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Opinion & Analysis

In my opinion: The City of Gibraltar: ‘Civis Calpe sum’

Pic by Eyleen Gomez

by Anthony J. P. Lombard.

The news of Gibraltar’s application to be granted City status by the Crown, as reported in the Times of London and the Gibraltar Chronicle, caused me considerable surprise and for obvious reasons. Equally worrying must be the assumption that the application must have been officially submitted and, if so, it further begs the question: ‘whose brain wave was it to so apply’?

Why? Well, because of the clear disservice and down-grading it all affords our undoubted history, status and trajectory, and, in that regard, the facts speak for themselves and should not require my modest highlighting; save, permit me to so undertake, in respect of a few, namely:

Order in Council:

If brevity were my forte, which, alas, it is not, I should simply and solely rest my case upon the Order in Council – [that is from ‘the Privy Council of the United Kingdom’, of the 14th day of December, 2006 and with The Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty in Council being present ] - granting us our 2006 Constitution, and wherein it specially states: “the Constitution set out in Annex 1 to this Order shall have effect in Gibraltar, a part of Her Majesty’s dominions, known as the City of Gibraltar”.

Note: ‘City of Gibraltar’ and so ‘game set and match’ in confirmation of our City status.

However, the arguments in support of our status are far more numerous, and so out of an abundance of caution, I should also wish to additionally invoke some of the same, namely:

Labours of Hercules:

As I often used to express, during my brief passage via City Hall, we have been famous since Antiquity and the Labours of Hercules, of 3000 years ago, and so very much before London, Madrid or New York, were even in existence.

‘Medinath-al Fatah’ - The ‘City of Victory’ of November 1160:

As is well known, on the 4th December, 1159, the Emperor Abd-al Mumin of Morocco decreed the building of the first City of Gibraltar. Note: ‘City’.

At the time, the Emperor, prophetically, decreed that the City should be known as ‘Medinath-al Fatah’; namely: the “City of Victory”, and so it has been, ever since and for obvious reasons.

Works on the new City of Gibraltar commenced on the 19th May, 1160. The architect in charge came from Sevilla. His name was Ahmed ibn Basu.

The fortified area of the City consisted of the Moorish Castle and the castle complex, which extended up to Crutchett’s Ramp. The works inside the fortifications included a Palace for the Emperor, a Mosque and an aqueduct.

Outside the walls there were many other works, including a windmill at the top of the Rock.

The works were finished in just six short months, by November 1160 and the Emperor arrived in that month of November 1160 to inaugurate the City, staying for several months thereafter, entertaining the great and good, including poets from far a field;

Accordingly, in November 2010, we celebrated 850 years as a City and so on the 19th and 20th July, 2011, and as part of my concluding Receptions as Mayor of Gibraltar, I thought it appropriate to celebrate and mark such a singular 850th anniversary, as a City .

As part of my addresses at those celebrations, I read out from one of the poems of the poet Abu Abdallah ibn Ghalib Arrossafy of Valencia, who attended upon the Emperor Abd-al Mumin, during his inaugural visit to Gibraltar, in November 1160, namely:

“The ships came to the mountain of double victory,
Whose venerated heights are the most famous of all mountains,
Clouds form an unbuttoned black cloak around the neck of its superb summit;
Stars crown the air above it like dinars of gold and their golden rays caress it.
This ancient mountain has blunted its teeth in the Forests of time and the passage of centuries,
Wise in experience, it has known all manners of things;
Has shaken off all vicissitudes, and pushed them away,
Like the camel drivers jostle their camels and continue on the road singing glad songs.
The mountain is now at rest and ponders on its past, its present, and its future, in grave and thoughtful silence, hiding many mysteries.
May this Rock be secure as from tomorrow, safe from fear and misfortune, although all other mountains in the world tremble!”

In such circumstances, it may be safely assumed that an equivalent official, to that of a modern Mayor, would have been appointed, under the Arab city system of the era, and so between 1160 and 1309.

