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 4 - May, 1998
The Heritage of Gibralter - A Reply
I am most grateful for the opportunity afforded to me by the Secretary General of CAM to reply to the article on the heritage of Gibraltar, written by Mr. David Devenish, which was published in the CAM Bulletin, distributed December 1997.
There is an underlying philosophy across a broad range of sectors in Gibraltar today which recognizes the uniqueness and value of its heritage and the responsibility to protect, restore and interpret it. This basic tenet also establishes that the universality of this heritage places a certain degree of responsibility towards it in the hands of all those extant culturs which have contributed towards it over centuries of trade and war. This requirement is highlighted given the limitation of resources available to a population of 30 thousand.
The present Government of Gibraltar, elected in 1996, has recognised publicly and placed high on its agenda the importance of this heritage, inherently but also as a potential source of income and employment for a community whose economy is heavily dependence on the financial centre and on tourism. As an example of this commitment new heritage legislation, updating that of 1989, is shortly to be put before the House of Assembly, Gibraltar's parliament. Among its enhanced features will be a much-extended list of protected and listed monuments and buildings.
I would like to turn my attention to the work that the Gibraltar Museum is conducting in relation to the heritage of Gibraltar. I took over as Director of the Gibraltar Museum in 1991. Since then the Gibraltar Museum facility has expanded in surface area and the present museum is over double its 1991 size, contrasting with virtually no expansion since it had opened in 1930. The current plans are to expand further by adding another building, the former Casemates Barracks, starting this year.
The museum's gains have not just been in exhibition space but in modern laboratories and educational facilities. In the first two years after 1991 the number of school children (Gibraltarians and Spaniards) visiting the museums increased by almost 200%. The highligh of these years for me has been the initiation of a fruitful programme of research in the fields of archaeology, palaeontology and biodiversity that has involved the establishment of collaborations with many international museums and universities. In this way, we have successfully overcome the limitations imposed by our size by attracting specialists to work with us.
The best example of this has been the excavations in Gorham's Cave and other sites of Neanderthal occupation on the Rock in which a multidisciplinary team co-directed by the Gibraltar Museum and the Natural History Museum of London has been active since 1991. The product of this research is reaching prestigious journals and will reach an important high in August this year with a major international conference which is being hosted by the Government of Gibraltar through the Gibraltar Museum (for further details see web page: http://www.gibraltar.gi/neanderthals) in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the discovery of the Forbes Quarry skull, the first Neanderthal skull ever to be discovered. To mark this anniversary the famous skull, now in the Natural History Museum in London, will be exhibited in the Gibraltar Museum for four months in the summer.
It is also important to recognize the valuable links that have been established at a local level with Spanish universities and museums. For the first time ever, properly conducted urban archaeological excavations have been carried out in Gibraltar, co-directed by the Gibraltar Museum and the Museo de El Puerto in Cadiz, and these have revealed important remains of the mediaeval city. The historical levels at Gorham's Cave have also been excavated properly, revealing the wealth of Phoenician and Carthaginian culture at the site.
The amount of fresh work which is being carried out in Gibraltar gives us great hope for the future and it is a pity that the comments of those who are so out of touch, as Mr. Devenish clearly is, should serve only to cast a cloud over these efforts.
I could excuse Mr. Devenish for submitting a report which he wrote in 1994 except that he revisited Gibraltar in August 1997 on the occasion of the first heritage conference on Gibraltar, which the Government of Gibraltar organized, and should have seen the efforts. He had ample time, had he so wished, to question me or other persons involved with Gibraltar heritage. One can always find fault at something but in being objective one must always balance the positive with the negative. Mr. Devenish has chosen a few areas as his pivotal points from which to attempt to destroy the good work being carried out and to pontificate on why his plans were never executed. His 1994 report suggesting Gibraltar's future, after a brief visit following an absence of over twenty years, can only be described as presumptuous and arrogant. Did he really think that nobody had thought of these issues before and that we were all waiting for him to come along and tell us what to do?
I must highlight a number of factual errors in Mr Devenish's article. Gibraltar is not a major north-south migration route for wildfowl. Wildfowl are rare in Gibraltar. The Rock is an important bottleneck site for soaring birds, with over 250,000 raptors and storks crossing the Strait in the autumn. Mr. Devenish misses a valuable point in comparing the Gibraltar Tower of Homage with nearby Spanish alcazars. The Gibraltar Castle is unique in that it was constructed by the Banumarin dynasty and there is no other comparable one in the Iberian Peninsula. The tower is open to the public and has been for a good number of years. Perhaps when Mr. Devenish visited it was closed for works. I have addressed the planning and building conservation issue above. The future of the Garrison Library is not, to my knowledge, in doubt. It is constantly under restoration and the historical collection is receiving close professional attention. Mr. Devenish states that many areas are covered in weeds and bushes. I should remind him that among these "weeds" are many important endemic plants of the Gibraltar limestone.
I conclude by encouraging all those interested in Gibraltar to write to me, or, better still, to come to Gibraltar and see for themselves. There is much work to do and the task is massive but we are not daunted. Our objectives are set in a staggered time-scale as we cannot resolve overnight the legacy of a former garrison town, with all the decaying and abandoned infrastructure baggage left behind by others. We have two choices. We can pick at what is wrong and moan or we can build on our successes. I prefer to choose the latter course.
Dr. Clive Finlayson,
The Gibraltar Museum