The Rock of Gibraltar.

The famous rock lies in the southern most tip of Spain, however it is still a British colony and has been so since 1704 when Anglo-Dutch forces invaded, officially it is 1713 when the Treaty of Utrecht was signed.

A Brief History

The Moors

The first invasion occured in 711 when Tarik Ibn Zeyad lead moorish troops across the Straits of Gibraltar and landed on the western coast of the rock.They then went on to invade southern Spain. Like many places in Spain, for example the Alahmbra in Granada, Gibraltar has many moorish remains. In fact it gained it's name from the Moors, they called it Jebel Tarik meaning mountain of Tarik when said quickly jebel+Tar leaving out the -ik part it sounds like Gibraltar.

The Spanish Invasion

The Spanish invasion began in 1430. During this occupation Gibraltar was granted her coat of arms, which is still in use today. The Gibraltarian flag has a white band going horizontally accross the top and a red band going across at the bottom. In the centre there is a castle symbolising the fortress and a key that hangs from the castle which symbolises the key to the Straits of Gibraltar given to the rock by Queen Isabella of Spain.

The British occupation

On the 4th of August 1704 an Anglo-Dutch force invaded Gibraltar. In 1713 the Treaty of Utrecht was signed giving Gibraltar its status of being a British Colony. Gibraltar has remained British through the centuries however there have been various attempts made by Spain to recapture the rock.

World War 2

Gibraltar played an important role in the Second World War as it controled the entrance to the mediteranean. It managed to stop German Submarines and U-boats from passing via Gibraltar with operations such as Operation Torch. During the war all civilians had to be evacuated from the rock, some where taken to Madeira, Ireland and England whilst the men stayed to fight either in Gibraltar or on ships.

In More Recent Times

On 10th of September 1967 a referendum was held in Gibraltar for the people to vote whether they wanted to Gibraltar continue being British. The Gibraltarians took to the streets dressed in Red, white and Blue to show their patriotism. British flags flew from every window in Gibraltar, everywhere people were celebrating their being British. There were even steps painted with the Union Jack which can still be seen today in the upper town area. The end vote was a whopping 99.6% who voted yes to remain being British.

Over the past year, the future of the much-debated about rock seems to have appeared very frequently on British and Spanish TV screens. This was due to talks between the British and Spanish governments having being resumed. However recently, after many talks between Jose Maria Aznar(Spanish first minister) and Tony Blair(UK prime minister)debating over the rocks future and a possible joint sovereignty agreement, the British government has decided that reaching an agreement with Spain over Gibraltar would not be possible.

What to do whilst in Gibraltar

Gibraltar is a pretty small place however for it's size there is a lot to visit and do. We'll start of with the nature reserve. The Nature reserve is basically most of the upper rock. There are numerous types of flora and fauna here including some which are unique to the Rock. I would reccomend this even for non botanical experts as it is quite beautiful. Here one can find most of the historical sites such as the Moorish castle, the Great Siege tunnels, St Michael's cave and the famous Monkeys.

The Moorish Castle

The construction of the Moorish castle began in 1133 whilst Gibraltar was still under Moorish rule. However all that is left now is the Tower of Homage, the only reason why it's still standing is due to it's extremely thick walls. There's not much to see here as the inside has been refurbished. However the outside is more interesting as there are lots of scars from passing bullets and cannons. If one looks closely you will see that the scars are found only on the part of the tower facing the rock, as it was impossible to attack from the western sea front.

St Michael's Cave

This is actually quite impressive and was first writen about by a Roman, Pomponius Mela. The cave is actually used as a theatre to host, plays and concerts or pageants. Here you can find all the wonderful things that one can find in caves ie; stalactites,stalagmites and stalactoes. The most impressive part is St Michael's Lower which tourists don't tend to see. As you have to book a guide before hand. This is really incredible as there is a natural lake inside and there are many chambers within and it's just fantastic. It's five pounds a head and you need a minimum of five people of 8 and above.

Monkeys and other wildlife

The monkeys or Macacus sylvanus are tail-less monkeys who live in a semi-wild state. There are several packs based on different parts of the rock. The monkeys are fed by the Government therefore there is no need for tourists to feed them in fact it has now been made illegal to feed them seeing as they are not tame creatures and therefore have a tendancy to scratch, bite or pull people's hair. Therefore I suggest you don't carry food on you when visiting the apes den.

There are also various dolphin trips, which are quite fun and you do get to see lots of dolphins especialy if u go in the afternoon however I wouldn't recommend the glass bottomed one as you really can't see anything through the glass. I would in fact suggest you try out the Dolphin World as it tells you all about the dolphins and they are really friendly and if you tell them you've been out with them before they'll ive you a good discount. You can find this at Marina Bay it's one of Gibraltar's two ports the other being Queens Way Quay. They are both quite nice places to have a drink or a meal at.

The rock is home to many species of birds, as it is in a main migration route. Amongst the many migratory birds there are also thousands of seagulls and Gibraltars very own Barbary Partrige. These can be seen in the early morning in the upper rock.

Night Life

Well what can I say there isn't much of a night life in Gibraltar. There are 2 night clubs, usually full of teenagers. The music played is normally what's on the UK and Spanish charts. However there are hundereds of bars around the Rock in fact there are more than 365. One of the most popular spots is Casemates square, which is at the start of Main Street. Basically this is a large square with bars and restaurants around it where the Gibraltarian youth tend to hang out. In the summer the government organise different types of entertainment on Thursday nights, where there are concerts and people dancing or performing on stage, casemates tends to get really packed, with practicaly the entire rocks population, so its a good opportunity to socialise with the Gibraltarians.

This article was done with the help of Dennis Beiso of the Gibraltar Government Archives. If you'd like to learn more about Gibraltar here are some interesting reads:

The Fortress came first:The story of the civillian population of Gibraltar during the Second World War. written by Thomas Finlayson Gibraltar and its People by Philip Thomas