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Gibraltar, UK

November 6th, 2023

Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory and city located at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula.  It is bordered to the north by Spain and on all other sides by the Mediterranean sea.  The landscape is dominated by the Rock of Gibraltar, at the foot of which is a densely populated town area, primarily Gibraltarians.  The tiny country is twice the size of New York’s Central Park.

In 1704, Anglo-Dutch forces captured Gibraltar from Spain during the  War of the Spanish Succession.  The territory was ceded to Great Britain in perpetuity under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. It became an important base for the Royal Navy, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars and World War II, as it controlled the narrow entrance and exit to the Mediterranean Sea called the Strait of Gibraltar which is only14.3 km / 8.9 mi wide. This choke point remains strategically important, with half the world’s seaborne trade passing through it. Gibraltar’s economy is based largely on tourism, online gambling, financial services, and bunkering. With one of the world’s lowest unemployment rates, the largest part of the labour force is resident in Spain or non-Gibraltarians, especially in the private sector.

The sovereignty of Gibraltar is a 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 for shared sovereignty in a 2002 referendum.  Nevertheless, Gibraltar maintains close economic and cultural links with Spain, with many Gibraltarians speaking Spanish as well as a local dialect known as Llanito.

Since Brexit, Gibraltar is not a member of the European Union but negotiations are under way to have it participate in the Schengen Agreement to facilitate border movements between Gibraltar and Spain. As of March 2023, talks seem deadlocked. 

The castle on the flag itself is not specific to a building in Gibraltar; it simply represents the fortress of Gibraltar. The accompanying key is said to symbolize the fortress’ significance as Gibraltar was seen to be the key to Spain by the Moors and Spanish and later as the key to the Mediterranean by the British.

Gas:  €1.41 a litre – price is also displayed in British Pounds here as well – this is about $5.67 USD a gallon

Currency:  GBP – $1.23 USD and $1.69 Canadian

License Plate:  GBZ – however, as Gibraltar is not part of the Schengen or UE at present who knows if they will remove the EU stars 

Beer – like England:  Guinness of course and many Spanish beers are sold here

We found a large car park near the border and then walked over to it; it was not worth crossing with Minou as we’re only going over for the day and not worth the hassle of trying to find parking.  It’s a pay lot but it’s worth it to be close and secure.

We walked over to Immigration, got stamped out of the EU, the UK immigration just glanced at our passports and we were in Gibraltar.  All in all it took three minutes.

Right at the border is the airport and you have to wait for the signal to cross the runways to enter.  This took just a couple of minutes and then cars, bikes, scooters and pedestrians are all allowed to cross.  It’s a walk of about 300 m / 984’.

As we’d heard the cable car up to the “top of the rock” can be quite busy, that was our first destination this morning – to hopefully beat the crowds (we had already purchased tickets online but they are not for a specific time).  We had seen one cruise ship in the port as before we parked so that could have been worse crowd-wise but it’s better than five.

It was about a 3.5 km / 2.1 walk to the cable car station.  Unfortunately, the sun was right by the “rock “and phots were not great this time of day.  As we already had tickets (for both cable car and the reserve) we were able to head to a designated line and had a 30 second wait time at the window.  The nice lady there gave us tickets, bracelets to wear and a map of the top with a suggested route.  The route covered the things we wanted to see  nicely.  The cable car went up straight away and we were up at the top at 412 m / 1352 ‘ in 6 minutes.

Upon exiting the cable car building we see our first macaques:

The Barbary macaque also called Gibraltar monkey and mona rabona , is a species of primate  that is currently found in some small areas of the Atlas Mountains of North Africa and on the Rock of Gibraltar. It is the only other primate other than humans that can currently be found in the wild in Europe , and the only member of the genus Macaca that lives outside of Asia.

It is a small quadruped, never exceeding 75 cm / 30″ in length and 13 kg / 28.6 lbs in weight. The body is covered with yellowish-brown hair, slightly grayish in some individuals. The face, feet and hands are pink, and the tail is vestigial and not very noticeable from a distance. Males are bigger than females.

Barbary macaques are diurnal and omnivorous animals , living in mixed forests up to just over 2100 m / 6890‘  above sea level. They constantly move in search of fruits, leaves, roots or insects, in groups of between 10 and 30 individuals with a matriarchal structure led by a female. After four or five months of gestation, the females give birth to a calf (two in exceptional cases) that are cared for by both the father and the mother. They mature at 3 or 4 years of age and can live for twenty.

