Monday, March 2, 2009


I recently ran a competition in my long running Gibraltar column in which I asked was it true or false that Catalan Bay had been populated by Genoese fishermen. The answer is true and Norman Thomas Wilcock in Jerez sent me this interesting letter.

“Was Catalan Bay once populated by Genoese fishermen? Yes, most certainly. One of the apartment blocks is, of course, called Genoa House. When I pop round the East side to take lunch from time to time I invariably have a chat over a pint with my friend, Vincente, who lives there. He’ll probably be in his sixties but he tells me that in his childhood there were still Genoese (not Italian) speakers in the village.”

This was intriguing so I contacted Dr Joseph Garcia for some answers. Joseph is the leader of the Liberal Party that sits in opposition with the GSLP in Gibraltar’s Parliament. However it would be no good running to him with your back pain because his is not a medical doctor but has a doctorate in history and wrote the excellent book: “Gibraltar - the making of a people.” I put Mr Wilcox’s points to him and he replied:
“It is very interesting to learn the comments made by your reader. As you know, there is a very strong connection between Gibraltar and Genoa. When the Anglo-Dutch troops captured the Rock in 1704, most of the original Spanish inhabitants chose to leave. A new population immigrated into the territory as a result from different parts of the Mediterranean and indeed from further afield. The Genoese component was very strong.

“For example, a count of civilians able to bear arms was taken in 1721. This revealed that 45 were English, 96 were Spaniards and 169 were Genoese. A register of 1753 shows that the civilians numbered 1816 persons of whom 597 were Genoese, 575 Jews and 351 British inhabitants. The first real census taken in 1777 showed that the civilian population has grown to 3201 of whom 1832 were Roman Catholics and the rest were British Protestants. The majority of Catholics were classed as natives (845), Genoese and Savoyards (672) and Spaniards (134).

“This Genoese element has therefore played a fundamental role in the formation of the Gibraltarian identity that we have today. It is reflected in some of our cooking including Calentita (chick-pea flour pancakes), the "national dish".

“I recall reading somewhere that Genoese persons living in Catalan Bay were mistaken for Catalans at that time because of the clothes that they wore. It is therefore very possible that what your reader says is accurate and that a few elderly Genoese speakers remained.”

I wonder whether Catalan Bay received its name because of the confusion over the Genoese fishermen and their families. I have seen other theories that Catalan military settled there (although I am told there is no proof of this) or Catalan may have been an English mispronunciation of Caleta.

1 comment:

PROSPERO said...

Very interesting article, Sancho!
I understand that the Catalan language contains many Genoese words and expressions, which would not be too surprising, given the extent of trade between Genoa and Catalunya between the 17th and 17th centuries.
Also, the word caleta in Spanish actually means cove or bay.