The Rock of Gibraltar
is one of the most impressive and amazing places in western Europe, marking the Strait of Gibraltar
and having a deeply historical, political and commercial meaning, as well as being the place of many legends. The Rock of Gibraltar represents a monolithic limestone promontory, reaching a height of over 400 meters and dominating the surrounding area, both on the sea, as well as the Spanish mainland. It is a very impressive sight both for the coast, as well as for those passing through the strait on boats. Famous throughout the ancient world, the Rock of Gibraltar, also named Calpe by the Romans and Jabal Tariq by the Arabs, represented the end of the known world, a place both revered and feared. The only link between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, the Gibraltar Rock has long been one of the main strategic points of Europe, disputed between the naval powers. Today, the Rock belongs to the United Kingdom
, being a crown property, but throughout the years has passed from one power to another and still continues to spark disputes. Apart from all these, the Rock of Gibraltar is an interesting tourist destination, with its highest area being a nature reserve with a population of Barbary Macaques
, as well as an impressive labyrinth of tunnels. There are surely other sights worth seeing in Gibraltar, including the beaches, the 100 ton cannon
, Europa Point lighthouse
, Our Lady of Europe shrine
, the Moorish Castle
, the Museum and many more.
As one of the most important places of the ancient and medieval world, when long journeys began to wander the seas, the Rock of Gibraltar
has a rich history that today is seen through its cultural diversity and heritage. The Rock was known for millennia by the first sailors venturing into the Mediterranean, becoming an important spiritual place of worship, when Phoenician sailors made sacrifices upon the Rock before entering the Atlantic. It was renowned as one of the Pillar of Hercules
, the other being Mons Abyla on the African shore of the Gibraltar
. After the year 710, the Islamic conquest of southern Europe began and Gibraltar was one of the defining points. The governor of Tangier, Tariq-ibn-Ziyad, landed his ships on the bay of Gibraltar
and thus began the Arab history of the Rock. It represented one of the strongholds of African rulers over parts of Spain for more than 700 years. In the year 1160, the leader of the Almohads coming from Africa, built the first permanent settlement along the coast of the Rock, called City of Victory, a pretty impressive city by all records. Later, in 1309, seeing a weakness in the Arab power over parts of Spain, King Ferdinand IV sent troops to conquer the Rock of Gibraltar and after a long siege, the settlement was captured and the inhabitants were allowed to leave for Africa. About forty years later, the Rock became part of the Muslim Kingdom of Granada, being recaptured almost a century later by Castille.
After other events, it was finally in 1501 that the Spanish Queen Isabella made Gibraltar a crown property, granting its own coat of arms that recognized the strategic importance of the place. Some years later, under the constant threat and attacks of the Barbarossa corsairs of the Barbary coast, the rulers of Spain ordered the erection of a defensive wall. The next important event in the history of Gibraltar took place in 1704, when the English and Dutch fleet attached and conquered Gibraltar, thus beginning the British rule over this land. Several years later, through the Treaty of Utrecht, the Spanish officially gave the Rock of Gibraltar to the British Empire. In the coming years, the Spanish and other forces attacked the Rock in numerous occasions, including the Great Siege
, when the defenders of the city dug tunnels and galleries through the Rock in order to point cannons and guns at the attackers. There were also some tragic stories along the almost four year of Great Siege and the Rock could not be conquered. In the following years, the walls and tunnels were rebuilt and improved. During the following decades, the port of Gibraltar became one of the most important commercial harbors along the Spanish Mediterranean coast. The Rock of Gibraltar was declared a crown colony in 1830 and continued to thrive up until the Second World War
. In 1940, the population is moved to other parts of the British Empire and British forces begin to fortify the Rock against possible German attacks.
