis Carter mentions two - although it is possibly that one of them might have been the Torre de los Genoveses. 19 Another is referred to on a map as La Torre de Megrillies, and on another by what must have been its proper name of la Torre de Negrillo which probably refers to the name of the name of the south-eastern point of the lower Tarfes where it was built. 20

In 1554, Bartolomé Sánchez, a local hermit who looked after the Chapel of our Lady of Europa asked the Corregidor of Gibraltar to build yet another tower - this one with an appropriate lantern so that it could be used as a sort of lighthouse. The running costs would be met by donations from visitors to the chapel. It is not known whether the tower was ever actually built. 21

La Torre de Megrillies or Negrillo    ( 1743 - John Hardesty - detail )

Map of the area showing la Torre de Negrillo and other unidentified structures  ( 1723 - Unknown )

The Chapel of our Lady of Europa
It has long been part of Gibraltarian mythology that this small but well-known chapel had originally been a mosque and that Ferdinand IV was responsible for converting it into a Christian Shrine soon after he had successful taken the Rock from the Moors in the name of Christianity. Before the chapel was renovated in the early 17th century it boasted a tower - or minaret. By the mid 18th century it consisted of two rooms and its internal architecture included what appeared to be Moorish arches.  The original mezquita may have been even smaller. 22

Chapel of our Lady of Europa with tower   ( 1608 - Cristobal Rojas - detail )

The Chapel in 1961 minus tower and shortly before it was returned to the Catholic Church by the British Garrison authorities who had used it for non-religious purposes since 1704  (Unknown )

Genoese in Gibraltar before 1704
The number of Genoese living on the Rock prior to the Anglo-Dutch take-over is unknown. The list of Genoese people who purchased property from the British from 1704 to 1723 runs to 38 names. 23 They are however, identified as immigrants. In other words there is very little evidence for a large colony of Genoese living in Gibraltar before 1704.

I have no doubt that there must have been a small but permanent community in the southern part of the Rock from perhaps as early as the mid 14th century mostly made up of Moorish inhabitants. 

According to the historian Al Makkari (see LINK):
Abu-I-hasan again applied himself further to strengthen Gibraltar, by causing a thick wall to be built at the foot of the rock, surrounding it on all sides, as the halo surrounds the crescent moon; so that the enemy could discover no prospect of success in attacking it . . 24
It seems inconceivable that the Marinid rulers of Gibraltar in the mid 1300s should have gone to the enormous expense and trouble of building a monumental sea wall extending right round the rock unless there was something that was worth protecting in the south. There were, after all, easier ways of defending the town from an enemy landing in the south - an east-west wall from the sea to the top of the mountain would have done nicely.

La Torre del Tuerto with its Nasrid coat of arms, the very Moorish appearance of the Nuns' Well, the mesquita origins of the Chapel of our Lady of Europa and the Barbary connotations of the Corral de Fez all point to the beginnings of a Moorish settlement soon after Abu-l-Hassan's retaking of the Rock in 1333 - if not before.

A view of the Rock ( 1567 - Anton Van Den Wyngaerde )

Local historian Kevin Lane 25 has come up with a thesis - based partly on archaeological research - that the origins of the town of Gibraltar are the result of:
Islamic construction work, mostly undertaken in the 13th and 14th centuries in response to the newly encroaching Christian forces from the north.  
Although Lane's argument refers to the town of Gibraltar itself rather than what might have been happening outside its possible walls, it is easy to surmise that what was good for the north would also apply to the south.

Whether any of this had any input from Genoese sources is another story.  During the middle ages the Genoese were renowned for offering the services of their navies to the highest bidders not least to the Kings of Castile from Alfonso X onwards. 

Alfonso X of Castile  (Unknown ) 

Basically businessmen they were always interested in setting up shop - so to speak - in appropriately convenient ports and towns. For example, after having taken part in the siege and conquest of nearby Algeciras in 1344 they were repaid by being allowed to set up a small commercial community within the town. Could something similar have happened when Ferdinand IV took the Rock from the Moors in 1308?

Possibly - although apart from the name of the tower - or towers - there is no real evidence that this was the case. And that is the main problem. Carlos Gómez de Avellaneda Sabio could well be right - there may have been a few Genoese living in Gibraltar looking after their business interests all those years ago - but there is little to support the idea that there were enough of them living in los Tarfes to warrant calling it them a Genoese community.