Throughout the entire history of Gibraltar, it seems that the Rock has been particularly significant to various people at varying times and that they were willing to go to great lengths to secure it throughout the ages that it has stood. Visitors or occupants to Gibraltar have been, over time, Neanderthals, Moors, Spanish and British, and each people who occupied the grounds of this small dominion went to great trouble to secure and protect it.
The Moorish Castle Complex is made up of some diverse buildings, multiple numbers of gates, more than just a few fortified walls and its most striking attributes, those of the Tower of Homage and The Gate House. The Tower of Homage is a very impressive, nearly an awe inspiring site even today. How much more so would it have been, when it was new, in the height of its power and magnificence.
Although it is often said that the Moorish Castle at Gibraltar was begun in the 8th century, there is no real way of knowing exactly when it was begun or when it was completed, since the records of those things are long since passed out of time. What is known is that in about 1068, according to records, the Governor of Algeciras, which was the city on the western side of the bay, an Arab, ordered that they build a fort on Jebel Tarik, (what is now known as Gibraltar) in order that they might guard the area and watch the events playing out on the other side of the Strait of Gibraltar.
It is believed by many that this may well have been the roots of the castle, the present day Tower of Homage since there does appear to have been a castle on this site, and from that, it is believed that the original walled town grew. The frightened townspeople would certainly have withdrawn into that walled city when times grew less secure.
With certainty it is known that the Castle was rebuilt to what it now is during the 14th century, and stands on the soil of the actual site where the first Moors fortifications were built on the soils of Europe. In time it became the main fortress on the Rock of Jebel, and holds the distinction of being the tallest tower and the largest keep in the entirety of the Iberian Peninsula.
The walls of this important fortress closed in a large area, sweeping down from the upper aspect of the Rock of Gibraltar, down nearly to the sea, with what must have been the most interesting and well seen parts of the castle being some of those which still remain there today, notably, The Tower of Homage, the battlements and the enormous Gate House, along with the cupola roof.
The occupation of the Moors was the longest in the recorded history of Gibraltar, and lasted from about 700 through 1309, and then when retaken in 1350, their occupation of Gibraltar lasted a further hundred odd years, until 1462. The total time of the Moors on Gibraltar was about 700 years, give or take a few, and their contributions to the culture, the atmosphere and the economy of Gibraltar are certainly well documented.
The importance that Gibraltar held for them is attested to by the fact that their occupation of it began in 711 and lasted till the final recapturing of it by the Spanish, with the Moors fighting to hold the rock every step of the way. Led by Tarik ibn Ziyad and Musa ibn Nasayr, the attempts to conquer Spain by the Moors began at Gibraltar and the Rock was viewed as what might be called a stepping stone toward bigger and better things.
What can only be considered an amazing feat, took no more than twenty years, and twenty years at a time when no vast weaponry or great mechanics were available to the Moors.
The Castle that the Moors built here holds the highest tower of any other castle built during the Islamic era on the Iberian Peninsula, and the castles Qasbah (walled-fortification) and Keep, the largest that is known in the area. This castle too, played its out part in the history of the Arabian conquests in the Iberian Peninsula.
The Moorish Castle itself had its own very important role in the conquest that took place on the Iberian Peninsula, a conquest that led to dominion of the Arabs in a portion of Europe for more than seven centuries, so the castle is not merely significant as a part of Gibraltar’s history, but that of all of Europe.
The Moorish castle begins at the highest point within the tower of Homage, which lies at the eastern most point. Surrounding the Tower of Homage is the Inner Keep, and the Outer Keep. Lying West of the Keeps is the Qasbah, which houses the famed Gate House.
Down the Rock rests the Old Town, and from there to La Barcina, the Original dockyard, where stood the Sea Gates, at the sites of the present casemates Gate. Entire lengths of these amazing fortifications, gates and walls remain standing offering silent examples of the wondrous architectures of the Islamic period of Gibraltar.
The Gibraltar Heritage Trust, at this point is faced with the challenge to protect and shield these remnants, these silent story tellers, so that they may endure for future generations to see and study, and restoring them to former glories with the same materials that were used in the original buildings.
When you travel to Gibraltar, make it a point to visit this piece of enduring history of Gibraltar. Visit the Moorish Castle and marvel at what could be done, using only strength of hands and sheer determination.
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