My husband and I just spent a few days in Gibraltar, so I thought I’d give you a bit of history in a nutshell for this unique territory:
Gibraltar is a tiny outpost of Britain at the gateway to the Mediterranean, spitting distance from Spain (as a matter of fact I walked across the border and it took all of 2 minutes). Its history is disproportionately immense, spanning thousands of years, as it has always been a strategic nautical or military location. You can’t walk down a single street or lane without being reminded in some way of its military history: There are cannons everywhere, street names and square names reflect either military leaders or garrison locations, and even the town’s parks are walled in by fortress walls. The first known name of Gibraltar was “Calpe”, likely the Phoenician verb “kalph”, to hollow out, perhaps in reference to what is now known as St. Michael’s Cave. There was a Roman occupation, and in 400 AD eastern barbarians invaded; Vandals, then Goths, and then Berber Muslims followed. In 711 AD Tarik ibn Zeyad landed, and left behind his name: The Arabic phrase “Jebel Tarik” (Tarik’s Mountain) has been corrupted into the modern name of Gibraltar. For over six centuries, with the exception of 1309 to 1333, the Rock was under Moorish occupation, though no town existed until 1160 (there were only fortifications).
In 1462 Gibraltar was retaken from the Moors by the Spanish; from there it was quibbled over between Spanish dukes, kings and queens until the Treaty of Utrecht in which Gibraltar was yielded to the Crown of Great Britain “for ever”. The Great Siege, 1779 to 1783, was Spain’s last great attempt to reclaim the Rock, and led to vast destruction of the town and fortifications.
In the 19th century the phrase “As safe as the Rock of Gibraltar” entered the English language, as Gibraltar became renowned for its impregnability. A civilian community began to grow up within the safety of the fortified walls, earning their living from commercial trade. Today there is still a British and American military presence, and the local language is a mixture of Spanish and English.
The Rock is dominated by the presence of the only wild monkey population in Europe, all of the Barbary macaques breed; they were most likely brought as pets during the Moorish occupation. Tourists are lower in the pecking order than the monkeys, because in their hierarchy, the lower in rank give their food to the higher in rank… just remember that the next time you want to feed monkeys.