The Rock: Gibraltar

If you are in southern Spain and looking for a break from the beaches and bars of the Costa del Sol, and the golf courses, yachts and flash cars of Marbella, compare car hire rates and head down to the Rock of Gibraltar for a day of maritime history, amazing scenery and wildlife, shopping or even a good old fashioned British afternoon tea.

Whether approached by land or water, the Rock can be seen from miles away. Jutting out into the entrance of the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean this famous port has been a haven for many a tired ship for centuries. Greek sailors saw it as the end of their known world, while today’s tourist also knows it as a haven (from tax) making its jewellery, electronic goods, perfume and liquor stores extremely popular.

The Rock is not an island, but is connected to mainland Spain by a thin strip of land. Gib, as its residents and regular visitors affectionately call it has been British since being captured by British and Dutch Marines in 1704, but has a history of Moorish, Arab, and Spanish occupation reflected in the buildings. Its location close to Spain, Portugal and Morocco and its function as a major port explains the multicultural society that prevails today.

To see the best of Gibraltar a trip up to the heights of the rock itself is paramount. Local tourist guides in their ubiquitous minibuses will negotiate the roads that go right along the narrow spine of land at the very top, where the rock falls away on one side to the Mediterranean and to the Atlantic on the other. It is recommended to leave your hire car in one of the towns many car parks.

The highlights of an upper rock tour include the Great Siege Tunnels dug out by the British in the late 18th Century when France and Spain held Gib to siege for 4 long years. The tunnels were dug to allow the guns to fire sideways at the forces entrenched too close to be hit from exterior locations. These tunnels were extended in 1940 to create a great fortress under Churchill’s orders. Both sets of tunnels, an amazing 50 km of passages, are now open to the public.

Natural tunnels have also hollowed out the rock, caused by water draining down through the limestone over the centuries and St Michael’s Caves are another must see on the rock tour. The caverns with towering stalactites and stalagmites, an underground lake, and even a concert hall, are an incredible sight and photography is allowed so the journey inside the rock can be remembered.

The taxi drivers will also know the best places to see groups of the Barbary Apes, which roam free on the rock. These are the most entertaining creatures, often seen with young clinging to them, but it should be remembered that they are wild animals and should not be touched or fed. They can cause horrific injuries if provoked.

The 6.5 square kilometres of Gibraltar is a unique environment, which must be experienced at least once in a lifetime.

Linda Endersby spent 19 years in the airline industry enabling her to visit many beautiful places across the world. As well as writing about the places she loves, weekends as a bookseller offer her fabulous opportunities to research future destinations.

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