Big Guns of Gibraltar

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There is no hiding from the fact that Gibraltar was a fortress for most of its recent history. From the glowering Tower of Homage that dominates the northern face of the Rock (more commonly known as Moorish Castle) to the sprawling city walls, its west-facing bastions, and the guns, we are reminded that Gibraltar’s history is essentially that of war and the military.

Gibraltar’s guns are a feature of every Gibraltarian’s childhood, and eye-catching for Gibraltar’s thousands of tourists. Visitors strolling in the outskirts of the city centre will exclaim in surprise as they look up from the street at almost any point along the city walls and make out the muzzle of a canon pointing out to sea from, for example, King’s Bastion, Orange Bastion or Chatham Counterguard.

Tourists enjoying the shade, colours and scents of the beautiful Botanic Gardens at the Alameda pause to stare in wonder at the canon on display by the bust of General Elliot: three, 10-inch howitzers made in 1783 and an 8-inch howitzer dating from around 1778. Around the Duke of Wellington’s column stand two 13-inch mortars with shells and a 1758 bronze 12-pounder gun on a wooden garrison carriage. On either side of the steps leading to the Gardens stand two Russian guns captured by British forces in the Crimean War.

At Southport Gates, tucked by the wall and regularly climbed over by scores of passing children, stands one of the four muzzle loading guns acquired in the 1880s for the defences of Gibraltar at South Bastion. At the time, Southport Ditch was the site of an ordnance depot and a magazine was built there to store the ammunition needed for the new guns.

A tour of the Rock is rarely complete without taking in Europa Point, where visitors can enjoy the magnificent views across the Strait and will also notice Harding’s Battery, which, restored a few years ago and including an informative exhibition in its Sunken Magazine, is topped by a huge, 50-ton, 12.5-inch RML gun.

The list goes on: the Rock of Gibraltar is topped by O’Hara’s Battery, Lord Airey’s Battery and Breakneck Battery, with their 9.2-inch guns, all accessible these days for the tourists even when they only have a few hours to spare before they return to the cruise ship. And those with a little more time might admire the guns at Devil’s Gap Battery, in the Galleries and at Princess Caroline. Or they could admire the magnificent 100-Ton Gun at Napier of Magdala Battery.

If you’re stopping for a coffee and a bite to eat at one of Casemates Square’s many restaurants, you might just spot a replica of Koehler’s Depressing Carriage Gun, an essential part of Gibraltar’s past armoury for withstanding siege and invasion. And if that intrigues you, arrange for a tour around Gibraltar and explore its fascinating military history, as documented by its guns.