Catalan Bay, known in Spanish as ‘La Caleta’, is a small bay and fishing village in Gibraltar on the eastern side of the Rock away from the main city. The true origin of the name of Catalan Bay is unknown, but a couple of theories exist: the first suggests that the bay is named after a group of around 350 Catalan (from Catalonia) military men believed to have settled here after having assisted the Anglo-Dutch forces who captured Gibraltar during the War of Spanish Succession on 4th August 1704.
However, no evidence exists to prove that Catalans settled in Catalan Bay and although this theory is regularly used as the supporting argument for the origin of the name, it is only a supposition that they ever did. The Spanish name ‘La Caleta’ (meaning small cove or bay) considerably pre-dates that of Catalan Bay. Therefore, since it has been called ‘La Caleta’ for much longer than it has ever been called Catalan Bay, the second theory and the most probably just in 1704 on the capture of Gibraltar by an Anglo-Dutch combined operation, that expedition landing in that place around 350 Catalan followers of Charles of Austria.
The third theory suggests quite simply, that the latter could simply be an English mispronunciation of ‘Caleta’. Historically, Catalan Bay had been populated by Genoese fishermen who were part of a much larger settlement pattern along the eastern coast of The Rock during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In the eighteenth century Genoese was so widely spoken in Gibraltar that Government notices were also published in this language (alongside English and Spanish). Genoese was spoken in Catalan Bay well into the nineteenth century, dying out in the early decades of the twentieth century.
There has been some discussion that the British may have mixed up Catalans with Genoese but it is by no means clear why they should suffer such a confusion, especially since there is other evidence which demonstrates that the British were perfectly aware that the residents of Catalan Bay were Genoese: the orders for the siege of 1727 refer to this bay as the Genoese Cove and the numerous eighteenth and nineteenth century census record large numbers of people born in Genoa not in Catalonia.
During the nineteenth century only fishermen were permitted to live in Catalan Bay. They were required to have a fishing permit granted to them by the Governor and only a limited number of permits were issued. The families who live in the village today are mainly descendants of these Genoese fishermen and are colloquially known as ‘Caleteños’. Catalan Bay is home to a number of restaurants and the church of Our Lady of Sorrows. The statue of Our Lady of Sorrows is carried to the beach each September when the Bishop of Gibraltar blesses the sea in what has become the main religious festival. The round shaped rock which juts out into the sea is commonly known as ‘La Mamela’ the name given to it by the early Genoese settlers as it resembles a woman’s breast when viewed from the shore.