Font size






Martin’s Cave– Palaeolithic occupation site. Also Neolithic and Medieval site

Ref: HLCGFP4/014

Situated 170m above sea level at the end of the Mediterranean steps path, the cave was named after a gunner of the Royal Artillery in 1821. According to an 1829 account, the soldier had been "wandering about the summit of the Rock somewhat inebriated" and was absent from that evening's muster. He was feared to have fallen over the precipice and to have been dashed to pieces on the rocks below. Three days after disappearing, however, he reappeared with torn and dirty clothes and a haggard appearance. He had indeed fallen but had landed on a narrow ledge in front of the entrance to the cave, before being rescued.

The Royal Engineers made, Martin's Path, a small approach path above the precipice to facilitate access. A visitor described the perilous journey to get there a few years after it was discovered:

Speleothem inside Martin's cave:

    ‘The path which we are obliged to traverse in order to get to it, is one of considerable difficulty and danger. We left our horses in charge of a servant half a mile from the cave, and proceeded along a narrow ledge, formed by art and with much labor, about three feet wide, until we reached the desired spot ... The south end and all the eastern side of Gibraltar is – or rather had been deemed, inaccessible, as it rises perpendicularly from the sea, and presents to the eye no ledges or asperities to encourage one to ascend or descent it, no matter what might be his inducement.’

The ledge below the entrance to the cave, which allegedly saved the soldier’s life, has been undercut by wave action, forming a wave cut platform at what was once at sea level. This feature corresponds to the Gunz glaciation (Palao 1969). Sandy deposits here and to the south of the cave, together with a shell breccia deposit 16m above the cave entrance are further evidence of this.

Martin’s Cave has a large entrance facing the Mediterranean. Access to the cave is gained along a narrow ledge of sandstone and conglomerate. Inside is a large chamber with the floor sloping down westwards. There are several columns and some small stalactites and stalagmites. At the end of the chamber the floor levels off into a muddy pool formed by water percolating through fissures and dripping from the formations above. The roof is quite dry in places, without the classic build-up of calcite deposits. The rest of the cave shows evidence of a time when the climate was much wetter, producing the formations found along the walls of the slope and nearer the entrance, which have now dried up.

In the 1830’s Major Richard Hort refers to a local legend surrounding this cave:

Martin’s Cave! . . . the very head-quarters of spirits – the abode of one of the most powerful, and at the same time revengeful demons that ever influenced the acts of men…

He then describes the cave thus:

‘The entrance to St Martin’s Cave is not at all calculated to attract the attention of the casual observer . . . An immense quantity of rough and shattered particles of the Rock first meets the eye, which, when crossed, the interior of the cave, in all its fairy beauty, stands revealed.

The roof, covered with a most beautiful frothy substance, reflecting from myriads of shining flakes, the lights exposed . . . beam forth stars innumerable. The splendid ceiling is supported by irregular stalactites . . . rising into dazzling pinnacles . . . may well persuade the looker-on that he then gazes on a magic scene . . . and although far from equalling St Michael’s Cave in grandeur and size, it greatly excels all others in the brilliant loveliness of it form…’

William Henry Bartlett writing in 1851 appears to give more substance to this local legend stating that:

The story goes, that a boy of Gibraltar, who had conceived a spite against some playfellow, proposed to visit the cave with him and two other boys, observing, as they ascended to the fatal spot, " We are four that go up, but only three will come down! " and, watching his opportunity, precipitated his victim into the abyss.’

1851 Martin's Cave sketch, William Henry Bartlett (Neville Chipulina).

Martin's Cave interior, sketch by William Lacey (Neville Chipulina).

Martin's Cave Fritz Bamberger, 1850.




According to Palao (1969), the cave was first explored in 1840 by Captain Webber-Smith of the 48th Regiment. In 1867, Captain Frederic Brome also visited and excavated part of the cave. He unearthed two ancient swords of the 12th –13th century, together with a number of human remains including pottery, stone axes and flints. Parts of a human lower jaw, and two bushels of bones belonging to ox, goat, sheep, and rabbit were found; there were also several bird and fish bones. Other finds included two bushels of broken pottery, of which 57 pieces were ornamented; 61 handles and pots; 6 stone axes and 70 flint knives; a portion of an armlet and anklet; and 10 pounds of sea shells. A small, brightly coloured, enamelled copper plate was also found, which appears to have had a design upon it of a bird with an open bill in the coils of a serpent. Similar works of art, consisting of fragments of pottery, flint and stone implements were unearthed. The British Museum has seven items in its collection donated by Captain Brome. Six of these are the two swords, a scabbard, two buckles and a plaque which were all originally found in Martin's Cave. To commemorate his visit there is an inscription close to the entrance wall that reads:

 ‘This cave was explored by authority in June and July, by J. F. Brome Esq.’


Martin's Cave ancient sword of the 12th –13th century (Neville Chipulina).

Martin's Cave ancient sword of the 12th –13th century (Neville Chipulina).

During World War II Martin's Cave was used to house electric generators. The generators were removed but the holes that were drilled in the roof of the cave still have cables as evidence of the caves industrial use. A nearby battery also became known as Martin's Battery.

In 1957, a further excavation was carried out by the Gibraltar Archaeological Society under the leadership of the archaeologist Mrs. Celia Topp. They excavated around a platform in front of a set of columns that had been disturbed due to the laying of cables by the Army during WWII. In this area they found two neolithic sherds, one with carvings of concentric arcs on the exterior and the other bearing some impressions on the surface and possessing a lug around the rim. Several worked flints and cherts were unearthed together with shells and beach pebbles. Cpl. J. Acock, who found bone points and blades of jasper, carried out the last known excavation in 1962-63.

Cpl. J. C. Marshall (in Palao 1969) said that ‘during and after rain one can hear torrents of water gushing in the roof of the cave’. Cpl. Marshall also stated that the cave was home to hordes of common bats, which ‘all of a sudden disappear and then return at a later date’. Populated by varying numbers of Schreiber’s bats there are also several interesting plants and ferns growing in the shade and cool environment that the cave entrance has to offer, including the maidenhair fern Adiantum capillus-veneris.  In the summer fruit flies aestivate in the caves on Mediterranean steps. The walls of the cave turn black with millions of individuals covering the entire surface close to the entrance, an incredible spectacle worth seeing. It is possible that this formed part of the food resource for the bats that lived within, and is probably also of immense benefit to the many spiders living around the entrance. Hibernating moths also use the caves in the area during the winter.

Link to Neville Chipulina 2019 - The 200 Caves of Gibraltar - Part 9

Martin's Cave entrance.

Martin's Cave interior stalamites and stalagtites.

Martin’s Cave– Palaeolithic occupation site. Also Neolithic and Medieval site Image