20 January 2018

Gibraltar - Islamic, Spanish, British and modern

The Rock of Gibraltar is a nar­row sandy isthmus off the Iberian Pen­in­sula. Being limestone, the 6sq km Rock is riddled with 140+ caves. Off the eastern cliffs of the rock a flat, sandy plain stret­ched out towards the Mediterranean.

The Strait of Gibraltar is the narrow neck separ­ating Europe from Africa, the only link between the Atl­ant­ic Ocean and the Med­iter­ranean Sea. Sin­ce the Prophet died in Medina in 632 AD, the pro­g­ress of Islam’s armies was rapid. Berber Tarik-ibn-Zeyad land­ed in 710 AD and from 742 on, the Moors defended their rock with a fort.

In 1068, the Arab Gover­nor on Gib­ral­tar ordered that a strong­er Moorish Castle be built to watch events across the Strait. The castle had the largest keep and the tallest towers in all the Iberian Peninsula, plus buildings, gates and for­tified walls. In 1160 the Caliph of Mor­occo commissioned a fully fortif­ied city. The Rock rem­ain­ed in Arab hands until an unexp­ect­ed Spanish attack between 1309-33, then it re­v­ert­ed to Arab cont­rol. The Moors’ City Walls surrounded the city, later strengthened by other nations.

The King of Castile’s troops finally captured Gibraltar from the Moors in 1462 and perman­ently expelled them. 3 years later, the Duke of Medina's son was confir­med as the owner of the Rock by Royal Decr­ee. When Isabella bec­ame Queen of Castile in 1474, she wanted Gibral­tar back. She granted Gibraltar the Castle, Key and Coat of Arms. Note Gibral­tar’s flag: a three-towered red castle and key.

 marinas, Gibraltar

Spain retained the Rock, and used it as an important naval base. The opp­ort­un­­ity for Brit­ain to capt­ure Gib­raltar arose with the War of the Sp­an­ish Succes­sion (1702-13). The Rock became a pawn in the strug­gle between rival claim­ants to the Spanish throne, Frenchman Philip V of Anjou & Austrian Archduke Charles III. When the Rock fell to an Anglo-Dutch force in 1704, all Spanish inhabit­ants left for  Spain.

The Cable Car, Gibraltar

The Rock was for­mally ceded by Spain to Britain under the Treaty of Utrecht 1713 and was used as a trad­ing post. But Spain was never able to accept their lost terr­it­ory. The worst siege was France and Spain’s Great Siege in 1779, which last­ed 3.5 years. The Gov­er­nor put guns into the precipitous north­ern face by tun­n­el­ling through the rockface.

In the Battle of Trafalgar 1805, Napoleon was allied with Spain in planning an invasion of Bri­t­ain. The British fleet was commanded by Horacio Nelson and the combined Franco-Spanish fleet was command­ed by Gen Villen­ueve. For two years, the fleets chased each other around the At­lan­tic and Mediterranean, before finally clashing at the Battle of Trafalgar where Nelson died.

Given the military role in Gibraltar's history, it was not till the early C19th that the military gov­er­nor focused on civ­ilians’ social needs. By 1815 the governor created the Grand Par­ade, where loc­als could walk and avoid the ext­r­eme heat. Grand Par­ade became a hub of cerem­on­ial military events.

In 1817 the Exchange and Comm­er­cial Lib­rary was foun­d­ed for ci­vil­ians. Soon after, a Charter of Jus­tice was grant­ed, civilian magi­s­tracy establ­ished and civil rights were given to citizens. A Sup­reme Court was created, with a chief justice and jury system. In 1830, responsibility for local affairs was trans­fer­red from the War Office to the Colonial Off­ice, and the status of Gibraltar was ch­an­ged from the “Garrison of Gibraltar in the Kingdom of Spain”, to the “Crown Colony of Gibraltar”. A local Police Force arrived in 1830.

The promenade was ex­pan­ded to include 8 hectares of land for the Alameda Poplar Gardens. The gar­dens were laid out with int­er­connect­ing paths and terr­ac­ed beds of local limestone. Gas light­ing was intro­d­uced along Grand Parade.

In WW1 Spain remain­ed neut­ral and was not a danger to Gibr­al­t­ar. But Ger­m­any’s growing power led the British Government to expand its Navy. This heightened Gibraltar's role as major naval base, to keep the St­ra­its clear of en­emy shipping. The Bay developed modern dock­yards, harbour and repair facilities for Al­­lied warships. 

St Michael's Cave, Gibraltar
Used for concerts

By 1939 Mussolini join­ed Hitler, and a new theatre of war op­en­ed in the Medit­er­ranean. There was a very real danger that France’s Gen Franco would join the men who had help­ed him win Spain, imperilling Gib­ral­tar. The Royal Eng­ineers added c40Km of tun­nels and chambers, dug out of the lime­stone. An un­derground city grew, with its own hospit­als, elec­tric­ity, telephones, water distillers and foodstores. 

