Hidden defences uncovered as jungle turns to jewel
A forgotten defensive wall that lay hidden for decades under dense vegetation has been uncovered during work on the Northern Defences, adding to existing knowledge about Gibraltar’s historical network of military infrastructure.
The discovery was made during clearance work at the site, which for decades had been abandoned and was colloquially known by the self-explanatory moniker ‘The Jungle’.
But slowly, all of that is changing in bid to tap this unused resource for the community and visitors alike.
The Northern Defences are being transformed “from a jungle into a jewel”, the Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia said on Friday during a visit to this once forgotten, but historically significant part of Gibraltar.
“When we came in [into Government] we tried to decide how we dealt with this. And the mistakes in the past have been to throw too much money at it and trying to do too much at once. It just did not work,” he said.
“We decided to do it slowly, a financial year at a time, and lets build it into something significant, and that is what we have today. We have transformed it from a jungle into a jewel, a historical jewel at that,” he said.
Commending project director Carl Viagas for his work in transforming the area, he said: “Thank you for the energy, the enthusiasm and the drive from which this project has been taken forward.”
“I think it is a fantastic project and a great leisure area for the people of Gibraltar and for visitors and tourists as well,” he added.
The visit by Dr Garcia coincides with a recent and significant find.
“The section is referred to in the 1700s in some plans as the Hanover Line of Defences,” Mr Viagas said.
“However if we go back to the Bravo plans of 1627, there is a line of defences which has the same shape and seems to be in the same area. So it is very likely that this is the same line.”
“In terms of finds, we are not talking about the remains of a wall or a foundation, this is the actual wall itself which had just been covered by vegetation, like some of these temples you find in the Aztec or Mayan world.”
He stated that it was remarkable to find the location and how the defensive wall would have worked but also from an operational point of view the walls appear to have a purpose as the defenders could fall back from that position and to the castle itself.
“It appears to be linked to the castle keep, and that gives us a clearer picture of how the defences worked,” he said.
Mr Viagas called the discovery the “most significant” in recent history of this type of defences.
Now that the wall has been discovered, the area will be made safe and cleared so that the Government’s archaeologist can inspect it. Mr Viagas envisioned it will take two to three weeks to do this.
“It is not just a matter of the walls being cleared up we also have to remove all the vegetation for the area and that involves a tremendous amount of man power as it is all done by hand,” he said.
The find occurred when Mr Viagas discovered a survey benchmark in the rock face.
“The Ministry of Defence, when they carried out surveys of Gibraltar, would not just mark out where they are, but also the height above sea level,” he said.
“We look for these symbols which are all over Gibraltar, and I was very lucky in finding it here.”
The Northern Defences initiative has entered its fifth year. It comprises a series of defensive lines which date back to the eighteenth century and includes a network of tunnels, vaults, batteries and galleries which were carved into the face of the Rock itself.
The Government put the site out to Expressions of Interest in 2014 and the works commenced in 2015 following on from this. Five hundred tons of rubbish were removed in the opening phase of the project.
Dr Garcia and others were escorted through a series of 18th century tunnels and galleries that have been cleared to facilitate access to previously inaccessible defensive terraces, The Queen’s Lines, King’s Lines and Place of Arms.
“These terraces can now be appreciated in their full splendour, including their commanding views of the northern approaches into the town which they successfully defended during the Great Siege,” said a Government statement.
“The visit continued through the system of tunnels, where a WWII battalion Headquarters was lit for the visitors to appreciate as one of the many wonders within these defensive lines which continued to be used and adapted through the centuries,” it added.