As part of Gibraltar’s heritage, the feeding and survival of the macaques has been the responsibility of the Royal Navy until it was handed over to the Gibraltar government in 1991. Popular tradition says that as long as the monkeys persist in Gibraltar, it will remain under British rule, which is why when it reached the point that during the WWII, when a possible Spanish-German invasion was feared, Prime Minister Winston Churchill himself, ordered several dozen specimens brought from North Africa to ensure its meager population. Today the monkey population has increased, reaching about 400 individuals.

Over the course of the day we saw several of them.

We first went to a lookout at the top and got some nice views of the harbour, Spain across the water and the mountains of Morocco across the Mediterranean Sea – three countries at once!

We turned back around and made our way along the road (small tour vans come up here too and that appears to be the way most people do a day trip as they are everywhere!) to the first stop: the ape feeding station next to the Sky Walk.

We then walked up up and up to O’Hare’s one or dozens of batteries in Gibraltar.  This was at the highest point and had rooms  you could wander through.  From here again, there were great views.

We walked back down to St Michael’s Cave which was although was in fact a cave, it has been done up as a very touristy attraction with lights and music.

By now it’s around noon and we’re getting hungry and Fran is super thirsty.  The temps are in the low 20’s / low 70’s and getting warmer.

We returned to the top station and took the car back down.  First stop was for some refreshing drinks at a grocery store and then we began to look for a place to have some “fish and chips” since after all, we’re in the UK!  We stopped at the Angry Friar, had beer and cider and lunch.

Now we wander the main tourist pedestrian streets to find our Christmas ornament souvenir which was not hard to do as there are many, many shops.

We had one more site we wanted to visit and that was the Great Seige Tunnels.

The Great Siege Tunnels in the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, also known as the Upper Galleries, are a series of tunnels inside the northern end of the Rock of Gibraltar. They were dug out from the solid limestone by the British during the Great Siege of Gibraltar of the late 18th century.

The Great Siege of Gibraltar was an attempt by France and Spain to capture Gibraltar from Great Britain during the American Revolutionary War. Lasting from July 1779 to February 1783, it was the fourteenth and final siege of Gibraltar. During the siege, British and Spanish forces faced each other across an approximately 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) wide stretch of the marshy open ground that forms the isthmus immediately to the north of the Rock of Gibraltar. The British lines blocked access to the City and the western side of the Rock, while the eastern side of the Rock was inaccessible because of its steep terrain. Gun batteries were placed in a series of galleries on the north face of the Rock, providing overlapping fields of fire so that infantry attacks would come under heavy fire throughout their advance.

The impetus for the construction of the tunnels came from the garrison’s need to cover a blind angle on the north-east side of the Rock. The only solution found to cover that angle was via a gun mounted on a spur of rock known as The Notch. There was no possibility of building a path there due to the vertical cliff face, so Sergeant-Major Henry Ince of the Military Artificers suggested digging a tunnel to reach it. His plan was approved and construction work began on 25 May 1782.

The work was carried out by hand, mainly using sledgehammers and crowbars, aided by gunpowder blasts. The work proceeded slowly at first; it took thirteen men five weeks to dig a tunnel with a length of 82 feet (25 m). The diggers were hindered by fumes and dust from the frequent blasting, so it was decided to blast a horizontal shaft to improve the tunnels’ ventilation. This was done and was found to have had an unexpected side benefit. Colonel John Drinkwater Bethune, who wrote an account of the siege in 1785, described how this came about:

“The mine was loaded with an unusual quantity of powder, and the explosion was so amazingly loud, that almost the whole of the Enemy’s camp turned out at the report: but what must their surprise be, when they observed where the smoke issued! – The original intention of this opening, was to communicate air to the workmen, who before were almost suffocated with the smoke which remained after blowing the different mines; but, on examining the aperture more closely, an idea was conceived of mounting a gun to bear on all the Enemy’s batteries, excepting Fort Barbara: accordingly orders were given to enlarge the inner part [of the tunnel] for the recoil; and when finished, a twenty-four-pounder was mounted.”

Work progressed fairly rapidly thereafter, though it did not entirely go to plan, with several false starts in direction in the latter part of 1782. One tunnel drive was determined to be too far from the outer face of the Rock and another too close to it. A consistent direction was eventually found, and by the end of the fourth siege embrasures had been blasted overlooking the Spanish lines. Total construction length of the tunnels by the end of 1783 was approximately 908 feet (277 m). When excavations reached The Notch in the summer of 1783 it was decided that instead of pursuing the original idea of mounting a single gun on top of it, The Notch would be hollowed out into a broad chamber that the diggers named St. George’s Hall and that was later equipped with seven guns.