Accordingly, such an individual would have been denominated as the ‘Wali of the Medinath-al Fatah’, and would have administered the ‘City of Victory’, via the ‘Waliya’, that is: ‘Mayoralty’.

The Western Office of Mayor of Gibraltar was established by Ferdinand IV of Castile [1285-1312] in August 1309, following the first conquest of Gibraltar from the Arabs. The first western Mayor of Gibraltar was Lope Ordonez (Ordoñez), who was so appointed immediately following that conquest. As a result, the Office of Mayor of Gibraltar may enjoy a provenance of 862 years, from 1160 and certainly of 713 years, from 1309.
The relevance of all of that is placed into perspective, by the fact that the earliest mention of a Mayor of London, occurred in 1189, whilst the title ‘Lord Mayor of London’ was first recorded in 1414, during the Mayoralty of the famous Sir Richard Whittington, who died in 1423, after having been Lord Mayor of London on three occasions.

The ‘Kingdom of Gibraltar’

In 1462, Gibraltar came definitely under the orbit of the sovereigns of Castile.

On the 15th of December of that year, Henry IV of Castile (1425-1474) importantly, described himself as as “Rey de Gibraltar”, and issued a Decree wherein he donated to Gibraltar all of the territory which had previously belonged to Las Algeciras. Algeciras had been abandoned since 1379, following its destruction, by Muhammed V of Granada and Gibraltar remained from that point on as the most prominent city in the area.

As a result, Gibraltar’s limits were enlarged and set out as follows, namely: to the West, up to the River Guadalmesi and the River Almodovar, bordering the lands of Tarifa; on the North, by the boundary with Medina Sidonia, Alcala de los Gazules and Castellar; and on the North East up to the River Guardiaro, with the Mediterranean Sea being its oriental boundary. In total, Gibraltar encompassed a surface area of 575 square kilometres.

In 1502, following the Castilian Re-conquest of Spain, Gibraltar had a population of some 1,300 inhabitants. However, by 1550, the population had experienced a considerable increment, as a result of the efforts by the Catholic Kings, which attracted 500 settlers, made up of 150 noble knights, with the rest being merchants, fishermen and farmers. By 1586, the population of Gibraltar had reached 5,400 inhabitants and, by the end of the 17th century, it is said to have reached 9,000 inhabitants.

The main economic activity of Gibraltar during those centuries was agriculture, livestock, fishing, forestry, vineyards, naval construction and commerce. Fish was particularly plentiful, in Gibraltar’s waters, with exports being sent as far afield as Valencia. Most of the commerce was undertaken by sea, upon national or foreign vessels, with exports from and imports to Gibraltar, going or coming, from as far as France, England, Flanders, Italy and Barbary.

Two Cathedrals

As is also well known one of the determinants of a City is the presence of a Cathedral and Gibraltar is blessed with not one, but two such edifices. Namely: the Rome Catholic Cathedral of St. Mary the Crowned and Anglican Holy Trinity Cathedral, and all by reason of the RC Diocese of Gibraltar and the Anglican Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe.

Furthermore, the previously mentioned donation of Algeciras and its territory, to Gibraltar, in addition to presenting the aggregation of extensive and productive territories, also came to mean that Gibraltar inherited all of the rights and privileges then enjoyed by Algeciras.

One of those said rights and privileges, was non-other than that of an Episcopal See, given Algeciras was so. Namely: that of the Joint Sees of Cadiz and Algeciras. It follows Gibraltar has been a Diocese since 1462.

In support of the above, it should be further explained, that, following the capture of Algeciras, in 1344, by Alfonso XI of Castile [1311 – 1350, who died on that latter year at the Siege of Gibraltar], and in order to re-enforce the strategic importance of Algeciras, plus encourage its re-population, the latter King convinced Pope Clement VI to transfer the Episcopal headquarters of the See of Cadiz, from Cadiz to Algeciras.

Accordingly, on the 30th April, 1344, Clement VI issued a Papal Bull: ‘Guadeamus et exultamus’, erecting the Church of Santa Maria de la Palma of Algeciras into a Cathedral and instituting Algeciras into a Diocese, canonically linked to Cadiz.

