Great Siege Tunnels
Many of the fascinating attractions to be seen in Gibraltar have a military connection such as the Great Siege Tunnels that were a mere 82 feet in length when originally carved by hand and a good deal of blood, sweat and tears. With the rapid increase in more modern mechanical drilling techniques, the end of the Second World War saw the tunnels dramatically increase in depth to over 30 miles, creating a virtual labyrinth within the iconic Rock.
It seems foreign to us in this day and age when a war can be started and ended by the mere press of a button, how in days of old a country, town or even just a garrison could be under attack continuously for years, wearing away at the defences day after day. It was during one such siege that led to the rapid excavation of the Great Siege Tunnels. After thirteen attacks on Gibraltar and during the American War of Independence against Britain; France and Spain's military forces thought they could blindside the British and attempt to recapture Gibraltar while their attention was focused elsewhere.
So began the fourteenth attack on Gibraltar during mid 1779 with French and Spanish troops gradually wearing down the British defences to the extent that by 1782, the now desperate governor, General Elliot decided to offer a hefty reward to any man who could come up with a plan to get the cumbersome cannons on to the northern face of the Rock. This was of utmost importance as the opposing troops had advanced so close to the existing gun batteries that they could no longer achieve the cannon angle required to be effective.
The idea for the Great Siege Tunnels came from Sergeant Major Ince, then a military artificer (engineer) and work soon began using a combination of digging tools and dynamite blasting. The fumes from the blasting soon started to cause blinding headaches and respiratory difficulties among the troops and it was decided to create vents in the tunnel walls. With work on the tunnel progressing slowly, it is thought that the idea to create fresh air vents led to the decision being made to postpone work on reaching the northern face of the rock, known as the ‘Notch' and rather cut gun holes in the existing tunnel walls, much the same as they did for the air vents. This proved a brilliant decision and the turning point of the 14th Gibraltar siege.
Visiting The Great Siege Tunnels
Visitors wishing to relive a bit of history with a visit to the Great Siege Tunnels should wear hiking boots or sturdy trainers as it is quite a steep hike down and back up from the tunnels as well as a good amount of walking once inside. A great time to visit in summer is during the hottest part of the day when the tunnels are wonderfully cool but don't forget a hat and water.