The Rock of Gibraltar is a monolithic limestone promontory located in the British territory of Gibraltar, near the southwestern tip of Europe on the Iberian Peninsula, and near the entrance to the Mediterranean.
A promontory is a raised mass of land that projects into a lowland or a body of water (in which case it is a peninsula). The Rock of Gibraltar has an elevation of 1,398 feet. A strategic military base for the British since 1704 when it was captured during the War of the Spanish Succession.
It was a major line of defense for the British and its allies during WWII and there are military bunkers and tunnels scattered within and throughout the Rock. It’s actually a British Overseas territory!
Following the ceding of Gibraltar to the English Crown in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, Spain unsuccessfully attempted to regain control in three separate battles. British control of the region would forever change the culture and course of Gibraltar’s history in this little corner of the world.
The Rock of Gibraltar, one of the two traditional Pillars of Hercules, was known to the Romans as Mons Calpe, the other pillar being Mons Abila, either Monte Hacho or Jebel Musa on the African side of the Strait. According to ancient myths fostered by the Greeks and the Phoenicians, and later perpetuated by the Romans, the two points marked the limit to the known world, although the Phoenicians had actually sailed beyond this point into the Atlantic, both northward and southward.
The Rock towers over the city and the Mediterranean Sea, which surrounds Gibraltar. Over 300 Barbary Macaque monkeys call the rock of Gibraltar home, and it’s very exciting to see them in their natural habitat. The higher you climb (especially into the nature reserve), the more monkeys you will see. Originally from the Atlas Mountains and the Rif Mountains of Morocco, the Barbary macaque population in Gibraltar is the only wild monkey population on the European continent. They are a tailless species, they are also known locally as Barbary apes or rock apes, despite being classified as monkeys
In 1967, the Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones, accompanied by Anita Pallenberg and Marianne Faithfull – all on LSD – visited the colony in Gibraltar en route to meet the rest of the band in Morocco. According to Faithfull’s autobiography, Jones decided he wanted to play a tape of music he had made for a film starring Pallenberg to the monkeys.
“We approached the troop of monkeys very ceremoniously,” she writes, “and told them we were going to play them some wonderful sounds. They listened to all this very attentively, but when Brian turned on the tape recorder, they didn’t seem to care for it. They seemed alarmed by it and scampered away shrieking. Brian got very upset. He took it personally. He became hysterical and started sobbing.”
Most of the 30,000 population of this 2.6 square mile peninsula live in flats, crammed on land at the base of the rock. Property prices are high – fuelled by the strong economy, and attractiveness to tax exiles – and many young Gibraltarians are being forced to move to Spain and commute to Gibraltar, a journey that can take hours if there are delays at the crossing.
The Rock is a birdwatcher’s paradise, as it provides a perfect place to spot birds as they migrate from North Africa to Europe. There have been 315 species of birds recorded passing over Gibraltar. Early migrants that also winter here too include blackcaps, chiffchaffs, and robins, the latter having traveled from as far afield as Sweden. As Spring progresses more familiar species such as willow warblers, redstarts and nightingales make their arrival in Europe.
These are also joined by some “Iberian exotics” such as hoopoes, subalpine warblers, and woodchat shrikes showing that Gibraltar acts as a pivotal point from where birds will travel northwards to almost every country in Western Europe. You’ll also find osprey and marsh harriers possibly heading to the UK as well as black kites and booted eagles destined for Spain and France.
The Great Siege was an attempt by Spain and France to capture the territory of Gibraltar during the American Revolutionary War. In order to get the cannons within firing range of the attacking enemies, the British came up with the idea of digging into the limestone rock. What resulted was a start to one of the most impressive labyrinths of tunnels known to man, and was a vital part in defending Gibraltar. The tunnels were again used by the Allies during World War II, and actually expanded from 7 to 25 miles in length!
Of the over 150 caves inside the rock of Gibraltar, St. Michaels Cave is the biggest and most impressive of all. Sitting high in the nature reserve it dates all the way back to the Neolithic time period, and onlookers have been writing of its beauty since 45 AD! St. Michaels Cave is visited by over 1 Million people per year and is one of the most incredible things to do in Gibraltar. The Mediterranean steps are strictly for the adventurous, but also the best way to see the rock of Gibraltar.
Aside from the incredible views of the city and ocean below, the hike is something of a spectacle in itself. Along the steps, you’ll have the pleasure of seeing some 500 species of plants, hundreds of birds, and other intriguing animals that call Gibraltar home. However, be warned… The hike is extremely steep so most visitors prefer to take the cable car at least one way up or down. During World War II the British controlled nearly all ships coming from the Mediterranean Sea into the Atlantic Ocean.
To make room for the massive military operations (and for the safety of the civilians), more than half of Gibraltar’s population was evacuated at the beginning of the war! By 1942 there were over 30,000 British soldiers, sailors, and airmen on the Rock.
They expanded the tunnel system and made the Rock a keystone in the defense of shipping routes to the Mediterranean. In the movie “The Living Daylights”, Timothy Dalton’s first outing as 007 starts off in the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, located in the southern part of Spain.
The 00-section has been chosen to participate in an exercise together with the Special Air Services, the S.A.S. Their objective is to infiltrate the radar installations at the top of the rock.
- The War of the Spanish Succession was a European great power conflict that took place from 1701 to 1715. The death of childless Charles II of Spain in November 1700 led to a struggle for control of the Spanish Empire between his heirs, Philip of Anjou and Charles of Austria, and their respective supporters, among them Spain, Austria, France, the Dutch Republic, Savoy, and Great Britain. Related conflicts include the 1700–1721 Great Northern War, Rákóczi’s War of Independence in Hungary, the Camisards revolt in southern France, Queen Anne’s War in North America, and minor trade wars in India and South America. [Back]
- The Peace of Utrecht was a series of peace treaties signed by the belligerents in the War of the Spanish Succession, in the Dutch city of Utrecht between April 1713 and February 1715. The war involved three contenders for the vacant throne of Spain and involved much of Europe for over a decade. The main action saw France as the defender of Spain against a multinational coalition. The war was very expensive and bloody and finally stalemated. Essentially, the treaties allowed Philip V (grandson of King Louis XIV of France) to keep the Spanish throne in return for permanently renouncing his claim to the French throne, along with other necessary guarantees that would ensure that France and Spain should not merge, thus preserving the balance of power in Europe. [Back]
- The Barbary macaque, also known as a Barbary ape, is a macaque species native to the Atlas Mountains of Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, and Morocco, along with a small introduced population in Gibraltar. It is the type of species of the genus Macaca. The species is of particular interest because males play an atypical role in rearing young. Because of uncertain paternity, males are integral to raising all infants. Generally, Barbary macaques of all ages and sexes contribute to alloparental care of the young. [Back]
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