As a boy living in Gibraltar in the 1950s, it was often something of a treat to be driven by car along the coastal road to Algeciras and stop for lunch at one of the many posadas on the way. The Miraflores near San Roque comes to mind. The trip inevitably entailed crossing several rivers on the way which with typical Llanito laziness we simply called "lo rio" - or at a pinch distinguishing one from the other as either el primer río o el segundo río. They did have proper names of course - the rivers Guadarranque and Palmones - but for some reason I never got to grips with figuring out which one was which - nor the fact that there were quite a few more than just two.
Many years later while writing about Gibraltar and its people (see LINK) I collected old maps from the internet as I found them useful when bolstering arguments about obscure historical place names and so forth. It was while browsing these maps as I searched for something or other that I came to realise that I was not the only one who was confused as regards the names of these rivers.
Not so, of course with modern maps. With one or two variations, the more recent geography books tend to agree on the names of the main rivers that flow into the Bay of Gibraltar. Moving from east to west and around the bay they can be listed as follows:
Arroyo del Cachón de Jimena
Arroyo del Cachón - The village of Puente Mayorga takes its name from an old bridge over the Cachón. Arroyo de los Gallegos or Arroyo del Escobero are tributaries which join the river further to the north
Rio Guadarranque - Confusingly the village of Guadacorte lies along its west bank whereas the river Guadacorte is a tributary of the Palmones. The real tributary of the Guadarranque is the Rio de la Madre Vieja
Rio Palmones - Also known as the Rio de las Cañas
Rio Guadacortes - As stated above, a tributary of the Palmones which joins it just before it reaches the Bay
Rio de la Miel - River that once divided the town of Algeciras and now - presumably - flows under it.
A modern interpretation
1. Arroyo del Cachón de Jimena, 2. Arroyo del Cachon 3. Rio Guadarranque 4. Rio Palmones 5. Rio de la Miel, 6. Rio Guadacorte
Reputedly the oldest graphic representation of the Bay is that by the Flemish draughtsman Anton Van der Wyngaerde. (See LINK) It is unfortunate that such a superb artist chose to leave out the rivers and simply offered the viewer a long expanse of beach stretching from Gibraltar to Algeciras'
No rivers ( 1567 - Anton Van der Wyngaerde )
In 1608 what was perhaps the first proper map of the bay was published by the Spanish engineer Captain Cristóbal Rojas (see LINK) - only three rivers are shown but all are correctly placed and uidentified by their modern names
Map showing the Guadaranque, the Palmones and the Rio (de) la Miel ( 1608 - Cristóbal Rojas - detail )
In 1704 Anglo-Dutch forces took Gibraltar (see LINK) whereupon hostilities continued on to the 12th Siege of Gibraltar both of which in turn gave rise to international interest in the place and a sudden growth in map making - at least in so far as Gibraltar was concerned. Unfortunately many of the map makers seem to have relied on much older creations. They had certainly never visited the Bay and their maps were often full of mistakes and omissions. The actual geographical information - more often than not - bore only a passing resemblance to reality. The 13th Siege which followed soon after in 1727 gave further impetus to the mapmakers who obvious believed in the dictum - publish and be damned.
