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Gibraltar, UK: Rock solid
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula. It has an area of just 6.7 sq.kms. and shares its northern border with Spain. The Rock of Gibraltar is the major landmark of the region. At its foot is a densely populated city area, home to over 30,000 Gibraltarians and other nationalities.
An Anglo-Dutch force captured Gibraltar from Spain in 1704 during the War of the Spanish Succession on behalf of the Habsburg pretender to the Spanish throne. The territory was subsequently ceded to Britain "in perpetuity" under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. During World War II it was an important base for the Royal Navy as it controlled the entrance and exit to the Mediterranean Sea, which is only 13 kms. wide at this point. Today Gibraltar's economy is based largely on tourism, online gambling, financial services, and shipping.
The sovereignty of Gibraltar is a major point of contention in Anglo-Spanish relations as Spain asserts a claim to the territory. Gibraltarians overwhelmingly rejected proposals for Spanish sovereignty in a 1967 referendum and again in 2002. Under the Gibraltar constitution of 2006, Gibraltar governs its own affairs, though some powers, such as defence and foreign relations, remain the responsibility of the Government of the United Kingdom.
We won't get into a debate here. Let the people of the two countries decide their course. As tourist, we had just a few hours to enjoy the famous rock. On our way from Seville to Marbella, we took a detour and made a stop at Gibraltar. We had a private van at our disposal. The van dropped us at the border of Spain & Gibraltar. We had a multiple entry Schengen visa that entitled us for a one-day UK visa at the border. Since we had an Indian passport, we had to wait for a few minutes at the immigration to get our passports stamped. People with EU passports can just walk through the gates by simply displaying their ID.
From the immigration check-point downtown Gibraltar is a good 20 minute walk. There are buses that can take you there. Since the agenda of our visit was to explore the Rock of Gibraltar, we opted to take a cab that cost EUR 30 per person. The cost includes a 90-minute trip all the way up the rock and entrance tickets to the rock as well as entry to St Michael's Cave and The Siege Tunnels. Trekkers, can of course, walk all the way up.
The standard 90-minute tour consists of 4 stops on the rock.
The first stop is at The Pillars of Hercules. From here, we enjoyed the views of Morocco, North Africa. One can see as the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea, this being the only entrance to the Mediterranean. Out here, we were above Europe Point, the end point of Europe.
Greek mythology is full of tales about gods and goddesses, heroes and villains. Among them lived one of the greatest, strongest, most popular hero who has ever lived. His name in Greek mythology was Heracles, but he is better known as Hercules. Hercules was half god, half human; a demigod, born to the king of gods Zeus and a mortal woman named Alcmene. He was a hero who had super human strength but who had to suffer on a scale no human had ever known before. Tormented by a horrible guilt, he was driven to take on twelve impossible challenges in a quest for redemption, later known as "The Twelve Labors of Hercules".
The Strait of Gibraltar is a narrow opening between the continent of Africa and Europe. It is located between Spain and Morocco and connects the Atlantic to the Mediterranean Sea. The mountains on either side of the strait are called the Pillars of Hercules because according to the legend of Hercules, it was created by Hercules in order to complete his tenth labor. The first nine labors of Hercules were based inside the Mediterranean rim, however, the tenth labor took him beyond the outer limits of the known world to a territory no Greek had ever seen.
The next stop was St Michaelís Cave. The cave was created by rainwater slowly seeping through the limestone rock, turning into a weak carbonic acid which gradually dissolved the rock. Through this process, tiny cracks in The Rock's geological fault grew into long passages and large caverns over thousands of years. The numerous stalactites and stalagmites in the cave are formed by an accumulation of traces of dissolved rock deposited by water dripping from the ground above. Within the cave there's an amphi theatre can seat up to 400 guests. The artificial lighting adds to the drama of the caves.
Next we drove to the top of the Rock which offers breathtaking views all around Gibraltar. Here we interacted with Gibraltar's famous monkeys at Upper Apes Den. The Barbary Macaque Apes are the only ones to be found within the continent of Europe. They reside at the upper rock nature reserve of Gibraltar. At present there are over 200 apes in 9 packs that roam through the upper rock. Legend has it that in 1942 the population of apes fell to just 7 and the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Sir Winston Churchill, ordered that the population of the apes be immediately replenished because as long as there are Barbary Macaques Apes on the Rock of Gibraltar it will remain under British rule.
From Upper Apes Den we drove to the north side of the Rock to visit the Great Siege Tunnels. This site explains a lot of the history of Gibraltar under siege. The tunnels were carved out of the rock by hand during the Great Siege which took place between 1779-1783. This was done in order to defend Gibraltar against the Spanish and French forces who were trying to recapture Gibraltar from the British.
On the drive down from the Upper rock Nature Reserve we drove past the outside of the Moorish Castle and the old town of Gibraltar. We got down at the city centre and began our walk along the Main Street. The English names of streets, restaurants, pubs and stores was a pleasant change for us as we had spent days in Portugal & Spain reading signs in the local languages. Our lunch was in one of the pubs. Euros and British Pounds are most welcome.
We walked a while and took a taxi to take us back at the border. As a plane was about to land, our road was closed to facilitate the landing. The main road cuts the runway. Our van was waiting for us to take us to Marbella.
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