Inside the Rock of Gibraltar you will find many natural cave and other holes in the rock – but in addition to these natural structures you will find some man made tunnels as well. One fascinating construction is the Great Siege Tunnels in the northern part of the rock facing Spain.
The tunnels were constructed under the Great Siege of Gibraltar which lasted from 1779 to 1783. It was the last siege of Gibraltar. The British forced had a problem their guns at the top of the rock were placed too high and couldn’t shoot down to the land in front of the rock. So the Spanish troops could walk up close to the rock fairly safely. Hence the British wanted to move some guns to a new placement on the other side of the rock – but there was no road they could use to move the guns. Hence they had to construct a tunnel through the rock so they could get the guns to the area from where they could shoot at the Spanish positions.
It is possible to go inside the tunnel and have a look. If you are into history it is pretty interesting – and for me there was a lot of new information. To be fair I didn’t have a very detailed knowledge of the history of Gibraltar to begin with.
There are a lot of displays with information and also some figures standing inside the tunnel to illustrate what the soldiers of old times used to look like.
When you walk through the tunnel you have to be amazed of how big an effort was put into the construction of such a tunnel during a time when there were no power tools – everything had to be made by hand combined with explosives. This must have made the air inside the tunnel pretty unbearable to breathe which lead the British to dig out some ventilation holes in the wall to get a bit of fresh air into the tunnel. When they tried to make such a ventilation hole they accidently made it a bit too big – and suddenly they realized – hey this is a great position for a gun to shot at the Spanish down in the low land. So they transformed the ventilation hole into a gun position and put a gun inside the tunnel instead of waiting for the tunnel to be done.
They were so happy with the success of the first accidental hole they decided to create several such gun positions at different place through the tunnel. They did fire many cannon balls down into the Spanish positions down below – but they had problems shooting down so they invented a gun which could actually shoot down. The British also realized most of the cannon balls they fired down into the Spanish positions just ended in the sand doing little harm. A certain Henry Shrapnel had invented new ammunition for the cannon which burst midair on top of the enemy troops. This new cannon ball was first tested in 1787 here at Gibraltar and a new word was introduced into the British language – shrapnel for metal fragment doing terrible harm to people nearby.
The siege of Gibraltar lasted four years – but building a tunnel with the methods of the day were slow going – so it wasn’t actually finished by the time the siege was lifted. But I guess the British didn’t realize at the time this was the last siege of Gibraltar – so they kept on digging the tunnel until they reached the desired destination on the other side of the rock and they could make a gun placement where they originally wanted it.
Later the tunnel was used during World War II when Gibraltar was one of the most important British bases in the world controlling the access to and from the Mediterranean. They even constructed more rooms inside the rock during this time and there are more display inside the museum of the more modern accommodation and technical equipment used during the later war.
I have finally reached the end of the tunnel and it is time to walk back out. The tunnel is slopping downwards – and if you haven’t noticed this when you walk into the tunnel you will certainly take note when you are walking out up hill. And if you have looked at all the displays when you walked in you won’t even get a rest when walking up the hill. If you are not totally out of shape you shouldn’t have any problems making it back up.