The working class district of a wealthy city

The working class district of a wealthy city
2011. Panoramic view of Gibraltar airport and La Línea from the top of the rock of Gibraltar, looking north. In the foreground we can see the branches of wild olive trees (‘Olea oleaster’ or ‘Olea europaea europaea’ var. ‘sylvestris’), then the airport runway, built on an old sandy isthmus, the customs buildings and houses. The following buildings and roads belong to La Línea and other towns around the Bay of Algeciras. In the background, Sierra Carbonera. Photograph: Beatriz Díaz Martínez © Beatriz Díaz Martínez

The working class district of a wealthy city

Gibraltar dominates the scenery in La Línea, the city being visible from the top of the rock. Until 1869 the village of La Línea belonged to the municipality of San Roque. Its inhabitants tended vegetable gardens which provided for the colony and traded around the border. Following its independence from San Roque, the city quickly became the working class and marginal district of the wealthy colonial city. The population varied depending on the need for a workforce in Gibraltar: during the 20th century, the figure fluctuated between 30,000 and 60,000 inhabitants.

In 1954 Justo Martínez de Serdio, a priest and doctor, wrote a letter addressed to the dictator Francisco Franco demanding attention for La Línea. In his letter he describes the city as urban and proletarian, and asserts that it depended on the tobacco and building industries, prostitution and leisure and service in nearby Gibraltar, unlike other towns in the region which were dominated by caciques and masters.

Given the lack of opportunities in their hometowns, families migrated to La Línea «to the smell of Gibraltar», as Teresa Almagro says. While they looked for work they built a shack or hut with wooden crates, found second-hand clothes in Gibraltar and ate the leftovers from the military barracks. La Línea was actually a welcoming city because most of its population were outsiders and this situation reinforced the essential mutual support.