The civil­ian population was evac­uat­ed to Britain and Jamaica, and 230 years of political gains under British rule seemed lost. However you might like to read how this isthmus played a role in defeating Hitler: Defending The Rock, Nicholas Rankin, Faber & Faber, 2017. In any case, the post-war years saw a growing demand for greater self-govern­ment, plus prog­ress in medical, educat­ional and housing services.

Perched on the very summit of the Rock is the Top Station of The Cable Car 1966. There are great views across the Straits of Gib­raltar to Africa, to Spain and the Medit­erranean. This Cable Car was constructed by the Swiss, but within the Top Station complex there is an “English” pub and shop.

Surrounded by sea, Gibraltar has 5 beaches: Catalan Bay, Camp Bay, Eastern Beach, Sandy Bay and Little Bay. Catalan Bay beach has the charm of a fishing village with attractive pubs and marinas.

In 1963 Gibraltar's status came before the UN Special Com­mittee on Decolonisation. A 1967 ref­er­­en­dum asked Gibr­al­tans whether they wanted to remain British or become Spanish. 12,000+ people voted for Britain while 44 chose Spain!! Nonetheless Spain caused the complete clos­ure of the border in 1969. Gen­ Fra­n­co had besieged the ter­r­­it­ory and cut it off, by telephone, land and by sea.

Barbary Apes' Den

Gibral­tar (pop 34,000) was granted a new Constitution by Britain and their House of As­s­em­bly was estab­l­ished. The New Constit­ution of May 1969 stated that Gibral­t­ar would never be handed to Spain without an Act of Par­liament and without the peo­p­le's consent. Gibraltar gained cont­rol over its own civil service, and power now lay in a democ­ratically elected gov­ern­ment under a Chief Minister. In 1973 Gibraltar joined the EU.

Franco’s death in 1975 led to an ag­reement which de­cl­ared that both UK and Spain were comm­itted to solve all dif­f­eren­ces; Spain would lift the restrict­ions. The ele­ction of a soc­ial­ist government in Mad­rid oversighted the full opening of the border in 1984. Today Gibraltar is a British Territory that is self-governing except for foreign policy, which is controlled by Britain.

A former building for Franciscan friars, The Convent was named in 1531 by a wealthy Spaniard. Today it is the res­id­ence of Gibraltar’s Governor, the Queen's re­p­res­entative in Gibraltar. The red brick Jacobean style frontage is perfect for the weekly Chan­g­ing of the Guard.

These days Cathedral Cave mak­es a unique crystalline audit­or­ium for music, ballets and dramas. The mosque once built in the city centre for the Muslims was later converted by the Spanish into a Catholic church, now Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned. The Military Heritage Centre is housed in one of the many batter­ies found in Gibraltar.

By 1991 Alameda Gardens were con­verted into the Gib­raltar Botan­ical Gardens, a paradise for wildlife. At the Barbary Apes' Den see apes up close, and the whales and dolphins in the Bay below.

Lord Airey's Batteries are located at the highest point on Gibraltar
Completed 1891.


18 January 2018

Krakow Salt Works Museum, under- and over-ground

Since first writing about art stolen by the Nazis during WW2 and hid­den in various underground salt mines in Germany and Aust­ria, I have read everything I could on The Monument Men. When the Nazis found the Altaussee Salt Mines in Alp­ine Bavaria, for examp­le, they were delighted to ship their 6500 stolen art treas­ures into this salt-heavy, pastoral hideout. Today, ever since the film Monument Men appeared in our cinemas, tourists have flocked to the Altaussee Mines.

When I heard of the Krakow Salt Mines Museum of Art on tv, I assumed it was another amazing memorial to art stolen by the Nazis during WW2. Wrong! Nonetheless it is fascinating.

The Krakow Salt Works Museum is a large exhibition space in the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Southern Pol­and, established after WW2. The mine, which continuously pro­duced table salt from the Middle Ages on, now consists of Two Worlds, A] an underground with a large exhibit in the salt mine 135m below and B] an above­ground in the Salt Works Castle.

A] The Underground World is located in 17 historic mine work­ings, designed out in the 19th and early C20th. The museum has a rich collection of mining technology, inc­l­uding a collection of treadmills for horses, an early form of lifting gear which is displayed in its original environment.

The tourist route takes up only 2% of the mine’s total length. The large Under­ground Salt Cathedral of Poland, with walls carved to replic­ate chapels from the earlier centuries, has chandeliers made from rock salt which have a glassy appear­ance, and rel­ig­ious sculpture. Plus there are historic and modern stat­ues eg Copernicus, Goethe, Chopin.

