Great Siege Tunnels
A tunnel system inside the Rock of Gibraltar that was dug out during the Great Siege of Gibraltar
in the late 18th century. It was here that cannons were first mounted to shoot down at the enemy forces. The tunnels were expanded after the siege and parts were also used in WWII
, and the commodification
at the site today covers this too – hence the inclusion of the place on these pages.
More background info:
See in general under Gibraltar
The emplacement of cannons inside a rock tunnel was quite a pioneering thing at the time of the Great Siege (1779-1783). The British
soldiers had to face challenges such as smoke ventilation inside the rock chambers and also the need to fire at unusual angles – namely downwards. This was obviously a problem for the gun loading techniques (you don't want the cannonball to simply roll out once the cannon is angled downwards). There were also pioneering inventions in the design of the gun carriages, introducing e.g. a sliding mechanism to the mounting of the gun barrel to absorb recoil, which later became a standard feature of more modern guns.
The cannonballs used introduced new designs too, namely being filled with explosives and fuses that ensured the projectile would go off near its target while still airborne, rather than hitting the soft sandy ground and causing little harm there. In fact the term “shrapnel” goes back to one Colonel Shrapnel who developed such designs further on the basis of the pioneering ideas brought up at the Great Siege of Gibraltar
in these tunnels.
The tunnels themselves were also further expanded after the siege and again in the run-up to and during WWII
. Tunnelling actually continued in the post-war era as well and was only ended in the late 1960s, when the Tunnelling Troop of Gibraltar was disbanded (in April 1968).
What there is to see: Obviously the tunnels themselves, mainly – which are mostly hewn into the raw rock, and at various points there are openings from where cannons were fired down. Some of these gun emplacements have been reconstructed and are also “peopled” by an assortment of dummy soldiers in period uniforms, in particular in the large “St George's Hall”, a chamber with seven gun positions on three sides to provide a firing angle of almost 270 degrees.
In addition there are plenty of information panels providing ample historical background and technical explanations. It's all very well designed and written.
Yet, much of the subject matter, namely the Great Siege itself and the following century, would strictly speaking fall outside the time frame relevant to dark tourism (see here
). However, since the tunnels were also extensively used in the 20th century, and in particular in WWII
, they are important here too. In fact a good proportion of the information panels are about WWII and also included many black-and-white photographs taken during that time.
Some describe the engineering issues involved, others the use of the tunnels for various storage and military purposes. There are a few artefacts and mock-ups too, including a board that is supposed to have come from an operations room somewhere inside the tunnels.
There's also a mock-up of an observation position, complete with an olive-green uniformed soldier mannequin busy entering notes onto a sheet of paper, while another one is snoozing on a field bed behind.
A plaque on the wall at one point near here recounts the story of the tragic Gibraltar plane crash that killed General Sikorski, the military commander and Prime Minister of the Polish
government in exile in 1943 – see Europa Point
in general. In fact there was only one person who directly witnessed the crash – namely a soldier who saw it from an observation position in these tunnels!
connection continues at the end of the second stretch of tunnels where an opening allows a view onto a British
observation and mortar position, complete with camouflage netting and yet more uniformed dummies – wearing those typical Tommy soup-bowl steel helmets.
Yet more openings in the rock face allow for views down, onto other military positions and also over the entire north of the Rock, where today the main cemetery, the airport and the border with Spain
Outside the tunnel entrance are yet more observation platforms from where to enjoy views over Gibraltar
. And there's also another cannon on display in the open air here.
All in all
, even though much of the site is about earlier historic periods, it covers enough WWII
and contemporary history to make it relevant to dark tourism, and it is certainly well laid out and highly informative. Some of the dummies are a bit exaggerated, but so what … After the WWII Tunnels
, this is probably the second-most important dark-tourism attraction in Gibraltar
high up on, and inside, the Rock of Gibraltar
, on its north face, above Farringdon's Battery and below the northern summit of the Rock (with its contemporary communications and radar installations).
Access and costs: partly easy, partly a bit steep; price included in comprehensive Nature Reserve entry ticket.
The Great Siege Tunnels are often included in guided tours of the Rock, but you can also get there independently. It's easy if you have a car (parking is nearby, but spaces are limited), otherwise you'll have to walk it. And given the topography be prepared for a little workout. From the top station of the cable car you first have to walk north along Signal Station Road and down to the Military Heritage Centre (see under Gibraltar
), where you have to turn sharp right and ascend the cul-de-sac road leading to the Great Siege Tunnels entrance.
Inside, the first stretch of tunnels is relatively even, but the second part descends down quite steeply, so climbing it back up adds to the physical challenge involved here (it's not so bad, though … personally, I had no trouble at all negotiating even the steeper tunnel sections).
Admission to the Tunnels is free if you get the comprehensive ticket to the Nature Reserve of Upper Rock that includes a range of attractions (£12).
Opening times: 9 a.m. to 6:15 p.m.
Time required: Between 40 minutes and an hour and a half, plus time for getting there, depending on your physical fitness and whether you want to explore the tunnels to their very end (including the steep bit).
Combinations with other dark destinations:
see under Gibraltar
The closest other relevant attraction would be the Military Heritage Centre and Princess Caroline’s Battery at the bottom of the access road to the Siege Tunnels, and in particular the WWII Tunnels
two switchback turns further downhill still.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: The views to be had from this excellent vantage point are of course a key bonus attraction. In addition you may also meet some of Gibraltar's famous “apes” here (Barbary macaques, i.e. a species of tailless monkey, rather than actually apes) who can be quite entertaining to watch.
- Siege tunnels 01 - gun by the entrance
- Siege tunnels 02 - into the rock
- Siege tunnels 03 - digging dummies
- Siege tunnels 04 - tilting cannon
- Siege tunnels 05 - mock boat
- Siege tunnels 06 - a warming fire
- Siege tunnels 07 - a new lick of paint
- Siege tunnels 08 - deeper into the rock
- Siege tunnels 09 - lookout
- Siege tunnels 10 - view over the cemetery and the airport
- Siege tunnels 11 - St Georges Hall
- Siege tunnels 12 - dummies and cannons
- Siege tunnels 13 - looks like a communist commander
- Siege tunnels 14 - WWII mock-up section
- Siege tunnels 15 - communications post
- Siege tunnels 16 - further into the rock
- Siege tunnels 17 - opening out to the east
- Siege tunnels 18 - WWII mortar position mock-up
- Siege tunnels 19 - looking up a shaft
- Siege tunnels 20 - dummy being moved
- Siege tunnels 21 - dark clouds over Gibraltar