Gibraltar is a British overseas territory that was conquered during the Great Siege (1779-1783)
and ceded to the country as part of the Treaty of Utrecht at the end of the
War of the Spanish Succession.
Gibraltar occupies a short peninsula
extending south of Spain at the point where the Mediterranean Sea and
Atlantic Ocean intermix. The peninsula, separated from Africa by
twenty miles of water, is dominated by a massive and majestic sandstone
ridge known as the Rock of Gibraltar (approximately 1400 feet high).
In the past, the "Rock" was considered as one of the
two Pillars of Hercules, based on the fable that Hercules created the rift
valley between Europe and Africa by severing the continents with a bash of
his weapon. Most tourist come to see the "Rock" and travel to its top.
Although the area's other attractions are modest, there is enough to see in
Gibraltar to take up a day.
Gibraltar has been a highly desirable piece of military real estate for
centuries being the strategic location on the only exit from the
Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean.
The Rock was
named in honor of the Arab general, Tariq ibn-Ziyad who built the first
recorded fortress upon it in 711 A.D. The Moors then named the site Jebel
Tariq (mountain of Tarik). Over the next several centuries the name was
modified to Gibraltar. The phrase“Solid as the “Rock of Gibraltar,” is
derived from the fact that although the area was assaulted many times while
under British rule, no one was able to capture the "Rock".
English is the primary language of Gibraltar and the United Kingdom's
claim to the area infuriates Spain, which fervently desires to reclaim the
territory. If you enter Gibraltar by sea, you might miss the tension.
If you cross the border from Spain (which requires you to cross Gibraltar's
airport runway) you might experience a minor and inconvenient taste of the tension.
Seeing the Sights
On your own: If you’re adventurous and prefer to see the sites
at your own pace, automobiles are available for rent. Several sites are
accessible via public bus service, but the service is slow and not
recommended, if you have time constraints.
The Gibraltar Taxi Association offers a unique way to visit some of the
Rock’s most popular sites, with your own personal tour guide. The average
tour takes about 1 ½ hours, and there is four-passenger minimum. You can
hire a taxi tour at any of several taxi stands throughout the city. For more
information contact the Gibraltar Taxi Association at
There are also several tour companies that offer a variety of guided
tours. Choose this option for a more in-depth look at the area's
The Gibraltar Cable Car, a tourist attraction in its own right, offers
pleasant transportation to the top of the Rock. When traveling up on a
clear day, it provides a
spectacular view of the Rock and surrounding areas, including: the
continents of Europe and Africa, the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean,
as well as the city of Gibraltar and surrounding areas. The basic cable car
ticket provides all passengers with an audio tour describing Gibraltar’s
history and the sights
that can be viewed from the ridge along the top. The trip to the top takes
about ten minutes.
Tickets can be purchased for either one-way or round-trip tickets. Some folks
prefer to ride up and walk down. Premium tickets are also available, which include the entrance
fees to a selection of Gibraltar attractions (so choose carefully).
The west side of the Rock is covered with greenery and the upper section of
the Rock is a designated Nature Reserve. It is here that you can
also see the Barbary Apes that are found within the Reserve.
For more information about hours of operation and ticket prices contact
The Gibraltar Museum is a great place to start your tour. The Museum provides a terrific
introduction to Gibraltar, its remarkable history, and insight into the
significance of the many of the historic sites you can see during your
The Museum is built over what is said to be the best preserved, 14th century
Moorish bathhouse in Europe. It is housed in the 17th to 18th century home
of the Chief Ordinance Officers of the British Army and is known locally as
the “Bomb House.”
Its many exhibits are displayed in a series of galleries, such as the
“Passage of Time” gallery, which tells the story of life on Gibraltar from
as early as the Jurassic Period. Other galleries depict natural history, the
great siege, Islamic life, and more. See this
official website for additional
information about the Gibraltar Museum.
The Great Siege Tunnels:
These tunnels, also known as the Upper Gallery, were first excavated out
of the Rock by the British army to transport heavy guns to a promontory from
which they planned to defend Gibraltar from French and Spanish invaders.
Ultimately many of the guns were set up inside the cave, which allowed them
to shoot at the enemy while the Rock’s wall protected them from return fire.
There are four gun-batteries in the first 370 feet of tunnel which were completed
during the Siege and seven more in St. Georges Hall, completed after the
Great Siege was won.
While touring the tunnels you will be entertained by exhibits
and reenactments of the battles, as well as a spectacular view from the
batteries in St. George’s Hall. These tunnels are just a small sampling of
the more than 30 miles of tunnels that exist inside the Rock of Gibraltar.
St. Michaels Cave:
It was once rumored that St. Michaels Cave was bottomless, and that it
was linked to Africa by a subterranean passage. Although it is very deep,
no passage to Africa has ever been found.
What you will find, though, is a
spectacular natural grotto featuring some very impressive stalagmites and
stalactites, which, when backlit create an almost fairy tale atmosphere.
Cathedral Cave, with its natural acoustics, is often used as a concert hall
and entertainment venue. During World War II, it was prepared as a hospital,
but was never put to use.
Lower St. Michaels Cave:
In 1942, when another entrance was being excavated to the original St.
