The military emphasis on Gibraltar's history meant that it was not until early in the 19th Century that much consideration was given by the military governor of the Colony to the social needs of its civilian inhabitants. General Sir George Don, Lieutenant-Governor of Gibraltar, was perhaps the first since the British and Dutch joint taking of Gibraltar in 1704 to dedicate significant resources to the public well being. This included the founding of a new civilian hospital.
In 1815, considering that "there being no place of public recreation in this Garrison" he "was induced?..to establish a walk around the Grand Parade, and form what is called in this country an Alameda, where the inhabitants might enjoy the air protected from the extreme heat of the sun". In order to avoid public expenditure, the gardens were laid out with voluntary contributions, including some from the Amateur Theatre and monies raised by a series of public lotteries.
The Grand Parade was an assembly ground situated to the south of the town of Gibraltar in an area which had been a "desert of red sand", used as a raw material in construction within the town. Parts of the area had been used as a vegetable garden for the forces during the sieges, and parts as cemeteries. The shoreline here had been the easiest access for landings until a fortified wall was built along the shore and had been used to great effect by the Moors in defeating Enrique de Guzman, Second Count Niebla in 1435.
Grand Parade was the hub of military activity for over a hundred years. The changing of the guard was held there every week and the site was used for ceremonial occasions. To this day two 10inch RML guns on slides overlook grand parade from the east.
The promenade around the Parade was gradually expanded to include about 8 hectares of land in what became known as the Alameda Gardens. Alameda is derived from the Spanish word "Alamo", or White Poplar Populus alba, and old writings mention these trees growing along the Grand Parade. The walks opened to the public on 14th April, 1816. The Gibraltar Chronicle covered the event thus:
"The walks at the New Alameda being completed they will be opened to the public tomorrow afternoon, at 4 o'clock, when three Bands of Music will attend".
The gardens were laid out with numerous interconnecting paths and terraced beds, set out mainly with native Jurassic limestone rock, much of it tinted by the local red sand. Dry stone walls and retaining walls were also made out of the local rock. Improvements through the early years included the introduction of gas lighting along the west side of Grand Parade and the erection, possibly in 1842, of an archway made out of the jaws of a whale.
In 1973 the Alameda Gardens fell into a state of disrepair and it was not until 1991 when Wildlife (Gibraltar) Limited, a firm of Environmental Consultants and Managers was contracted by the Government of Gibraltar to manage the gardens and convert them into the Gibraltar Botanic Gardens. The aim is to develop the gardens in ways that will enhance enjoyment, conservation and education, so that its future will be even richer than its past.
The Alameda Gardens were opened in 1816 at the instigation of Lieutenant-Governor George Don who wished to provide a scenic walk for residents and visitors to Gibraltar. In the Gibraltar Botanic Gardens these aims have been expanded to include the appreciation of the value of plants and the importance of their conservation.