The Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia has said that the Northern Defences have been transformed from a “jungle into a jewel” as a result of an ongoing Government initiative to restore and clean up the area.
Dr Garcia visited the site in order to witness the evolution of the project at first hand and to see latest discovery. The Northern Defences remains under the direct control of his office with Mr Carl Viagas as Project Director.
The Northern Defences initiative has entered its fifth year, in which time it has made considerable progress. It comprises a series of defensive lines which date back to the eighteenth century and includes a network of tunnels, vaults, batteries and galleries which were carved into the face of the Rock itself. The fortifications constitute a remarkable example of the ingenuity and determination of the Royal Engineers and their predecessors who built defensive networks like no other.
The Government put the site out to Expressions of Interest in 2014 and the works commenced in 2015 following on from this.
This whole area which was once commonly known as “the jungle”, was neglected for many years and in a complete state of deterioration and disrepair. It served as little more than a rubbish tip and the venue for other activities which were hidden away out of sight. Indeed, five hundred tons of rubbish were removed in the opening phase of the project.
The Project Director, Mr Carl Viagas who specialises in the restoration and adaptation of historic monuments, presented to the Deputy Chief Minister and the press, not only the historic value of the Northern Defences but also the challenges that have been faced during the works and how these have been overcome.
Dr Garcia and others were escorted through a series of 18th century tunnels and galleries that have been cleared to facilitate access to previously inaccessible defensive terraces, The Queen’s Lines, King’s Lines and Place of Arms.
These terraces can now be appreciated in their full splendour, including their commanding views of the northern approaches into the town which they successfully defended during the Great Siege.
The beauty and historic value of these picturesque areas is one that the Deputy Chief Minister welcomed, making the point that “this area will become a prime leisure site for our community and for visitors to the Rock, these gems have been buried for too long. Our heritage is to be enjoyed by all from all walks of life, the potential of this site clearly demonstrates the significant potential that such an area offers.” He praised the “energy and enthusiasm” of Mr Viagas and the team who have taken this forward.
The visit continued through the system of tunnels, where a WWII battalion Headquarters was lit for the visitors to appreciate as one of the many wonders within these defensive lines which continued to be used and adapted through the centuries.
Before finishing the visit, Mr Viagas pointed out what seems to be a very recent and significant find. Buried by dense vegetation and only discovered due to a 5cm high survey bench mark in the rock face, is a defensive wall, which seems to span from Hanover Battery all the way to the Tower of Homage. “This not only appears in 18th C maps and is labelled as Hanover Line but also seems to be the same wall depicted in one of our earliest maps of Gibraltar by Luis Bravo of 1627. Finding the foundations or partial remains of this structure would be significant in itself, however if we uncover the wall in its entirety, that would be probably one of the most significant discoveries in recent history of this type of defences” stated Mr. Viagas who confirmed that the area will be made safe and cleared during the next coming weeks so that it can be inspected by the Government’s archaeologist.
Before leaving the site, the Deputy Chief Minister confirmed the Government’s commitment to this project: “Not only does this project address our continued responsibility and commitment to our heritage and environment, but it also shows the potential to increase the value of our tourist product and social demands for open areas”.