Fantasy map of Gibraltar and Bay with unidentifiable river (1727 - Christian Freidrich von der Heiden )
This map which was also about the 13th Siege was a more conventional affair but still manged to make a mess in the naming of the Bay's rivers - Fleuve nomme La Lance Neuve should be Arroyo de Chacón, the next unnamed river should have been the Rio Guadaranque, and the one named Guadarranque should have been the Rio Palmones. The Rio de la Miel is missing (1727 - Eugene Henry Frick )
Created by somebody who had actually bothered to go to the area to have a look. Unfortunately this commendable effort did not extend to identifying the names of the rivers of the Bay correctly - San Roqua could be 2. Arroyo de Chacón, River di Roquadita could be 3. Rio Guadarranque, River di Palimenos could be 4. Rio Palmones, and River d'Alcacera could be Rio de la Miel ( Early 18th century - Charles Prince )
One of a series of similar looking maps by different publishers of which this may just possibly be the original version. Four rivers are shown in roughly their correct locations - only one of them is identified by name as the Dennis R. rather than the Rio Guadarranque as shown in the modern map ( 1758 - T Kitchin )
A very similar French map presumably based on the one by T. Kitchin. Dennis R is now shown as Rio Denis ( 1759 H. Michelot and L.Bremond )
A third map very much later in similar style with Rio Denis on it (1803 - Thomas Walsh ) (See LINK)
In this much older map, the River Denis is thrown in somewhat haphazardly making it hard to know exactly what it is labelling ( Early 18th century - Johannes Van Keulen ) (See LINK)
In this far more accurate map four rivers are more or less correctly sited. The first is not identified but the naming of Pont de Majorguas - Puente Mayorga identifies it as Arroya del Cachón. The other rivers in correct order are the Guranguer - Rio Guadarranque, the Rio de los Pulmones - Rio Palmones and the Riv de la Miel - Rio de la Miel ( 1727 - Delahaye - detail )
Another map which follows a similar naming pattern - unnamed river with the Pont de Majorguas - Puente Majorga, R. de Guaranque - Rio Guadarranque, R.de los Pulmomes - Rio Palmones, amd an unnamed river where the Rio de la Miel ought to be ( Undated - Unknown cartographer - detail )
As above but with a further variation on the name of the Rio Guadarranque which is called the R de Gouranguer ( 1750 - Guillaume Dheulland )
Spanish map in which the cartographer includes the appropriate rivers but gets his order wrong and gives a new name to one of them. Rio Palmones should be Arroyo Cachón, Rio Lance - which made its first appearance in the 1717 map shown above - should be the Rio Guadarranque, and the Rio Guadarranque should be the Rio Palmones ( Late 19th century - Unknown )
During the 1779 to 1783 the Great Siege of Gibraltar (see LINK) brought fresh interest in Gibraltar and its war-like affairs. Maps began to proliferate once again although on the whole the emphasis was on the Rock itself rather than its Bay. But there were exceptions.
Spanish map which manages to name all the rivers correctly other than that of the Arroyo del Chacón which is - once again - referred to as Rio Lance (1781 - Librería de la Viuda de Escribano )
All five Bay rivers appear on this one. Only two are given names, the Guadarranque and the Palmones. This, however is the first map in my collection in which they are identified as the "First" and the "Second River "respectively. As a point of interest this is the map that was used by John Drinkwater (see LINK) in his well-known History of the Great Siege ( 1785 - Cheeves - Detail )
In this major work for the Spanish Comisión Hidrográfica all five river appear labelled correctly except that the Arroyo del Cachón is named Rio Mayorga. The crop from the complete map of the Bay shows only the first three rivers ( 1872 - Jose Montojo - Detail )
Another major work, this time for the Spanish Servicio Hidrográfico de la Armada shows all the relevant rivers but only names two of them, the Guadarranque and the Palmones - The crop from the complete map of the Bay shows only the first three rivers (1929 - Comisión Hidrográfica - Detail )
And that I think is that. That mistakes were made throughout the 18th century as regards these rivers is understandable. They were relatively unimportant geographical features in comparison with the Rock itself. That mistakes and name changes should persist throughout the 19th and even early 20th century perhaps less so. The names Rio Denis and Lance have also proved impossible to explain but the truth is that I am rather pleased that I was not alone as young man in having difficulty in distinguishing one from the other.
It does not help much of course that the River Guadiaro on the eastern Mediterranean was also much frequented for it attractive beach which for obscure reason was called Buller's by most Gibraltarians. But then it wasn't actually the rivers that dotted the Bay that interested me unduly but rather the wonderful beaches that existed between them - in particular one that still exists today - La playa de el Rinconcillo.
El Rinconcillo ( 2015 - Marina Merino - with thanks )