A little before noon on March 27 we docked at the British territory of Gibralter, just south of Spain at the entrance of the Mediterranean. Just 17 miles from Africa, Gibralter was one of the Pillars of Hercules that marked the boundary of the known world to the ancients (the other was probably Mount Acho on the African shore). Like much of Spain, Gibralter was under Moorish rule from the 8th until the 15th Centuries. The name evolved from the Moorish name “Jabel Tariq” (Tariq’s rock) in honor of the Moorish general who invaded Spain in the 8th Century. The English took over in 1704, and there is a cemetery in town for sailors who died at Trafalgar. The British fortified it by digging tunnels through the rock for gun emplacements (you can visit them, but we didn’t). During World War II the civilian population was evacuated & it was made into a fortress controlling entry into the Mediterranean.
The town of Gibralter is actually pretty small, about 2 square miles & 30,000 people, so we decided to walk around on our own, although we only had about 6 hours before departure. Gibralter is very British, with pubs & red telephone booths & currency (there is a Gibralter pound, but it is interchangeable with the pound sterling) & British stores like Miarks & Spencer. They drive on the right, and there are signs painted on the pavement reminding British visitors to “look left.”
The first place we visited was Casemates Square, which is a large open area in the center of town. Beyond that we walked down Main Street, which is a pedestrian only street lined with British stores & local shops. The streets in Gibralter are pretty narrow, and there are more motorbikes than cars.
OK library fans, here is your first spot. Gibralter has a very nice little library originally built for the British regiment here (called “Garrison Library”), located on a street called “Library Ramp.” It has a walled courtyard with flowers & trees, including a tree-like plant whose branches look like very long stemmed Yucca. A very nice attendant showed us around & told us some if its history.
We continued on toward the cable car that will take you to the top of the rock. In the panoramic picture at the top you can barely see the route of the cable car just to the left of the big dip on the right hand side. But first, for our firehouse fans, the Fire Station is right next to the cable car station.
So we went to the top on the cable car and walked around. The rock is some 1400 feet high, and we got up over 1200 feet at least. The views were spectacular; you can see all the way to Africa on a clear day, but it was a little hazy so we could just make it out in the mist. You can see the whole town far below, including the airport runway. You can see the end of the runway in one of the pictures below, but in fact the planes approach from the other side of the rock & have to stop there short of the water. The only road to the mainland crosses the runway, so they have to stop traffic to Spain in order for a plane to land. Not surprisingly, this was recently voted the scariest airport in Europe.
The most entertaining thing in Gibralter is the Barbary Apes that live on the rock. They are actually monkeys (technically Macaques), about 1 1/2 to 2 feet tall. They are wild animals – the only wild primates in Europe – but are used to tourists. They have a reputation for stealing sunglasses & cameras, although we didn’t see any of that, and there is a 500 pound fine for feeding them (but we saw some taxi drivers give them food to attract them to approach their passengers). As you can imagine, the tourists love them & sometimes get closer than they should. No one knows how the apes got here (probably brought originally by people from Africa), but there is a legend that if the apes ever leave Gibralter the British will too. Because of this, during World War II Winston Churchill issued orders that the apes be well cared for, and today they are still fed regularly by (presumably) officials.
There were some moments that reminded us of the Robin Williams film Jumanji, when one or several of these monkeys would jump on someone’s back or leap onto the windshield of a taxi. They are not at all shy.
We walked quite a way around the top, which was very rocky & steep, often without handrails. It makes you wonder how many people they lose up there every year, especially kids. But the views, the rocks & the flowers were quite beautiful.
After descending on the cable car we visited the botanical gardens & saw the 11th Century Moorish castle (although it may have been started as early as the 8th Century) on our way back to the ship. In total we walked close to 7 miles.
As we sailed away before sundown, the ship circled around Gibralter from west to east, and we saw (inter alia) the mosque (only a few years old) & the lighthouse, both on the southernmost tip of Gibralter called Europa Point.
And so, as the sun sinks slowly behind the Rock to our west, we bid a fond farewell to enjoyable Gibralter & head for bed (& Spain).