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Landport Gate North

Ref: HLFP3/016

These fortifications on the northern approaches to the City originally consisted of the Spanish-era curtain wall of San Bernardo [later the Grand Battery], flanked by the Bulwark of San Pablo [later the North Bastion] and the Bulwark of San Pedro [later esse’s Demi-Bastion].

The earliest representation of Gibraltar – an historiated capital E in a 1468 notarial document, representing the capture of the Rock in 1462 - does not depict any specific gateway in the City walls at this spot. It appears that he principal entrance into the fortress, from the hinterland, at this time, would have only been possible through the Waterport Gates. It was not until some years later, probably at the time that the Rock was re-incorporated into the Royal Crown by the Dukedom of Medina Sidonia in 1502, that a gateway and entrance was constructed in the site of the present Landport Gate.

1468 notarial document, representing the capture of the Rock in 1462. The Moorish seagate is depicted but no land gate is shown.

A view of Gibraltar of 1540 in the Real Academia de la Historia (11/8168) shows a large gateway, described as la puerta de tierra (later known as la puerta de España -Gate to Spain) at the northern end of the City. This was a highly fortified entrance, clearly discernible in another meticulous and detailed drawings executed by Anton Van de Wyngaerde during his visit to Gibraltar in 1567.

The gateway itself was a heavily fortified entrance, covered by a moat, as is clearly discernible in the drawings executed by Anton Van den Wyngaerde in 1567. Just sixty years later, in 1627, considerable improvements were carried out on the fortifications of the Rock, following the preparation of a report commissioned by the Crown and carried out by Don Luis Bravo de Acuña. His report included a specific recommendation for works to be undertaken at this location, as follows:

The dismantling of the said Puerta de España, as it was too narrow, continuing it on a straight parallel to La Muralla de San Bernardo, after having demolished a house which had been erected against the ramparts within the moat. The construction of a wide brickwork and masonry bridge, connecting the principal gateway, together with a drawbridge and the construction of a further gateway at the other end, complete with a stockade.’

This bridge, with its three supporting masonry and brickwork arches, survived until the beginning of the 18th century, previously appearing in one of the engravings contained in John Spilsbury’s book ‘A Journal of the Siege of Gibraltar 1779-1783’.

1627 Luis Bravo de Acuña map. The puerta de tierra (Landport) is shown as N and named Puerta de España.

Luis Bravo de Acuña la trama urbana gibraltar 1627. The stone bridge led to a the landport which was protected by two enclosed inner gates over which stood a tower.

In 1624, following concerns about the general state of defencelessness and insecurity in Andalucia, especially in the light of possible hostile intentions by England, King Philip IV of Spain decided to make ‘a Royal Progress’ of inspection throughout that part of the country. Accompanied by the Count-Duke of Olivares, the Admiral of Castille and the acclaimed poet and writer, Don Francisco de Quevedo, they visited Seville, Cádiz, Medina Sidonia and Tarifa, arriving in the vicinity of the Rock on 27th March. The Corregidor of Gibraltar, Capitán Mesía Bocanegra, together with the civic, military and religious authorities came out of the City to receive the King at La Puerta de España.

However, once the King had returned to his coach, it became impossible to introduce it through the gateway due to the various sharp turns which it had against the rock for its greater defence. It therefore became necessary for the royal coach to be dismantled and for the King to enter the fortress on foot. The Count-Duke became angry with the Corregidor and informed him that, knowing beforehand that the King was to come to Gibraltar in his coach, he should have widened the gateway. In answer to the Duke’s rebuke, the Corregidor answered with great deliberation that ‘the gateway had not been built in order to admit coaches, but rather to hinder the entry of the enemy.’

The heavily fortified northern approach to Gibraltar as seen in 1567 Anton de Wyngaerde. The Puerta de España is seen in the centre with the Puerta de Granada above and the Puerta del Mar on the far right.

Following the capture of Gibraltar by Anglo-Dutch forces in August 1704, the gate and the tunnel within it was re-modelled some years later, with the crowned letters G R 2 (representing the initials of King George II) and the date of completion of 1729, set in the carved keystone at the southern end of the Landport Tunnel.

In 1751, the Chief Engineer of Gibraltar, James Gabriel Montressor, re-designed the northern entrance façade of the gateway, which has remained basically unchanged to the present day. By the time of the Great Siege, the Landport Gate had been sealed for security reasons and a double palisade constructed along the middle of the moat and strengthened by the addition of chevaux de frize (iron hoops similar to latter day barbed wire).

South Landport Gate remodelled in 1729.

729 Landport keystone inscribed with the initials for King George II, 1729.

North Landport Gate, Gabriel Montressor sketch 1751.