Wide salt stairs, from which one can admire St Kinga's Chapel (started in 1896) in its full splendour, lead inside. Opposite the entran­ce to the chapel is the main altar with a statue of St Kinga, car­v­ed by Józef Markowski. The chapel walls are adorned with salt reliefs featuring various scenes from the New Testament and decorated by the Wieliczka miner sculptors. It is here that the only exist­ing underground salt-carved monument of Polish Pope John Paul II.



There is reception room that is used for priv­ate functions, including weddings. The chamber has walls carved by miners to resemble wood, to resemble medieval wooden churches built all over Eastern Europe. A wooden staircase provides access to the mine's 64m level and a lift returns visitors to the surface.

Many shafts were dug throughout the time the mine was op­er­ating. See the preserved mining equip­ment, small under-ground brine lakes, and salt-hewn spaces. The underground ex­hibition features a unique collection of horse powered extracting tread­mills of three different types: Polish, Saxon and Hung­arian, and machines to haul the salt to the top of the surface.

There is wide range of exhibits: specimens of beautiful salt cryst­als, ancient utensils for salt production, documents and maps, paintings and sculptures from the non-existent und­er­ground chapels, ceremonial mining weapons, a Miner’s Union Horn, a collection of mining lamps and tools illustrating the various historical stages of salt production locally.

 Żupny Castle

B] The Aboveground World is located in Żupny Castle, built on the hillside above Wieliczka, started under the C14th reign of Casimir III the Great and compl­eted in the C16th reign of Sigismund I the Old. It was built in a square form­ation, in­cluding liv­ing quarters outside the castle walls. Until 1945, this defensive castle was the administ­ra­tive and business headquarters of the salt mine

The Saltworks Castle has a great collection of salt cellars – the oldest, silver Baroque salt cellar was made in the C17th in Augsburg. The most interesting include the por­c­elain salt-cellars with figurines of African girls carrying baskets, made by the Meissen manufacturers. My favourite collection exhibits the small works of salt art: silver saltshakers and dishes, armoured strong boxes, bronze ornam­ents and the C16th silver-mounted horn of the Diggers Brotherhood, the treasure showing the mine's wealth. The Gothic Hall displays portraits of mine managers. 

 Biblical sculptures

silver salt cellars and shakers

The Krakow Salt Works Museum Wieliczka duration of sightseeing tour about 3 hours in total with the route length of about 4km. Tourists can only visit the mine with a guide.

C] World War Two
The complex of Kraków-Płaszów concentration camps was located nearby and slave labour was readily available. So the mine shafts were used by the Germans to create war industries here, doubly suitable because the underground spaces were safe from Allied bombing raids. How ironic that thousands of Jews were trucked from the slave labour camps in Plaszow and Mielec to the Wiel­iczka mine; ever since the laws of Polish king Sigimund August (mid C16th), Jewish settlement in Wieliczka was banned until 1867.

As soon as the Soviets were about to liberate the area, the German war industry was disassembled and transp­orted to Lieb­enau slave lab­our camp in the Sudetes mountains. The Jew­ish lab­ourers were trucked to camps in the Czech Republic and Austria.

In 1978, the Wieliczka salt mine was placed on UNESCO World Heritage Site because it reflected all the historic stages of devel­opment in mining techniques from C13th-C20th, while the preserved devices and tools documented the old systems of working the deposits, drainage, lighting and ventilation of the mine in a unique manner by world standards. In 2010 a sis­ter mine 28ks apart, hist­oric Bochnia Salt Mine, was added to the list of UNESCO World Her­it­age sites. In 2013 Żupny Castle was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage Site.

16 January 2018

The true story of Pocahontas - in Virginia and in England

English King James I granted a charter to the Virginia Co. to form a North America settlement in 1606. The Virginia Co. was to search for local riches and a sea trade route to the Pac­ific Ocean. 100 colonists left England on three ships and landed on a narrow peninsula in the James River. Cap­tain John Smith chose the inland location to hide them from Spanish ships and to pro­vide protection from any Native American enemies.

John Smith and the English colonists stayed near the Powhatan on nearby Jamestown Island, but later began to explore out-lying areas.

In the meantime Smith terrorised Native people when he put guns to heads of village chiefs, demanding food and supplies. In fact the early 1600s were a horrible time for all local tribes. Young children were targets of rape, so the Native women offered themselves to men, to keep their children safe. The Powhatan people were in an unwinnable situation since the English government offered them no protection.

The true story of  Matoaka (later Pocahontas c1596-1616) has been gathered from years of extensive research of the written records and oral histories from her descendants and tribal peoples of Virginia. Read Vincent Schilling  who tells a tale of tragedy and heart­break about a young Native girl Matoaka who was kidnapped, raped and perhaps murdered by those who were supposed to keep her safe.

