Whatever happens with regard to ownership of Gibraltar, there is one thing you will never take away…its incredible history! For 300 years, The Rock has been home to the British forces and their families, and cheap booze and fags to the expats over the water!
It´s strategic position at the mouth of the Mediterranean means it has been used for centuries as a lookout point and fortress.
The name Gibraltar originally derives from the Berber named Tarik-ibn-Zayad, who along with a seven thousand strong army landed near to the Rock in 710. The Rock became known as Jabal Tarik, or mountain of Tarik. This name has, as the centuries have passed become known as Gibraltar.
The Rock was originally fortified by Tarik but the city itself did not start being developed until 500 years after his death. By the 12 century a small settlement was beginning to develop here, but it was only during the Castilla capture of Gib in 1309 that the street began to be constructed and the city itself was formed.
Many battles have been fought over hundreds of years, backwards and forwards between the Spanish and British over who has the right to The Rock. It was in the 18th century that it became a British garrison, something that didn’t sit well with the Spanish, so they invaded it twice during that century.
The final time ‘The Great Siege’ commenced in 1779 and would carry on for nearly four years. 1783 saw the end of the conflict, with Britain having won and they started to re-build the broken city. This took many years and explains why there is a lack of original Moorish buildings on the island.
The Rock became a Crown Colony in 1830 with the establishment of the Royal Gibraltarian Police. When the Second World War broke out in 1939, the population of Gibraltar were completely evacuated and the Rock re-established as a fortress. At the height of the War there were over 30,000 British servicemen stationed on Gib. Repatriation started in 1944 and took some six years.
In 1967 a referendum was held, and the Gibraltarians voted to continue being a British colony. It was only in 1969 that the border was closed by Franco, as he tried to stake a claim on Gibraltar himself. The frontier was re-opened only as recently as 1983, for pedestrians only, fully re-opening in 1985. There has and always will be political undercurrents as to who rightly ‘owns’ Gibraltar between the Spanish and the British, but it doesn’t really play in the day to day lives of the Gibraltarians who consider themselves to be British.
As you approach Gib by road you cannot help but be impressed with the scale of this place. It really is quite amazing. If you are planning a visit you have a couple of options. Firstly DON’T FORGET YOUR PASSPORT!! If you do, you will not be able to enter Gib and any other UK documentation will not suffice. If you plan to drive over, there may be queues. It is pot luck as there is no ‘good day’ to visit although recently, the “strictness” has been lifted somewhat and it is easier to get on and off. Visit the official Gibraltar tourism website.
If the queues are very bad, (it can often take up to 3 hours to go through) it may well be easier to park up at one of the pay and display parking areas around the border and walk over if you’re only going over for the day. You can then hop onto a red double-decker bus that will take you directly to Main Street. Alternatively there are many taxis which offer you a guided tour of The Rock. If you do drive across, signposts are very easy to read to show parking areas.
Because of the duty free benefits that Gibraltar has, (see below for your duty free allowance – yes this does still apply to Gib) Main Street itself is packed with shops selling electric goods, jewellery, alcohol and cigarettes. It also has many high street stores that are found in the UK. This is why Gibraltar is considered a bit of a Mecca for ex-pats living in Spain who can still have all their English things!
The whole of Gib is steeped in military history from the Trafalgar Cemetery which is free to go and look around and many of the casualties from the Battle of Trafalgar are buried in these grounds. Gibraltar celebrates Trafalgar Day every year with ceremonies held throughout the town.
Gibraltar still has the changing of the guard, this occurs several times a day during the week outside the convent (the residence of the Governor of Gibraltar and located in Main Street) There are also several ceremonial events held throughout the year, contact the Gibraltar Tourist Board for relevant information.
The Gibraltarian Museum situated in Bomb House Lane is open Monday to Friday 10.00am – 6.00pm and 10.00am – 2.00pm Saturday and details the whole history of Gibraltar and is a fascinating visit.
