La Linea is a new, for Andalucia, town, its name and origins only going back to 1704. About the only building on the site was a watch tower or torre, built in 1630 that is now on Playa Levante.
In 1704 Britain occupied Gibraltar. Felipe V took exception to this and ordered an army to retake Gibraltar. They failed, and to keep an eye on the Brits the Military Government of the Field of Gibraltar was created, initially with the brief of watching the isthmus between Gib and the mainland.
In 1713 Gibraltar was officially ceded to Britain by the Treaty of Utrecht. The British immediately started trying to expand their territory over the isthmus, onto the mainland. To prevent this, in 1731, two forts were built, Santa Barbara on the east beach and San Felipe on the west of the isthmus. A wall between the two had fortified towers and guardrooms to house the troops.
Soon civilians started to arrive in the area from neighbouring San Roque, selling goods to the garrison, mending their boots, collecting used cannon balls for return to the British and providing places of relaxation and refreshment. Within a few years a town had grown behind the fortified wall or line.
In the early 19th century Spain signed a mutual defence treaty with Britain after Napoleon invaded Spain. Britain, in one of her less glorious moments, took the opportunity to destroy the wall on the 14th February 1810 on the grounds that it would have been used by the French in the event that La Linea was taken. Needless to say the whole period between 1704 and 1810, indeed until today, is contentious.
La Linea was not recognised as a city until 1913. In more recent times, during the world wars, La Linea, was fortified with bunkers built by German engineers that, happily, were never used but which are still much in evidence.
The last military action to take place in La Linea was in 2004 when a party of Royal Marine Commandos landed on a beach there and proceeded to dig themselves in. Surprised Guardia repulsed the 'invasion' by informing the troops they were actually in Spain, not on their exercise beach the other side of the frontier.
Even though it has such a short history La Linea town is worth a visit. There is a good beach on the east side, a bustling market on Wednesdays, a fine bullring complete with bullfighting museum and of course a museum, the Museo del Istmo housed in the old military headquarters in the Plaza de la Constitution. There is a huge park, Sofia, between the frontier and town in which there is preserved a wonderful example of German engineering. Along the promenade on the east beach there are some very good fish restaurants and in the town, around the shopping area, some equally good tapas bars, easily enough for a good tramp around in winter.
So where did walking the line come from? Well, during my visit to the museum I found a room chock full of old maps of the area including one drawn up by a British Engineer in 1783 that showed in some detail the forts of Santa Barbara and San Felipe together with the fortified wall between them so I decided to trace the wall from one end to the other.
Starting at Santa Barbara, which is near the sports stadium, under restoration and soon to be opened for visitors, the line of the wall could be seen heading west, disappearing behind buildings alongside a wide road heading in the same direction. By going up all the side streets off this main road I was able to get tantalising glimpses of the wall, some parts overbuilt with 20th Century gun emplacements, until I arrived at the west coast as it were, where, behind a barrier of green mesh, I found the fort of San Felipe. I, like many Spanish guards in the 18th Century, had walked the line.
© Nicholas Craig Nutter 2004 - 2012. Nick Nutter asserts his rights as the author of this article and all associated images. This article and images may not be copied or reproduced in any way without written permission of the author.