Between 1746 and 1848 a cemetery, Jews’ Gate Cemetery, also called Windmill Hill Cemetery, was located just below the Pillars of Hercules. Why the Jews took to burying their dead there is not known.
Before 1704, Gibraltar was part of Spain, and the Jews that lived there were subject to the Spanish laws of the Decree of Expulsion, also known as the Alhambra Decree. This decree from 1492, ordered the expulsion of practising Jews from the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon and its territories and possessions. In 1516 Charles 1 of Spain, officially unified all the territories in the Iberian Peninsula, apart from Portugal, into the modern-day state of Spain. As a result of this decree, many thousands of Jews had been forced to convert to Christianity, thousands more had been deported from Spain, and the remainder lived in fear of deportation or worse, so hid their religious ideology. The Alhambra Decree was only revoked by the Vatican in 1968.
In 1713 the Treaty of Utrecht made Gibraltar a British possession in perpetuity. One of the terms of the treaty ran as follows, 'Her Britannic Majesty [Queen Anne], at the request of the Catholic King [Philip V], does consent and agree that no leave shall be given, under any pretext whatsoever, either to Jews or Moors to reside or have their dwellings in the said town of Gibraltar'
Britain never took much notice of this clause. As a result, the Jewish community on Gibraltar felt increasingly more confident about openly practising their religion.
As to the question of why the cemetery was located beneath the Pillars of Hercules high up on the Rock, overlooking the Strait? One theory is that, in the early years of British rule, politically it was better to keep a low profile, and not risk expulsion from Gibraltar as mandated by the Treaty of Utrecht. Presumably feeling more secure, in 1759, the first synagogue was opened in Irish Town, admittedly screened from the street.
In 1848 the Governor of Gibraltar ordered that,
'no more interments shall take place at the former Burial Ground above Wind Mill Hill but that all future Hebrew dead shall be deposited in the allotted portion of the New Cemetery.'
Since that date, the cemetery at the foot of the north face of The Rock, now known as North Front Cemetery, has been used by all denominations including Hindu, Christian, both Catholic and C. of E., and Muslim. The Jewish section is separated from the rest by a wall as tradition demands.
Meanwhile, the Jewish Cemetery became neglected until the early years of the 21st century. On the 31st May 2015, or 13 Sivan 5775 according to the Hebrew calendar (the Hebrew calendar starts one year before the Hebrew calculated day of creation), the cemetery was re-opened by the Chief Minister, the Honourable Fabian Picardo QC MP, in the presence of the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis.
The gravestones are mainly horizontal in a style known as Sephardic. On its re-opening, the Chief Rabbi of Gibraltar, Rabbi Roni Hassid, wrote the following of the cemetery,
'Until recently, many of the graves were covered over with mud and peat. Those are the best preserved. Others that were exposed to the elements have become illegible, and many of the stones have crumbled.
During the winter and spring months, the vegetation is allowed to grow rapidly and profusely giving the impression of neglect. In fact, the place is the favourite mating ground of the rare Barbary partridge and it is in deference to the Ornithological Society that the vegetation is left until after the nesting season. Lag BaOmer sees the traditional annual pilgrimage to the tombs of the Tsadikim (Righteous people) and by then the shrubs have usually been cleared.'
In the centre of the cemetery is a stone wall that encloses the burial area of ten or more of Gibraltar’s Judges of Religious Law. Here you will find the oldest legible tomb, that of Chief Rabbi Solomon Abudarham. Abudarham inaugurated the Flemish Synagogue on Line Wall Road at the turn of the 19th century, laying the stone which still bears his name. He also established a school of religious study in Parliament Lane. Abudarham died in 1804, a victim of a yellow fever epidemic.