At the start of the Great Siege, many towers and high buildings were pulled down and others destroyed by bombardment and fire. Also demolished, for reasons of security, was the stone Landport Bridge which would later be replaced by a bridge with access to the Landport itself by way of a drawbridge.

The gateway, or more probably its sally port below the bridge, would become synonymous with one of the more spectacular events of that protracted and drawn out siege. In the early hours of the morning of 27th November 1781, a surprise military mission, comprising 2,435 soldiers and 99 officers, set off to attack the Spanish front lines. Samuel Ancell, a clerk to the 58th Regiment, wrote about the event, as follows:

This morning at two o’clock the detachment of officers, non-commissioned officers and men, under the command of Brigadier Ross, marched from the Red Sands, where they had assembled, through Bay-side and lower Forbes’s, to storm the enemy’s advanced works…..the workmen and seamen began with their tomahawks (small hatchets, having a sharp point on the back), devil’s (an inflammable composition bound in small bundles) and warlike combustibles, to set the batteries on fire, while the artillery spiked up ten mortars, and eighteen pieces of cannon….in a few minutes the isthmus appeared an entire blaze, and the reflection of the light was so great, that a person might have perused a book upon our batteries…. Our Gallant and veteran Governor (General George Augustus Eliott), accompanied by Captain Curtis, went out to be an eye-witness of the transaction….and said to his men ‘Look round, my boys, and view how beautiful the rock appears, by the light of this glorious fire.’…The enemy had only recovered their surprise, and beat to arms, when the detachment was repassing of Land-port gate, so that you will say we were expeditious in destruction.

Landport Gate and Bridge Captain Spilsbury 1783. This sketch would have been drawn in 1779 before the stone bridge was demolished.

Landport Gates sally port (Defence of Gibraltar). The sallyport was famously used during the Great Sortie of 1781.

Moorish Cast and Grand Battery from Landport Ditch Captain Spilsbury 1783.

A plan showing the Progress of the New Works on the Northern Front of the Garrison of Gibraltar in February 1796 (PRO MR 385), continued to depict the Land-port Bridge with its original masonry arches, although a later engraving of March 1828, already showed its replacement, consisting of a series of piers holding up a timber drawbridge.

Plan of the Progress of the New Works on the Northern Front of the Garrison of Gibraltar,1796 (PRO MR 385).

Just prior to this, in April 1811, the Lieutenant Governor, General Colin Campbell, had instructed the Commander of the Royal Engineers, Sir Charles Holloway, to prepare a report containing recommendations on improvements to the Rock’s overall defences. One of these observations included the proposal that the Landport gate be done away completely and be blocked up. An aperture within it would then be utilised as a casemated embrasure for a further gun to flank the ditch of the proposed counterguard in front of the Duke of Hesse’s demi-bastion. These recommendations, together with other proposals, were submitted to the Inspector-General of Fortifications, General Robert Morse, who had previously been the Commander of the Royal Engineers in Gibraltar (1791-93). In the event, after due consideration by a committee of military engineers in London, the proposed scheme was rejected outright and the Landport Gate and Tunnel continued to be open to all and sundry, excepting after the evening gun had been fired, when all the City gates, with the exception of Southport and Prince Edward’s Gates, were locked for the night.

1810 - Gibraltar Northern Defences.

On 24th December 1912, a Government Notice was issued to the effect that from the beginning of the following year, the Landport entrance to the City would be closed for the better regulation of traffic and the removal of obstruction in the public streets. This order had been approved by the Governor of Gibraltar, General Sir Archibald Hunter, who argued that the Grand Casemates Square was a private parade ground, allotted by the military authorities to the troops in those barracks. The proposed closure was received in great dismay by both inhabitants and Spanish dockyard workers as they would only now be allowed access via Waterport and Casemates Gates. Furthermore, Spanish workers would be required to leave the Dockyard via Reclamation Road (the present Queensway) and if they wished to enter the City to purchase goods or tobacco, as they usually did, they would have to do so via Waterport and Casemates.

The Chamber of Commerce protested to the Governor that this would have an adverse effect on shopkeepers and trade in general, but all memorials and complaints were dismissed out of hand by the Governor; subsequently this resulted in a deputation convening a meeting in London with the Secretary of State for the Colonies, setting out their grievances. By 26th June of that year, the Governor had been forced to resign and life resumed as usual on the Rock with access continuing to be allowed through the Landport Gate.

George Washington Wilson Landport Gate, circa 1860's.

Gibraltar Land Port Gate V.B. Cumbo early 20th Century.

Landport Gate and drawbridge.

Landport Gate North Image