Gibraltar is reached via the Cadiz province. However it is not part of Spain. It is a British Overseas Territory which means it is self-governing but the UK is responsible for defence and foreign relations. The people of Gibraltar are very independent in every way and the culture on the Island is a weird mix of English and Spanish. You may see UK police uniforms and familiar shops like M&S but you won’t forget where you are as even the language spoken by the Islanders mixes English and Spanish freely!
The only direct access from Spain to Gibraltar is by land. The frontier is open 24 hours a day and a passport or EC identity card is required to cross. There is no fee for visitors to enter Gibraltar so beware of tricksters who have in the past been known to demand money.
It is easier to walk across the frontier than to take a car as there are often very long delays with a vehicle, sometimes lasting 4 or 5 hours, to cross the border. These delays are caused by Spanish border guards who deliberately cause problems by holding up and searching exiting traffic due to the continued dispute over sovereignty.
Parking is provided just outside of the border in the Spanish town of La Linea. After walking through the frontier gates and across the airport runway(!) a continual bus service runs to and from Gibraltar town and taxis are also available. But the Rock is only two and three-quarter miles long by three-quarters of a mile wide so walking is an option if you don’t mind the climbs (it reaches 419 metres in altitude).
The cable car station, from where you commence your journey, is located in the south district at the top of Main Street after passing...
Today Gibraltar is home to around 29,000 people, most of whom are classed as Gibraltarians and the population speaks a strange form of Spanglish. It is not unusual for the residents of the Rock to slip between Spanish and English mid sentence and both languages are spoken with distinctive accents. The Rock which rises to a height of 462 metres and is 5km long and 1.6km at its widest doesn’t leave many flat surfaces on which to live and Gibraltar town is not a big place. It is decidedly English with Real Ale served up in its many pubs, fish and chips, and joy of joys for many Costa del Sol residents – a Safeway and Marks and Spencer!
The cultural diversity of Gibraltar is fascinating. The busy streets and shops are full of Indians, Moroccans, Jews, Genoese, Spanish and British. No-one speaks in any given language for more than a sentence or even a few words, dropping in and out of mainly English and Spanish. People of very different racial and religious backgrounds get along in peace and harmony.
History of Gibraltar
To the ancient Greeks and Romans, Gibraltar was one of the Pillars of Hercules, (the other is the huge mountain Jebel Musa in Morocco), and marked the mythical edge to the known world. These days the pillars mark the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea and just 25 kilometres separate the two continents on either side of the Straits of Gibraltar. Gibraltar was inhabited long before the Greeks and Romans however. 50,000 years ago, give or take a few, Neanderthal man wandered the Rock as skulls found in 1848 and 1928 bear testament. Gibraltar was to change hands often over the ensuing centuries. The Phoenicians and ancient Greeks inhabited the rock and later it became the initial landing point for the Islamic invasion which was to shape so much of Andalucía’s history. From AD 711 to 1462 the Muslims held Morocco in a vice-like grip until Castile took it from them. In 1704 an Anglo-Dutch fleet captured the Rock and in 1713 Spain signed on the dotted line to officially hand Gibraltar to the English. This did not stop attempts to regain it, but the Brits stood their ground and developed it into an important naval base and to this day the British Navy continue to use Gibraltar. There is still a lot of bad feeling between the English and Spanish governments over sovereignty of Gibraltar – under Franco the relationship was so icy that, in 1967, the border was closed. It didn’t re-open again until 1985, 10 years after Franco’s death. Although Britain still holds sovereignty over the Rock, Gibraltar now governs itself and has its own parliament. Spain continues to throw the odd fly in the political soup and this is most evident by the time consuming custom checks when leaving by vehicle – the cause of lengthy queues when crossing from Gibraltar to Spain.
Gibraltar Tourist Board:
Duke of Kent House, Cathedral Square, Gibraltar
Tel: (0034) 956 774 950
Other Useful Numbers:
St Bernhard’s Hospital: 79700
Police: 199 / 72500
Every town and village has numerous excellent tapas bars that can be found by wandering around. Here are just some.
Algarrobo Costa / Algarrobo...
A good way to see the Upper Rock is to take one of the organised taxi tours. The drivers are usually well versed in Gibraltar’s history and will take you around the Nature Reserve’s sights whilst filling you in on useful information at the same time.
If you are a keen bird-watcher then make sure to pack your binoculars, as the Strait is a key point of passage for raptors, storks and other migrators between Africa and Europe. Outbound flights (southern migrations) occur between late July and early November and inbound flyers can be spotted between mid February and early June. It has been known for as many as 3,000 storks to congregate to cross the Strait of Gibraltar at one time so a decent hat may also be a good idea!
British fortifications such as gates and gun emplacements are everywhere, however, and if you are a bit of a war or history buff the Gibraltar Museum on Bomb House Lane is well worth a visit with exhibits dating back to prehistoric times. Religious sights include the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity built in the early 1800’s, the Catholic Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned which was built on the site of Muslim Gibraltar’s chief mosque and the King’s Chapel, part of a 16th century Franciscan convent – now the governor’s residence. At Gibraltar’s southern tip – Europa Point is home to what is claimed to be the largest mosque in a non-Islamic country. Like the mosque on Marbella’s Golden Mile, it was paid for by King Fahd of Saudi Arabia and opened in 1997 as a focal point for Arabs travelling in southern Europe. Europa Point is also home to a lighthouse and the Christian Shrine of Our Lady of Europe.
Dolphins & Diving
The Bay of Algeciras, off Gibraltar, is home to a large population of dolphins and several boats operate dolphin-spotting trips out of Watergardens Quay or Marina Bay. It is unusual not to see these intelligent, friendly creatures and if you are really lucky you may even spot a whale. Under the water too, Gibraltar offers great sight- seeing, the meeting waters of the Atlantic and Meditteranean making for great visibility. Shipwrecks are probably what attract most divers to Gibraltar but there is also a small reef a little way off the coast.