First came the fortress, then the city
From 1730 Spain fortified itself on the Northern border of the peninsular Gibraltar, after it tried unsuccessfully to reclaim the rock of Gibraltar which was occupied by England in 1704. A defence line from coast to coast with 2 forts, 5 batteries and bulwarks was developed under enormous effort – the Línea de Contravalación de Gibraltar.
The city La Línea itself was not founded officially until 1870 in this location. The town privilege was given by King Alfonso XIII. In 1913.
Between 1940 and 1944 the isthmus was fortified again against the British crown colony Gibraltar. This with bunker artillery emplacement, machine gun nests, watchtowers, switching centres and command posts which were partly built on the constructions of the defence line of the 18th century.
This bunker was part of a much bigger defence wall with together 498 buildings, which reached along the coasts of Conil de la Frontera at the Atlantic until the mouth of the river Guardiaro into the Mediterranean Sea.
The extraordinary history of the region can today be seen in the modern border and coastal city. In the light of current events it again becomes very important.
Monument and History
The history of La Línea de la Concepción begins long before the actual city founding in 1870.
It started with the occupation of Gibralter by England during the War of the Spanish Succession in 1704. England and the Netherlands allied last-minute and conquered the fortified but under staffed peninsula in a surprise attack under prince of Hesse Darmstadt.
To prevent a reconquest the fortress Gibraltar was quickly further extended and sufficiently staffed. Afterwards, the Franco-Spanish alliance tried to occupy and reconquer the peninsula from land and from sea with up to 14.000 men and several fleets. After unsuccessful attacks and high losses, the occupation was turned into a passive blocking in January 1705 – the forerunners of the later Línea de Contravalación de Gibraltar.
In 1713 Gibraltar was officially attributed to Great Britain as part of the “Treaty of Utrecht”. But Spain tried again to reconquer it in the English-Spanish War in 1727 anyway, again unsuccessful.
Spain had the Línea de Contravalación de Gibraltar built from 1730 to ultimately shield Gibraltar from the mainland and to install a basis for future reconquering attempts.
The large occupation of Gibraltar 1779-1783 was the last attempt of the Franco-Spanish alliance to forcefully reconquer the peninsula. Gibraltar was again blocked from land and sea side and permanently bombarded. The tactic was to try to let the people and staff hunger and wear them out by permanent attacks. But again, this attempt failed especially because the English fleet was again able to break the see blocking, capture Spanish ships and procure supplies. With the “Treaty of Paris” Spain regained Menorca and Florida in 1783, but Gibraltar was unreachable.
During the Peninsula War 1807-1814 Spain revolted against Napoleons occupation force and allied now with Great Britain. When the French troops moved forward to South Spain in 1810, the Brits took their chance to destroy the defence line against Gibraltar with the agreement of Spain. They feared that the French could occupy the fortifications and use them against Gibraltar. On 14th February 1810 thousands of bystanders gathered on the Rock of Gibraltar to see the demolition of the whole Línea de Contravalación. Napoleon later said, that he never intended to occupy Gibraltar.
In 1870 the settlement La Línea de Gibraltar was founded with around 300 residents. In 1883 they changed their name to La Línea de la Concepción and received town privilege in 1913.
Sistema de Defensa del Campo de Gibraltar
Under the Franco regime a new defence line developed from 1939 to protect the Spanish coast and secure the borders to the British Gibraltar. Strongly shaped by the German West wall, the defence system consisted of 498 fortifications, among them artillery posts, machine gun nests, watchtowers, switching enter and command posts. It reached from Conil de le Frontera at the Atlantic to the mouth of the river Guardiaro into the Mediterranean Sea.
The wall against the peninsula Gibraltar was part of the system and consists of 27 works, grouped in several bunkers and all located in the area of La Línea de la Concepción. The goal was the same as around 100 years before; to detain the British in Gibraltar and to prevent a possible invasion of the Spanish mainland. Therefore, many of the new posts were built on the remaining walls of the old Línea de Contravalación de Gibraltar.
The isthmus wall never had to proof its defence power and ultimately lost its importance at the end of World War II. Today these fortifications are a unique heritage. Many bunkers have now been restored thanks to the help of the “Junta de Andalucía” (autonomous government of Andalusia). Some were mostly originally furnished, and some used for temporary exhibitions of different kinds. From the originally 27 works in the urban area of La Línea de la Concepcíon 12 are preserved until today.
Línea de Contravalación de Gibraltar
Ordered by Spain, Marquis von Verboom began to build the 1700m long defence line in November 1730. 1800m away from the Rock of Gibraltar, it reached from the Mediterranean coast to the bay of Algeciras and this way blocked the land route to the peninsula.
The fortification line was completed end-to-end as Redan line, equipped with five triangular bastions: San Carlos, San Fernando, San José, Santa Mariana and San Benito. At the ends the forts Santa Barbára in the East and Fort San Felipe in the West were built. The fortification line ran mostly straight but had a cove at Fort San Felipe to make space for an army.
The broad Fort San Felipe had 28 artillery pieces, 20 iron 16-punders, 4 iron 6-pounders and 4 13” brass mortars) and made allowed a broad field of fire over the bay and city of Gibraltar. The fort also had several casemates, two bastions and a curtain façade on the back, additionally a water trench, which could be flooded from the sea.
Fort Santa Barbára was built pentagonally and was aligned like an arrowhead against Gibraltar. It had 24 artillery emplacements, a dry trench, a covered way, a glacis, 4 bomb-proof casemates and a seawall against the surge. The fort was equipped with 12 iron 15-pounders and a 13” brass mortar. The tranquillity crew consisted of 50 men plus captain.
Sistema de Defensa del Campo de Gibraltar
Looking at the disposition, the weapons and the tactical use, three completely different zones can be distinguished: the pre-defence zone divided into two anti-tank spread lines, consisting of a line of six rowed “dragons’ teeth” and a row of thick metal posts reinforced with barbed wire. The anti-tank spread lines ran parallel and were only interrupted by the street to the colony. The pre-defence zone does not exist anymore today.
The second defence sector combined mainly machine gun nests with three vaults. Their mission was to fend off infantry attacks and to protect the close artillery emplacements. The defence zone was reinforced at its side and at both access road to Gibraltar by several anti-tank objects.
The third defence sector consisted mostly of armoured emplacement for field artillery, with some anti-tank emplacements in the centre. Its whole equipment totals 35 pieces of which 27 pieces were equipped with 66-mm infantry canons, the famous 6’5 “Legionario”.
Two extraordinary bunkers get their originality from their disguise as civil buildings. Bunker 154 is a huge anti-tank post with six, partly removed rooms on a property at the Avenida Príncipe de Asturias and the Paseo Andrés Viñas. Thanks to its “civil” roof and the simulated doors it had been undiscovered for 50 years. A two-storey also perfectly disguised commandment posts is located between the houses at the Avenida de La Banqueta.