Michaels Cave, a new cave was found. The lower cave features a captivating
subterranean lake. Guided tours of Lower St. Michael’s Cave are available
through advance reservations only and are limited to small groups. The Lower
Cave is still in its original natural state, so the tour requires some light
climbing with ropes, and the paths are a little darker, wetter and narrower
than those found in the caves above. Plan to dress appropriately with warm
clothing, and non-slip shoes. Children under 10 are not permitted.
The apes of Gibraltar are actually tailless Macaque Monkeys, who have
been on the Rock for as long as anyone can remember. This is the only place
in Europe where monkeys of any kind live outside of captivity.
Myth has it
that the British will rule as long as the Monkeys are there. These charming
primates are one of Gibraltar’s top attractions and are usually found at the
Apes Den or Queen’s Gate in the upper area of the Rock. They are also often
found near the café at the top of the cable car, as well as near the Siege
The monkeys are very comfortable around humans and have
been known to approach, or even climb on visitors. They also have a
reputation of being mischievous little pick pockets, so hold on to your
belongings. It’s also important to remember that they are wild animals and,
as such, they can be aggressive, and have been known to bite if frightened
or upset. Do not feed the monkeys - it is against the law. If you are caught,
the fine is £500.
Recently the local government, responding to complaints of residents whose
home were being invaded by the monkeys, began a program of "deporting" some of
the more mischievous monkeys, under the guise of "population control."
Some remnants of the Gibraltar’s first castle are still standing and open
for touring. What can be seen today was rebuilt in the 15th Century over
the foundation of the original stronghold. The most notable buildings are
the Tower of Homage and the Gate House. Many of its original walls are still
in relatively good shape and offer a fine example of Moorish architecture.
It is not clear when the Castle was originally built. Some say it goes back to the 8th
Century and was built by Gibraltar’s first occupier, General Tariq. Others say that it
was built later by the Arab Governor of Algeciras in 1068.
history is clouded, it may be the first Moorish structure to be built on European soil. The Castle
is said to have the largest "keep" and tallest tower on the Iberian
Peninsula. This is where the Moors launched their first attacks on Europe
resulting in their occupying Gibraltar for the next 781 years.
Europa Point is located at the southern most tip of Gibraltar. Its main
claim to fame is the Point’s historic lighthouse, which was built in 1838.
It was automated in 1994, and its light can be seen from 17 miles away.
The Point is a particularly attractive photo opportunity in the summer when the
flowers surrounding the light house are in bloom.
Another reason to visit Europa Point is the
view of Africa and Spain across the Straight of Gibraltar. It seems fitting
that Gibraltar’s two most historically significant religions have a presence
here, as well.
The first, Our lady of Europe Shrine, was built on the site of
a small mosque by the Spanish conquerors in 1462, and has been a stopping
place for mariners ever since. The second is the Ibrahim-Al-Ibrahim Mosque
built as a gift from King Fahd of Saudi, Arabia in 1997. The Mosque took two
years and more than five million Pounds Sterling to complete.
One-hundred Ton Gun:
Nicknamed the “Rockbuster,” Gibraltar’s One-hundred Ton Gun is the best
surviving example of this Victorian supergun. There were only twelve of
built (Britain,1870). Eight were sold to the Italian navy, two were
installed on Malta, and two on Gibraltar.
The One-hundred Ton Gun is located at
the Napier Battery overlooking Rosia Bay.
It took 35 men and a steam-driven
hydraulic system to operate the gun, which was able to shoot a 2,000 lb.
shell up to 1,540 feet per second, allowing it to penetrate more than 24
inches of wrought iron.
It took 450 lbs. of gun powder to accomplish this
feat. It also took three hours to build up enough steam to begin firing. The
time lag was a sign of the times, as it would take warships at least three hours
to sail within
firing range after once being spotted.
Gibraltar is well known for its duty-free shopping. Stores abound down
Main Street, and on the adjoining small streets and alleys.
Some of the best
bargains are found when shopping jewelry, fine glassware, perfume,
electronics, and leather goods. If you’re looking for a gift unique to
Gibraltar, you might want to visit the Gibraltar Crystal shop, where you can
also see a glassmaking demonstration.
The bargains you find may depend on the exchange rate of your currency
against the British pound. It pays to do the math!
Also, be aware of the
duty-free limits. If you are flying directly from the Gibraltar Airport, you
will need to consider the limits at your home destination. However, if you
entered Gibraltar at the Spanish border, you must declare your purchases
when you return to Spain, and again when
you pass through customs at your home destination. Therefore, it might be a
good idea to learn about the Spanish duty-free. Additionally, an explanation of
U.S. Customs fees
can be found at the ThereArePlaces
Travel Tips and Advice section.
Curious Gibraltar Tidbit - The Falkland Island War
In 1982 Argentina and the United Kingdom went to war over the Falkland
Islands and other disputed islands in the South Atlantic Ocean.
the 74 days of hostilities, the Argentine military dispatched a small team
of underwater demolition experts to Gibraltar with orders to sink a
British Navy ship.
Apparently, the Argentines had the port under
observation for nearly a month before they were given the go ahead for a
target of interest. However, their operation had been compromised by
the British and the team was apprehended in Algeciras (across the bay from
Gibraltar) by the Spanish authorities, just as saboteurs were departing for the
attack. See this article in the