Well, officially it’s an overseas dependent territory of the UK, but today we spent most of the day visiting Gibraltar aka Gib, or just “The Rock”. Britain gained the territory at the Treat of Utrecht in 1713 following the war of Spanish succession. Although it has been attacked many times since, it retains its invincible defensive position at the Southern end of Europe. These days however, its military significance has somewhat waned, and the UK government has drawn down most of the military forces that used to be stationed there.
We had read that driving over the border from Spain can be a very long proposition. We were also told that parking can be very difficult to find. Someone we met on the boat to Morocco yesterday told us he spent about 2 hours waiting to drive across, so we had planned to park in La Linea on the Spanish side. We first parked on a side street and fed the parking ticket machine and although it took our money, it did not deliver the necessary ticket. We thought about leaving a note, but in the end decided it would be better to play it safe and find another parking spot and a machine that worked.
Since there seemed to be lots of street parking, I figured we’d drive up as close to the border as we could before parking and waling across, but before we knew it, we ended up in the line to go across the border and within a couple of minutes were in Gibraltar – evidently no long lines today!
Once you enter Gibraltar, you have to drive across the airport’s runway. They stop traffic when planes come in, but it is certainly unusual to find yourself in the middle of a landing strip. Next issue was parking, and we lucked out again finding free street parking close to the city center.
We had some coffee on the docks, then walked into the center of town, looking around some historic buildings. My sister in law Ruth is from Gibraltar (Andy’s wife) and she had recommended taking a taxi tour of the rock. The taxi is actually an 8 passenger van and for a reasonable fee it takes you to the most popular sites, including the entrance fees.
As we drove off, the driver pointed out the original sea walls, which are now well inland. A significant area of Gibraltar is land that has been reclaimed from the sea, a process that continues today.
Our first stop was the “Pillars of Hercules” monument. Supposedly in ancient times, Gibraltar was seen as Hercules’s Pillars, and it is not hard to imagine why.
Gibraltar gets is name as a corruption of Jebel Tariq, or Tariq’s mountain, named after the Moorish king who came this way to start the Moorish conquest of Andalusia.
The Rock is also the only European location with native apes. Barbary Apes or Macaques to be precise and there are about 300 of them in 5 different clans. They seen to be completely unafraid of people. At one of our stops, the van door was left open. Kelly had got back inside when one of the apes jumped in, went up to the front of the cab and stole the driver’s apple!
The Rock has much more roadway inside it in the form of tunnels, than outside. Although it looks like one solid rock on the outside, it is in fact studded with caves and tunnels. St. Michael’s caves were prepared as a hospital in WWII, but did not need to be used. Today it is a classical concert venue due to its excellent acoustics.
We also got to see some of the first man made tunnels on the rock, which were due to allow cannons to be moved into place to defend an otherwise vulnerable area. These canons are unique for their time in that they were adapted to allow downward firing.
We kept climbing until we reached the peak, where on one side you see the Atlantic Ocean, and on the other, the Mediterranean. On a clear day, you can also see Morocco, but this was a hazy summer day, so we sort of peaked some North African mountains in the distance.
Our taxi dropped us back off in the center of town, where we had a nice lunch. On our way back to the car we stopped at the Trafalgar Cemetery where there are British sailor’s graves from the sea battles fought of Spain’s coast 200 years ago. After picking up the car, we kept going and drove completely around the rock, along the Mediterranean side, which involves going through several short tunnels before ending up back near the airport.
Noticing that petrol was about 20% cheaper here than Spain (which in turn was about 15-20% cheaper than Portugal and Ireland), we filled up, then headed back across the border (took us 4 minutes!) and on our way towards Granada.
We chose to take a longer route though the mountains in order to visit the town of Ronda, one of the most spectacularly located towns in Spain, perched atop a precipitous limestone cleft spanned by an extremely tall bridge.
After some refreshments, we headed on to Granada, thankfully over fast, flat roads and got there pretty fast. Unfortunately we had a hard time finding the hotel, so we ended up cruising back and forth for a while before we finally located it. GPS is great, but only when you have the correct address!