Therefore, from 1344, the Bishops of Cadiz were designated as being ‘Bishops of Cadiz and Algeciras’.

However, subsequently, in 1369, Algeciras re-fell into Moorish hands and by 1379, had been abandoned and destroyed, with the town and its territories remaining in such a forsaken state, for some 83 years, until it was donated to Gibraltar, in 1462.

It follows, that the said donation of Algeciras to Gibraltar, carried with it the rights and status of the Episcopal See, which Algeciras enjoyed. As a consequence, that Episcopal status, thereby, became vested in Gibraltar.

Furthermore, such a claim, itself, also enjoys centennial provenance, in that it was so professed by, for example, the distinguished Gibraltarian historian and author Alonso Hernández del Portillo [1543/7-1624/5], an elected member of Gibraltar’s ‘Cabildo’ or municipality, in his ‘Historia de Gibraltar’, written between 1610 and 1620.

As a consequence, it must mean Gibraltar has enjoyed the rank of a Diocese, since 15th December 1462. That is for 554 years, as opposed to 116 years, from 17th November, 1910, when the See of Gibraltar, ‘per se’ was established, when Pope St. Pius X, created the Diocese of Gibraltar.

The 1502 Grant of Arms:

The 1502 Grant of Arms to Gibraltar, by the Catholic Monarchs of Spain referred to the ‘City of Gibraltar’, and the label surrounding the Arms so granted reads: “The Noble City of Gibraltar, Key of Spain”.

Further, according to our indefatigable National Archivist, Anthony Pitaluga, such references to the City of Gibraltar, are also found in the Seal belonging to the Regidores of Belanga, dated 1524 and held at the Spanish national archives at Simancas. Furthermore, Mr. Pitaluga, also points out that the word ‘City’ is similarly found in the label surrounding the Castle and Key seal of the City of Gibraltar, dated 1577, as held at the Gibraltar National Archives.

In addition, our premier historian, Tito Benady, is of the view that Britain simply accepted the 16th century declaration from the Catholic Kings, and so never declared Gibraltar a City. In the circumstances, such an acceptance, could only but further confirm our City status.

Treaty of Utrecht 1713:

The Spanish version of the Treaty of Utrecht refers to the ‘ciudad’ of Gibraltar and so namely: the ‘City of Gibraltar’, even if the English version translates it as ‘town’, but which, in the event, must be a misnomer and nothing more, given a ‘cuidad’ is a city and not a town.

To further confirm the same, our established author and TV personality and former Chief Secretary, Richard Garcia, has suggested that to add to the catalogue above, Prince George of Hesse appointed Alfonso de la Capela as ‘Justicia mayor’ and also as ‘Alcalde mayor’ and, thus, Gibraltar was still seen as a City, post capture and pre Utrecht.

Freedom of the City:

More recently, it must also follow that if we are not a City how could our Parliament and predecessor bodies have been granting ‘Freedoms of the City’? Has it all been a pantomime?


Furthermore, if we are not a ‘City’ how can our current politicians be constantly uttering that we are a ‘Nation’, if we are not even a ‘City’? Are all those claims, but yet another pantomime?

Schedule to the 2006 Constitution of Gibraltar:

Lastly, does not the Schedule to our 2006 Constitution set out the Oaths of Allegiance due from [i] the Office of Governor; [ii] Member of the Council of Ministers; and [iii] Judiciary, and wherein all are referred to as being Offices of the “City of Gibraltar”. Yet again and in those circumstances, if we are not a ‘City’ is that recitation but yet a third pantomime?


Given we are also illustrious ‘Heirs to the Romans’, as a result of our Italian heritage, instead of questioning our undoubted City status, we should be paraphrasing the famous, rightful and historic Roman exclamation of ‘Civis Romanus sum’, and so proclaim to all and sundry: ‘Civis Calpe sum’, namely: ‘I am a Gibraltarian Citizen’.

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