By the end of the initial phase of tunneling, five galleries had been excavated: Windsor Gallery, King’s And Queen’s Lines, St. George’s Hall, and Cornwallis Chamber. The Windsor Gallery was the first part of the tunnel system, and four guns were mounted there. St. George’s Hall is the largest of the original galleries. The embrasures can be seen on the slopes of the Rock when approaching Gibraltar from land and sea.

Originally the embrasures were fitted with mantlets or curtains of woven ropes; the rails on which they were supported can still be seen. These protected the guns and gunners from enemy fire and prevented sparks and smoke blowing back into the embrasures. As an additional safety measure, each cannon was isolated with a wet cloth hanging above it from a rope, to prevent the sparks from igniting the remaining gunpowder.[

General George Augustus Eliott had offered a reward to anyone who would invent a method to get cannons to the other side of the Rock. Although it is unknown whether Sergeant Major Ince ever got this reward,[5] he received a plot of land on the Upper Rock, which is still called Ince’s Farm. He was later given a valuable horse. Ince’s troops, who were known at the time as Soldier Artificers, founded the Soldier Artificer Company in Gibraltar in 1772, which later became the Corps of Royal Engineers.

During the 19th century the original cannon were replaced with more modern 64-pounder rifled muzzle loaders on iron carriages, some of which can still be seen in the tunnels. Although Ince’s galleries remained little changed, the work that he started was hugely expanded in the years after the siege and new tunnels were built to connect to the first galleries. By 1790 around 4,000 feet (1,200 m) of tunnels had been constructed inside the Rock.

The Second World War led to another great wave of tunneling as work was undertaken to enable the Rock to house a garrison of 16,000 men with water, food, ammunition and fuel supplies sufficient to last a year under siege. The Great Siege Tunnels were reused during the war; although it is uncertain exactly how they were used, it appears that they may have housed one of the generators used to power Gibraltar’s searchlights, as a concrete mounting pad of the requisite dimensions was installed in one of the embrasures. The Great Siege Tunnels were extended in two directions during the war, with a long straight extension called the Holyland Tunnel continuing through to the east side of the Rock, so named because it points in the direction of Jerusalem; and a staircase dug to link the tunnels with other Second World War tunnels lower down, known as the Middle Galleries. However, the methods by which the Second World War tunnels were hastily excavated have meant that – unlike the original 18th century tunnels – they have crumbled rapidly and now cannot be safely accessed.

This was a long a$$ way up up and up and Fran’s knees were not happy.  We had looked into getting a taxi it seems to be quite a tourist trap here.  No Uber, no Bolt, no FreeNow and the taxis all seem to only want to do “Tours” at 45£ person so we couldn’t get up to take us just to the tunnels!

The ticket to this site was included in our Cable Car bracelet and enroute we passed by the Moorish Castle

Upon finally arriving at the top, (we think we can now saw we climbed the “rock” as well as going up the cable car) we were rewarded with nice views including the airport runway we had walked across.  We bought another drink each and then entered the site.

We spent about 20 minutes in the tunnels – at this point there was a sign advising there were more tunnels to explore but only if you just wanted to walk them as there were no further information boards and it was about 30-45 minutes of walking so we passed.

Now it was long trek back down the rock to get back into the city centre.  Here Fran wanted to buy some cider as we’ve not seen any since returning to France and she likes a change from beer once in a while.  We found a wine store that had a small selection and picked up six large bottles.  We’ll see if they say anything at customs as we cross back over.

It was about another 20 minute walk from the city centre back to Minou through the border where we got stamped back into the Schengen and no questions were asked at Customs.

Minou was safe and sound and we paid our parking (€12 – a little steep but worth it) and went to find a large grocery store to pick up a few items before heading to Africa.  Beer is apparently hard to find as it’s a Muslim country and we’d been advised to bring along with us.  We don’t drink a lot as we have gotten away from our daily happy hour beer but wanted to have

We drove through one tunnel and walked through two twice.  We drove ZERO kilometres in Gibraltar.

Fun Facts: 

  1. Gibraltar is 1,536,103 times smaller than Canada!
  2. It has the only wild monkey population in Europe.
  3. John Lennon and Yoko Ono got married there
  4. It has one of the highest divorce rates in the world!
  5. It has the southernmost mosque in Europe.
  6. There are only 29 km / xx mi of roads.
  7. James Bond has been there twice.
  8. Unwanted cars used to be just pushed into the sea.
  9. It has another language other than English: Llanito, spoken in Gibraltar, is a bizarre mix of Andalusian Spanish and English, along with spatterings of Portuguese and Maltese words.
  10. Unlike the UK, it’s very dry.