Gibraltar has been inhabited for more than 50,000 years, and has been the frequent site of conflict. Neanderthals lived and died there. Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks and Romans and even the Vandals were there. Moors, Spanish, pirates, French and English fought over it.
The Spanish took control in 1462, ceded it to Britain in 1713 and still aren’t completely happy about it.
With its great strategic location at the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea, both Spain and England fortified the peninsula. The British, in particular, dug many still-existing tunnels during the 18th century and withstood many sieges including a particularly long one by French and Spanish forces. Then in the 19th century, Britain supported the Spanish uprising against Napoleon, and there was a period of relative quiet.
Faced with Franco’s Spain and Vichy France’s Moroco, the British constructed a massive network of tunnels during World War II to house a hospital, power station, a headquarters and nearly 10,000 troops and civilians. Thousands of civilians were evacuated not to return until 1951. Some feel that when they returned, they came back with an identity tied to the Rock.
Today, Gibraltar is an British Overseas Territory. It has its own government and is independent except for defense and foreign relations. The people of Gibraltar have rejected unification with Spain several times. They are predominantly Catholic, but there are also Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and members of other sects such as Baha’i and Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is a varied multi-racial group. There are only about thirty thousand people, but they are packed into less than three square miles.
While naval and shipping stores, warehousing and repair once dominated the economy, now the financial sector and tourism make major contributions. Cruise ships stop regularly. But the “tourists” also include many people visiting from Spain to take advantage of shopping bargains. People of every nationality and religion can be found on the streets.
Because we have a strong interest in history, on our first visit we toured the World War II tunnels. It wasn’t until our second visit that we took a cable car to the top. One can also walk.
When we came back a third time, we decided to spend more time on the back streets where the locals live and shop. We ate in a local pub away from the main tourist area.
More hurried people (and perhaps younger and more vigorous) could have accomplished all three things in one visit. It is not a big place. But it is worth seeing.
Click on photos to enlarge.