The People of Gibraltar
1550s - Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe - Gibraltar

When I lived in Gibraltar as a young man I belonged to a guitar quintet called Los Romanceros. Our rivals and friends were another group who called themselves Los Trovadores and it was they who came up with what was at the time possibly the most popular tune of any of the ones either of us played. It was called La Virgen de Europa and the lyrics were written by Elio Cruz. The introduction went like this:

Virgen de Guadalupe
Como en Méjico te suelen Llamar
. . . . . .
Pero aquí en nuestro pueblo
Donde siempre te hemos amado,
Como la Virgen de Europa,
Siempre te hemos implorado.

Los Trovadores on top Romanceros below - that’s me with the small requinto second from right

Much later in life when I lived in Mexico City for several years I realised that the lyrics were right - the most venerated Virgin in Mexico was indeed la Virgen de Guadalupe. What I had also missed the first time round and only realised years later was that there had once been a hermitage of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Gibraltar - la Ermita de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.

From various maps and pictures of the Rock it seems pretty evident that the hermitage was built just north of the top of Charles V Wall (see LINK) and close to the end of what was once wrongly thought of as an old Moorish wall - in fact it was actually built during the reign of Phillip II of Spain.  It is also quite evident that at least in shape this was no ordinary or garden hermitage building. It looked like a tower with a couple of masts sticking out from the top at an angle.

El Hacho - Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe    (P.Gurriaran)

Those masts were meant to hold black, leather balls which - depending on their number and position - would signal to those below in the town the movement of ships in the Straits and Bay. Unfortunately I can’t really tell whether the hermitage and the tower were one and the same thing or whether it might have been a smaller building right beside it. Nor can I pinpoint when one or the other were built - nor when the black, leather ball system was first put into practice,

For example, in 1625, Alonso Hernández del Portillo (see LINK) wrote the following:
Hacho: Está a lo más alto de este monte una cierta altura a quien llaman El Hacho, lugar altísimo y donde la ciudad tiene de día una atalaya que sirve para descubrir los navíos que pasan por el estrecho y avisar de ello. Ha servido estos años esta atalaya un hombre de larguísima vista . . . 
De esta nuestra atalaya se verifica por cierto y se ha hecho la experiencia muchas veces que de quince leguas de las nuestras . . . este nos avisa de los navíos que pasan o vienen a esta ciudad, y con seña cierta y conocida por todos sabemos cuántos navíos son, y si son galeras o navíos de alto bordo; conoce este hombre si los dichos navíos son de amigos; y yo le he preguntado como los conoce; y dice que en las velas por ser las de los moros mas angostas por las entena que las nuestras y por verlos salir de las caletas de la Berbería.
Annoyingly Portillo fails to explain what system the eagle-eyed watchman used to communicate with the town below. Worse still, and surprisingly for Don Alonso - a man who is probably one of the main sources of information on the Spanish churches of Gibraltar in the 16th and 17th century - he fails to mention the presence of any hermitage of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe not just up there but anywhere in Gibraltar.

The oldest pictorial reference to some sort of signalling station on the top of the Rock is that of Anton van den Wyngaerde. (See LINK)

La Guardia del Dia - unfortunately it is hard to tell whether the hermitage tower had already been been built    (1567 - Anton van den Wyngaerde - detail)

The tower - and the Hacho  - is missing in Cristóbal Rojas (see LINK) map of the Bay dated 1607 but one of Luis Bravo’s 1627 plans shows a very recognisable tower close to a small building in exactly the right place at the top end of Phillip II Wall - but  without any explanatory caption.

(1627 - Luis Bravo de Acuña - detail)

The Portuguese cartographer - Pedro Teixeira Albernas (see LINK) - in his illustrated Atlas del Rey Planeta, is perhaps the oldest mention of the connection between el Hacho and Guadalupe. The accompanying map shows the Hacho tower and its position in one of his plans of Gibraltar.
En lo más alto de este  monte, a que llaman tarfe, que con dificultad se puede llegar, por su asperidad y eminencia, está una torre que sirve de atalaya, señalando los bajeles, con unas señales, que llaman facho y tiene el nombre de Guadalupe.

Gibraltar  - and its “Hacho”     (1658 - Pedro Teixeira Albernas - detail)

After 1704 the hermitage disappears from history although the tower - usually referred to as the Signal Station - continues to be depicted on any number of 18th century plans and representations of the Rock.

In this portrait of the Rock the tower is described as “ye Signal House” (1727 - Nicolls and Sutton)