The Rock of Gibraltar has a lengthy history that includes many long sieges, multiple conquests and a lengthy military culture, but more than this, it has a fascinating eco-system as well that is unmatched elsewhere on earth. Just as the culture, the architecture and the people are all influenced by multiple cultures and areas, so too is the plant and animal life here influenced by areas other than the Rocks immediate location.
The cultures include Moors, Spanish, Genoese and British and each of them have brought with them their own influence on the botanical inclusions of the area, bringing with them ideas on planting, cultivation, deforestation, and new plant life that is seen in Gibraltar.
By and large, much of Gibraltar’s history of necessity included military, since the many attempts at conquest and siege meant that was first and foremost in everyone’s mind, so it wasn’t until about the 1800’s that anyone really took a hard look at what was necessary for the well being of those who lived there day to day.
Sir George Don, who was then the Lieutenant-Governor of Gibraltar, was viewed as being probably the first public leader of Gibraltar who saw fit to dedicate any amount of public resources to the well being of the general population, including founding a hospital for civilians.
About 1815 he is noted as stating that in consideration of the fact that “there being no place of public recreation in this Garrison” he “was induced…..to establish a walk around the Grand Parade, and form what is called in this country an Alameda, where the inhabitants might enjoy the air protected from the extreme heat of the sun”.
He avoided using public money by taking contributions from the citizens and military as well as some from the theatre, and raised funds in lotteries as well to create what he had in mind.
The Grand Parade, his choice of sites, was a grounds used for assembly and other purposes, that was south of Gibraltar town, and had been a red sand desert, that was used for multiple things, including a sort of planning and building area, a vegetable garden for the troops during the siege times and also as a cemetery in other areas.
It had been a hub for military activity for the various rulers also over the years, as it was an easy landing area as well. Gradually the land around that Parade was built up, and was gradually expanded to include about 8 hectares for what is now called Alameda Gardens.
The name used is taken from the Spanish, Alamo, which is a tree that according to the older writings, was grown along the Grand Parade. Alameda Garden was opened in 1816, and was covered by the paper, The Gibraltar Chronicle, who are quoted as saying, 'The walks at the New Alameda being completed they will be opened to the public tomorrow afternoon, at 4 o’clock, when three Bands of Music will attend.'
Originally from Bergamo Italy, Giuseppe Codali, a garden designer and horticulturist, was commissioned to beautify and transform the Alameda Gardens into a landscape garden and recreational area. This was to benefit the people of Gibraltar in fulfillment of the brainchild of the Governor, Sir George Don.
Giuseppe’s lasting legacy includes the typically Italian sunken garden, which today is known as the Dell. It lies beneath the adjoining Giuseppe Bridge along with the garden of the Gibraltar Law Courts.
The gardens were laid out in with paths that intersected and interconnected, beds were terraced and much of it was done in the Jurassic limestone that is native to the area, some tinted a pale pink by the red sand that is also local. Later, gas lights were added and a whales jawbone was used to make an archway in the gardens.
The gardens went along quite well used until the early 1970’s when they were in such total disrepair as to be unsightly in areas. They remained so until the early 1990’s when the Gibraltar Government consulted with a group of environmental managers and consultants who were then contracted to take the gardens in hand, bring them back up to par and manage them.
They were converted into the Gibraltar Botanic Gardens, with a view toward continued development of the gardens to promote conservation, education and simply enjoyment of the gardens themselves.
There are conservation programs taking place there, as well as daily viewing for the enjoyment of the public.
Among the sights of interest the visitor to Alameda Gardens will see, are the earliest plants that were grown here, some said to be over 200 years old, meaning they were here before the gardens were actually constructed. These include the Stone Pine (Pinus Pinea), the Dragon Tree (Dracaena Draco) and the Wild Olive (Olea Europaea). Some other interesting species were brought in from North America as well as ex colonies such as South Africa and Australia.
For those of you that are interested, a short list of the most popular plants grown in the Alameda Gardens include the following (Listed in alphabetic order):
- AUSTRALIAN SILK OAK (Grevillea robusta), Origen: Eastern coast of Australia
- BELLA DONNA LILIES (Amaryllis bella-donna), Origen: South Africa
- BLUE AGAPANTHUS (Agapanthus africanus), Origen: South Africa
- BOUGAINVILLEA (Bougainvillea), Origen: West Africa and South America
- CACTI (Various types including: Opuntia, Cleistocactus jujuyensis, Echinocactus grusonii, Hylacereus undatus candelabrum, Euphorbias), Origen: Mainly North America
- CANARY ISLAND DATE PALM (Phoenix canariensis), Origen: Canary Islands
- CAPE HONEYSUCKLE (Tecomaria capensis), Origen: South Africa
- CHINESE WISTERIA (Wisteria sinensis), Origen: China
- DAISIES (Compositae), Origen: South Africa
- DRAGON TREE (Dracaena draco), Origen: Canary Islands, Madeira and Cape Verde
- EMPIRE BLUE (Buddleja davidii), Origen: United States
- GERANIUMS (Pelargonium quercifolium), Origen: South Africa
- GIBRALTAR CAMPION (Silene tomentosa), Origen: Gibraltar
- GIBRALTAR CANDYTUFT (Iberis gibraltarica), Origen: Gibraltar
- GIBRALTAR RESTHARROW (Ononis natrix), Origen: Gibraltar
- HIBISCUS (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), Origen: China and Japan
- JASMINE (Cestrum nocturnum), Origen: South Asia and Australia
- LEADWORT (Plumbago capensis), Origen: South Africa
- LORD HOWE ISLAND PALM (Howeia forsteriana), Origen: Australia
- NETTLE TREE (Celtis australis) Origen: Possibly native to Gibraltar
- OLEANDERS (Nerium oleander), Origen: Southwest Asia
- ORANGE AGAPANTHUS (Antholyza aethiopica), Origen: South Africa
- SHRUBBY SCORPION VETCH (Coronilla valentina), Origen: Native, Portugal, Spain and Malta
- STONE PINE (Pinus pinea), Origen: Mediterranean Coast
- TREE ALOE (Aloe arborescens), Origen: South Africa
- WASHINGTONIA (Washingtonia filifera), Origen: North America
- WILD OLIVE (Olea europaea), Origen: Mediterranean, Asia and other parts of the world
As well as the beautiful plant life that the Alameda Gardens exhibit, the gardens are also home to various sites of interest that one can enjoy during their visit. They are as follows:
Alameda Wildlife Conservation Park
Located within the beautiful Alameda Botanic Gardens, the AWCP is the only Wildlife Park in Gibraltar. It is now home to an assortment of both exotic and native species that have either been confiscated by Gibraltar customs or otherwise unwanted exotic pets and animals.
An Italian style garden, beautifully put together by a Genoese gardener named Guiseppe Codali in 1842 and later restored in 1992, contains many well flourishing plants, two fountains dating back to the early 20th Century, and some lively Koi fish.
The Eliott Memorial
The memorial is a bust of a local hero General George Augustus Eliott, who helped defend Gibraltar from the Spanish with great courage and determination. Surrounding the memorial are four howitzer guns of the eighteenth century.
The Wellington Memorial
Placed on top of a Roman pillar that was brought over to Gibraltar from the ruins of Lepida in Lybia, a memorial to the Duke of Wellington was erected in 1819, and stands to this day.
The Open Air Theatre
The Open Air Theatre is a fantastic venue to host special functions such as wedding receptions, music concerts, theatre performances and other outdoor events.
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