Gibraltar and its Impenetrable Rock:
From Torremolinos we travelled westward along the Costa del Sol to La Linea de la Conception to make a visit to Gibraltar before going on to Seville. Many first-time visitors to Gibraltar may find this place a little curious. Where it sits at the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula, it seems very much like a part of Spain, but it is actually a British Overseas Territory and there is passport control between Spain and Gibraltar.
A Strategic British Overseas Territory
Gibraltar was once Spanish territory, but it was surrendered to Britain under the terms of the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht which ended the War of the Spanish Succession. In the dim distant past when many battles
for territory and supremacy were fought out at sea, Gibraltar was very important British outpost. Due to its strategic location, it became an important base for the British Royal Navy in the Battle of Trafalgar and the Crimean War. When the Suez Canal opened in 1869, Gibraltar became even more important. Situated at the narrow entrance which is the gateway to the Mediterranean Sea on one side of the well-known Straits of Gibraltar, it sits on the sea route between Britain and its empire east of the Suez.
The Rock of Gibraltar is the famous landmark in the area and during World War II the German’s tried to capture the Rock, but they failed. Having given Gibraltar to the British in 1713, Spain has been trying to claim it back, without success. The majority of Gibraltarians voted overwhelmingly to remain under British sovereignty. Even a proposal for joint Spanish/British sovereignty was rejected by 99% of Gibraltarians. In spite of this, Spain still insists that Gibraltar belongs to them and every now and then diplomatic flare-ups occur. Most recently, Queen Sofia was not allowed to attend Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee luncheon hosted for the world’s sovereigns. She could go in her personal capacity, but not as Queen of Spain.
Things to See and Do in Gibraltar
About 4 million visitors stream across the border from La Linea de la Conception in Spain into Gibraltar each year. Although the Spanish government is not happy with the Britain owning the territory, the Spanish citizens however flock here in droves because of the duty-free alcohol and cigarettes.
Within a minute of stepping onto Main Street, Gibraltar’s main shopping thoroughfare, you will see shops and supermarkets stacked full with duty-free alcohol and cigarettes. Gibraltar is a duty-free port and visitors can buy cameras, electronic goods, perfumes and clothing free of VAT. Given the high rate of VAT in Spain and elsewhere in Europe, it’s understandable why shopping in Gibraltar is a big hit.
Further along on Main Street is one of the most popular attractions of Gibraltar – the Governor’s House, also known as The Convent. The grounds were previously used as a Franciscan convent from 1531-1704, hence the name. The Convent has been the official residence of the Governor of Gibraltar since 1728. At first glance, things seem to have changed little since then. Next door is the King’s Chapel which was part of the Franciscan convent and later the garrison church.
As a British territory, Gibraltar maintains many of the traditions of the Empire. Nowhere is this more evident than in the changing of the guard ceremony. The Governor’s House is guarded by soldiers of the Royal Gibraltar Regiment and the changing of the guards takes place in front of The Convent.
The Rock of Gibraltar served as an important military lookout in the past, but these days it’s curiosity that brings visitors to see it. Take the Gibraltar cable car to the top for spectacular views of the Mediterranean as well as Spain, which is visible in the distance.
Among other things, the Rock is home to several tribes of Barbary Macaques, tailless monkeys who were carried here centuries earlier by traders. These are the only wild monkeys in Europe, but they roam freely amongst the humans and are a source of amusement for visitors. On a past visit, I’ve seen the Barbary apes stealing food off tourists, but on this visit they seemed more well-behaved. They are fed fresh food every day so perhaps there’s no need to steel from tourists. Still, it pays to be on guard. According to the local legend, if the Apes leave The Rock, Gibraltar will cease to be British. So perhaps a way for the Spanish to get Gibraltar back is to lure the apes away.
St Michael’s Cave is a vast system of spectacular natural caverns where giant stalactites and stalagmites can be seen. One of the huge caverns is used as an auditorium for concerts and live shows.
Nearby are the Siege Tunnels, built by the British during the Great Siege of the late 18th century. From 1779-1783 the French and Spanish laid siege to the British citizens of Gibraltar, but failed to drive them out. The tunnels were carved during those years in order to move and place artillery throughout the Rock of Gibraltar without being fired upon by the enemy.
Also not far away, and part of The Reserve, is the Moorish Castle. Built in the 11th century during the Moorish occupation of Spain, it is all that remains of the castle complex.
As mentioned earlier, there is border control between Spain and Gibraltar and passports are required to be shown for entry to Gibraltar. Visas are required for certain nationals and unfortunately one of our fellow travellers, a guy from Saudi Arabia, was not able to enter as he didn’t have a visa. If you’re holidaying in the Costa del Sol and don’t have a car, it may be easier to take a sightseeing tour to Gibraltar.
If you’re planning a holiday in Gibraltar, there are only a few hotels in Gibraltar itself, such as:
- The Rock which as the name implies is located on The Rock of Gibraltar,
- The Caleta Hotel and Apartments on the eastern side of the Rock with great views of the Mediterranean
- Queen’s Hotel near the Gibraltar cable car station, and
- O’Callaghan Eliott Hotel in the heart of Gibraltar town
However, for those with cars, La Linea de la Concepcion offers a bigger choice of hotels and at better rates.
Map of Gibraltar