Today, the Rock of Gibraltar is still one of the strategic points of Europe and while it has also gained a tourist touch and is considered one of the financial paradises of Europe, with many businesses being registered in Gibraltar. Speaking about the features of the Rock, one of the most interesting features is the geology, its massive shape being impressive if seen in comparison with the Spanish mainland, from which it is connected by a sandy isthmus. The elevation of the main rocky ridge is about 400 meters, the highest point being at 426 meters, while the total area is of several miles. Getting to Gibraltar
is fairly easy, as there is an airport with international flights. While still in Europe mainland, the border between Spain and Gibraltar
does not apply the Schengen rules, so visitors are required to present an identification document. There are frequent buses from many Spanish cities to a bus station located just 3 minutes from the border. Alternatively, tourists can also arrive in Gibraltar by boat, with many cruise ships making a stop to visit the Rock of Gibraltar
. With an area of less than 7 square kilometers, getting around is fairly easy, with most attractions and points of interest being in walking distance. The ascent on the Upper Rock is pretty steep, but there are roads and taxis will usually make the trip easier.
The climate of Gibraltar
is temperate with strong oceanic influence, with no snows or frost. Summers can get pretty torrid and dry, with heat waves coming from northern Africa. The vegetation of the Rock mostly consists of ferns, moss and lichens that can be found at higher altitudes. Among the animals, a special place is occupied by the Barbary Macaques
, being the only primates living in Europe, with a population of about 250. The existence of the macaques on the Rock is still under debates, with a version that they are remnants of a population that spread over southern Europe and other version claiming they escaped from African ships that were transporting wildlife. There are also more unbelievable legends that tell of an underground tunnel that links St. Michael's Cave
to the African continent and this is the way the macaques came, while others say that the British will leave when the macaques will disappear. Truth is that they are thriving in Gibraltar and they are one of the main attractions. Tourists should still be aware that they are wild animals and contact should be avoided. Among other species, there are many migratory birds that stop on the rock to rest and feed before continuing their journey. The top of the Rock of Gibraltar has been declared a Nature Reserve, in order to protect important and unique species of plants and animals. Among the other natural features of interest in Gibraltar, the cave and gallery system is truly impressive, with both natural and artificial caves with great features.
The Rock of Gibraltar represents a great tourist destination, with plenty of things to see and do in this small sized territory. While one of the main attractions of Gibraltar is its unique landscape and insightful history, there are plenty of other things to discover. First of all, the sight of the Rock is fascination on its own, rising from the sea and forming a natural mark between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean. Just imagining how the first navigators might have felt after leaving the Rock behind and heading in the immense ocean is inspiring. Hiking to the top of the Rock and admiring the surrounding landscape is also impressive, with scenic views all around and a unique view of the African coast of Morocco. Another place of interest is the Europa Point
, the southernmost point of the Gibraltar peninsula, with several important landmarks. One of the main tourist attraction are the caves, with an extensive underground system, the most interesting being St. Michael's Cave
, Gorham's Cave
and many other smaller caves. St. Michael's Cave are especially of great interest, with cave formations beautifully lit, forming an overwhelming experience. It is also a concert and cultural events venue in its upper part, while the lower galleries are more adventurous. Gorham's cave is a marine cave where important artifacts and fossils have been found. The upper Rock has a large system of tunnels and galleries dug during the Great Siege and the Second World War
, many of them being open for visiting and extremely inciting.
Lower St. Michael's Cave:
Still among the more scenic attractions of the Gibraltar are the Mediterranean Steps, built in the rock and heading upwards with amazing and somewhat frightening views from above. For about 1,400 meters, this trail is sometimes steep and should not be taken easily. The views from O'Hara's Battery up top is breath-taking and worth the journey. Another way to the top of the Rock is by cable car and the trip is also very scenic and rewarding. Among the natural treasures of Gibraltar, we can also include the Botanical Garden and several other attractions. Apart from these, we can also include some amazing activities available in Gibraltar, the highlight being watching the dolphins, diving, fishing, bird-watching and many more. While many might not know, despite its small size and rocky appearance, Gibraltar has no less than six beaches, most of them sandy, with perfect swimming conditions. One of the best and most quiet beaches can be found in the Catalan Bay, next to the small fishing village. Other beaches include Sandy Beach, Western Beach and Eastern Beach. Taking the natural beauty and scenic landscapes aside, Gibraltar is still a culturally rich place, with plenty of historical, military, architectural and religious landmarks.