Matoaka’s mother was Pocahontas (who died giving birth) and her father was Wahunsenaca, the tribal chief. Little Matoaka was raised by the Mat­tap­oni women, along with her many sib­lings.

Matoaka was c10 when John Smith and English col­on­ists arrived. Since Pocahontas was liv­ing with her father Chief Powhatan Wahunsenaca, she seemed to be protected. In wint­er 1607, the colonists and Smith met with Powhatan warriors and Smith was captured by the chief’s younger broth­er. Later Wahunsenaca grew to like Smith, offering him the position of werowance/colonists’ leader, plus land with great access to game and seafood.

"English" Pocahontas' portrait, 1616
She was in rich red and gold, with white lace cuffs and high collar, pearl earring, and an ostrich feather fan.

Years later, Smith alleged that Pocahontas saved his life in the four-day process of becoming a werowance. But children were not allowed to attend any sort of religious rituals, so she could not have thrown herself in front of John Smith to beg for his life. [In 1624 Smith pub­lish­ed his book General Historie of Virginia where he claimed Pocahontas had twice saved his life, but Vincent Schilling said it wasn’t true].

In 1608-09, Smith’s role as the colonists’ wero­w­ance had failed. The colonists made inadeq­uate attempts to plant crops to harvest, and Smith violently demanded supplies from surrounding vil­lages. Pocahontas’ father was disgusted.

When Matoaka turned 14, she choose a new name after her moth­er, Pocahontas. During a ceremony she danced a courtship dance with Kocoum, younger brother of Potowomac Chief Japazaw. She married the young warrior and soon became preg­nant. It was at this time rumours surfaced that colonists planned to kidnap Pocahontas.

An English colonist Captain Samuel Argall was particularly keen to find her, thinking that a captured daughter of the chief would prevent Native attacks. Argall came to the village and demanded Chief Japazaw, Pocahontas’ brother-in-law, to give up Pocahontas or suffer violence against his village. So he relented in the ridiculous hope that she would only be gone temporar­ily. Before Argall left the village, he gave Chief Japazaw a copper pot as a “trade” for her.

Pocahontas had to give her baby, Kocoum, to the women of the village. She was trapped onboard an Eng­lish ship and her husband was killed by the colonists. The tribal chiefs of the Powhatan never retaliated for the kidnapping of Pocahontas, fearing they would suffer!

Pocah­on­tas’ anxiety was so severe that her English captors allowed sister Mattachanna and brother-in-law Utta­mattamakin to help. In The True Story of Pocahontas, The Other Side of History, Linwood Custalow wrote that when Mattachanna and Utta­mattamakin arrived at Jamestown, Pocahontas confided she had been brutally raped.

By the time John Rolfe arrived in Virginia in May 1610, 600 colon­ists had been reduced to 70 by famine, disease and clashes. Mat­taponi history is clear that Pocahontas and Rolfe had a son out of wedlock, Thomas. Event­ually Pocahontas was converted to Christianity and took the name Rebecca.

During her captivity, the English colony of Jamestown was fail­ing. John Rolfe was under a 1616 deadline to become profitable or lose financial support from home. Rolfe sought to learn tobacco-curing techniques from the Powhatan, but curing tobacco was a sacred Native practice. Realising the value of aligning himself with the tribe, he eventually married Pocahontas.

Only then did the Powhatan spiritual leaders and family share the curing practice with Rolfe. And soon Rolfe’s tobacco was a sensation; he saved the colony of Jamestown!

The Powhatan tribal lands were now highly sought after for the tobacco trade and the tribe suffered badly of greedy tobacco farmers. Rumours of the colonists’ desire to take Pocahontas made its way to the Powhatan, who feared for her well-being. They thought of rescuing her, but once again Wahunsenaca did nothing because he feared his daughter might “be harmed”.

Rebecca Pocahontas Rolfe travelled to England in 1616 with John Rolfe, son Thomas Rolfe, John Argall and some Native tribal members. The bringing of Pocahontas to Eng­land was to show friendship with Native nations; it was a key to continued financial support for the struggling colonists.

According to Mattachanna’s record, Pocahontas realised that she was being used and desperately desired to return home. According to Jane Dismore, Pocahontas carried herself with great dignity. The Bishop wrote he ‘accustomed her selfe to civilitie’ and ‘still car­r­ied her selfe as the Daughter of a King, and was accordingly respected [by] persons of Honor, in their hopefull zeale by her to advance Christianitie’. Clearly she was very popular in King James’ court, and did not want to go home.

Plans were made to return to Virginia in 1617 when Pocahontas was in good health. Yet at only 20 she died (of TB?) in March 1617 and was buried in St George’s Church Gravesend.