Getting up the Rock itself couldn’t be easier, the cable car will get you there in a couple of minutes, it is also a fantastic way to see the Bay of Algeciras with Africa just 14 miles away and the Pillars of Hercules.
The cable car station is well signposted to the rear of the Rock itself. Once you reach the top, you will of course encounter the Apes. These Barbary Apes are world famous and the first known instance of their existence can be found in texts written way back in 1740.
Legend has it that if the apes were to ever leave the Rock, Gib would lose British Sovereignty. During the Second World War their numbers diminished quite alarmingly, so much so, Winston Churchill actually ordered that their numbers should never fall below 24.
There are currently about 200 individuals living on the Rock, and while they make very good photographic subjects, they are real little rascals! Don’t be tempted to walk around eating anything, as they WILL jump on you and snatch it away. Also be careful when wearing glasses or sunglasses as these may be pinched too! And watch it if you go to open a bag up, about 10 little pairs of hands will dive in quicker than you can say Fagin!
St. Michael’s Cave is also situated up the Rock and has magnificent examples of stalagmites and stalactites throughout its chambers. Back in World War 2 an emergency hospital was set up within the caves, although it was never used. Nowadays, because of its acoustic nature, concerts are held throughout the year.
Contact: Gib: 55066 for further information.
The great siege tunnels are also located up here. These are an important part of Gibraltarian history. Back in 1779, the Governor wanted to get his guns up the Rock but didn’t know how. A Sergeant Major Ince proposed a tunnel and the original stretch; some 700 metres were completely excavated by hand.
It wasn’t until World War 2 that the Royal Engineers with their modern machinery opened up another 30 miles of tunnels. These can be visited and along with a licensed your guide, you will discover their history. It takes about 50 minutes, with a short break in the middle with refreshments.
Contact direct: Gib: 45957.
Because of the Great Siege, there really aren’t many Moorish buildings left standing. One that is still in one piece (although scarred by cannon balls and musket fire) is the Moorish Castle, situated high on the hillside. It is possible to go around the castle and with the views from it you can see exactly why it was located where it is.
Gibraltar has beautiful Botanical gardens which are located near the cable car station and have beautiful gardens as well as ponds, fountains and waterfalls.
Telephone Gib: 72639 for opening hours.
Gibraltar’s airport has many scheduled flights going back to the UK and other destinations, many ex-pats use this service rather than Malaga airport for ease. It is serviced by Monarch and British Airways.
For airport enquiries call Gib: 73026.
The marina here in Gibraltar is where the newer developments are with many state of the art dockside apartments being constructed here. From the marina it is possible to go dolphin and even whale watching, normally with great results. These charters are found in the marina area or alternatively call Dolphin Explorer on Gib: 76378 or Whale Guide on Gib: 73400 and they can organise charters for you.
Yacht registry can be made by calling Gib: 78343 and enquiries should be made on Gib: 78134.
Duty Free Allowance. For purchases made in Gibraltar it is necessary to realise that these duties still apply. Amounts are per person.
200 cigarettes OR
100 cigarillos OR
50 cigars OR
2 litres of still table wine
1 litre of spirits or strong liqueurs over 22% vol. OR
2 litres of fortified wine, sparkling wine or other liqueurs 22% vol. or under. 50g perfume
0.25 litres toilet water
175 Euros worth of other goods. (90 euros for under 15’s) this includes gifts and souvenirs.
Any duty payable is based on the full value of the goods and not just on the value above 175 euros.
As you pass back through customs into Spain you may be liable to a very thorough search from the customs officials.
Gibraltar customs department: Gib: 78879.
Passport Office: Gib: 51725
Other useful numbers:
Gibraltar dialling code from UK is (00) 350. Gibraltar dialling code from Spain is 9567 plus number. All numbers below are Gibraltar numbers.
Frontier queue information: 42777
Tourist Office: 74950 / 45000
Taxi Tours: 70027 / 70052