Among its most important sights, the Moorish Castle is one of the oldest and most interesting. Completely destroyed and rebuilt along the centuries, the Tower of Homage, its most important feature still standing, bears the marks of past battles. The castle is located in the Upper Town, on the way up the Rock and dominates the skyline of Gibraltar. The main square of the town is also an important tourist attraction. Casemates Square takes its name from the British Military Barracks on the northern part of the square. Apart from this, the market is also the commercial and social hub of the city, with some important historical buildings and monuments. In the historical landmarks group, of tourist importance and interest are the Military Heritage Center, located in one of the batteries inside the Rock, the 100 Ton Gun, the last of four massive cannon, Trafalgar Cemetery, Parson's Lodge, The Convent, Garrison Library and the War Memorials. An ancient military feature, the walls surrounding the town and the Rock come from different centuries, but are equally impressive. The most significant is the Charles V Wall, but also the Moorish Wall and several other fortifications that stood the test of time, including King's Bastion, Jumper's Bastion, Devil's Tongue Battery, Land port Gate, Prince Edward's Gate, Southport Gates, Trafalgar Cemetery amongst others.
Continuing the presentation of the Gibraltar attractions, the Museum is one of the most inciting and interesting, with presentations and original exhibits that present the history and characteristics of the Rock of Gibraltar. At the southernmost point of Gibraltar, in the point known as Europa Point, the Gibraltar lighthouse is another highlight of the Rock, built in 1841 and almost 50 meters tall, it guards the entrance of the Mediterranean. Given the past of this land, there are also many religions represented in Gibraltar, with some charming and impressive religious edifices, including the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Crowned, Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Great Synagogue, Flemish Synagogue, King's Chapel, Hindu Temple, St. Andrew Church, The Mosque and others. Of great importance is the Shrine of Our Lady of Europe located at Europa Point, today also a museum. While the main settlement of the Rock is located on the West side, there is also a small fishing village on the East side called Catalan Bay Village, with just a few inhabitants, but a very charming and pleasant visit.
With a population of just 30,000 inhabitants, Gibraltar might seem small, but the area is also extremely small, so the main settlement is pretty crowded, with people moving to Spain and commuting each day to work over the border. Nevertheless, tourists will be able to find accommodation pretty easily and there are plenty of options available, from some budget choices to the high class luxury hotels. Some of the most renowned hotels include: Caleta Hotel, Rock Hotel, Bristol Hotel, Queen's Hotel, Cannon Hotel, Emile Youth Hostel and several others. Prices are usually higher than those in neighboring Spain. The great ethnic variety of Gibraltar can also be felt by the diverse and delicious cuisine, with dishes that have British, Spanish, Mediterranean, Moroccan and other influences, with fish and fish specialties being one of the featured meals. The Rock of Gibraltar features plenty of good restaurants, from the more select to the more traditional. Apart from all these, the Rock is also a great destination for shopping and nightlife, as well as a great place for cultural discovery through events and festivals.
In the vicinity of the Rock of Gibraltar, there are some interesting tours, cruises and visits which offer some alternatives for those that stay for longer time here. On the Spanish coast, just a short distance away, lie the charming cities of Seville and Jerez, with amazing attractions, while ferries take visitors across the strait, for visits of Morocco and the city of Tangier. As for the local customs, the inhabitants of Gibraltar consider themselves as Gibraltarians or Llanito and while most speak English and Spanish, they do not like being called or considered Spanish. While there no animosity against Spanish citizens and Spain, it is better to leave political views out of the conversation.
The destination is very safe, with a British style police force and low crime rate, making it a perfectly secure travel destination. All these being said, the Rock of Gibraltar forms an attractive and extremely interesting destination, with some amazing landmarks, beautiful natural scenery, plenty of things to do and a rich cultural heritage.