C o m m o n w e a l t h
A s s o c i a t i o n o f
M u s e u m s
CAM Bulletin Number 3 - Oct. 1997
The Heritage of Gibralter
I was Curator of the Gibraltar Museum 1967 - 1970. Among my other duties, I prepared a report to the Gibraltar Government on conservation of the Castle (published in Gibraltar Chronicle, Oct. 16, 1969)
In October 1994, I revisited Gibraltar. I was disappointed to find that nothing had been done to improve the state of the Castle. I was also shocked to discover the appalling condition of the "Rock". I wrote a follow up report "Suggestions for Gibraltar's Future" with ideas for improvements, distributed to about 20 recipients.
My reasons for writing this report were not purely cultural. Gibraltar is in a bad economic state. A new "Industry" is needed to replace service to the dockyards and the military. Tourism is an obvious answer, however, it has evoked little interest from the present government.
Gibraltar's importance does not rest only on the historical accident of its conquest by Britain in 1704 and its strategic location. Biologically, it contains species and a habitat which are not to be found in Europe in Autumn it resembles one large rock garden. It is a main north/south migration route for wildfowl.
The architectural relics of Moorish and Castilian Gibraltar are such that, had Gibraltar remained part of Spain, it would be a major tourist city. The Museum itself is built on top of a mediaeval Moorish bath house, which can be visited. At one point there is a long stretch of mediaeval wall; unfortunately it is now enclosed within a workshop and not easily visited. The Castle consists of an Alcazar, called the "Tower of Homage". the inner bailey, the outer bailey or alcazaba and the gatehouse. The Tower of Homage is a massively defended structure, almost solid below with a small apartment above. It is far more impressive than any of the neighbouring Spanish alcazars. It was open to the public, but now closed. The inner bailey is still occupied by the prison even though not particularly an appropriate, facility The alcazaba contains a modern housing estate and has recently been subjected to further vandalism. My recommendation that visitors be enabled to enter through the gatehouse and then walk around the castle, or at least the inner bailey and tower, has been ignored.
Many buildings of the British period are fine examples of Georgian architecture, a style found nowhere else on the mainland of Europe. Unfortunately, the loss over the last few years has been tragic. This is because developers have been able to get planning permission and often prefer concrete to rehabilitating historic buildings. The future of the Garrison Library, both as a building and a major collection of books and ephemera on British imperial history is in doubt.
It is as a military base that Gibraltar is best known. During World War II, it escaped attack from any power except Vichy France because it was reckoned to be impregnable. The city walls are of a much later date than almost any others in Europe. Although one might expect that they be maintained and visitors allowed to walk on top or around them, they are still festooned with barbed wire left over from WW II, weeds, bushes and other excrescences.
Gibraltar's unique defences of all periods are now redundant. New uses must be sought for buildings now left derelict. The batteries, mostly 18th cent. need to be conserved as tourist sights. The unique system of underground tunnels, mainly 19th to 20th cent. which has resulted in Gibraltar having more miles underground than on the surface, could be opened up for tourists.
When I arrived in 1967, plans, and a scale model for a Great Siege Museum had just been prepared. Nothing concrete ever happened; the project may now be dead.
Recently, a scheme for a Naval Museum in the old dockyard has been proposed. On the encouraging side, a Gibraltar Heritage Trust has been set up also a Friends of Gibraltar Heritage Society. One possibility, not supported by the government, is for Gibraltar to be placed on the UNESCO list as a World Heritage Site.
The Gibraltar Museum will be asked if they wish to present their perspective on these important cultural issues in the next issue