Gibraltar

gibraltar-eastern-face

The eastern side of Gibraltar, looking north toward the Spanish Costa del Sol

Here are some facts about Gibraltar.

It definitely looks like it should be part of Spain, but it is not. The Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 made Gibraltar part of England and, although this causes ongoing tension with Spain, The Rock continues to function as a British Overseas Territory. Gibraltar’s 30,000+ residents mostly seem to favor the status quo.

You can see why Gibraltar is both strategic and controversial.

Crossing into Gibraltar from Spain is like going to Tijuana from California. There’s a lot of traffic back and forth for work and shopping and, if you look like your trench coat is packed with less highly-taxed cartons of cigarettes from Gibraltar that you plan to sell in Spain, you will probably be stopped.

 

 

 

 

Thgibraltar-mape Rock is a big piece of limestone that was pushed up from a former lakebed at a 45-degree angle. (The lake dried up and then much later water flowed from the Atlantic over Gibraltar in a massive cascade to fill the space that became the Mediterranean Sea.) The western, gentle-slope side of The Rock is home to the majority of Gib’s residents, its port, and other businesses, and the eastern side has two small beach settlements, all totaling about 2.6 square miles. The eastern side is also where a water catchment area was built to capture rainwater (The Rock does not have its own source of freshwater, and piping water in from Spain is not an option). Today, however, Gibraltar gets most of its potable water from costly desalinization plants and uses saltwater for flushing toilets.

gibraltar-levante-wikipedia

(Picture from a Wikipedia page on the Levant wind)

When moist wind blowing west across the Mediterranean hits the 426 meter/1,398 foot rock, it often generates a dry cloud that appears trapped in place. The levante, as the cloud is called, was with us for all three days of our visit, even when it was sunny.

 

 

Gibraltar's port, looking toward the Port of Algeciras (Spain), one of Europe's biggest.

View from the apartment where we stayed, looking toward Algeciras (Spain), one of Europe’s biggest ports.

The Rock is only 15 kilometers/9 miles from Morocco and offers 180-degree visibility to traffic coming from both the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. It has always been a strategic location and was possibly the last home of Neanderthals moving north from Africa. It became even more strategic and defensible when the British added cannon batteries all around the point and, during WWII, started tunneling out The Rock to house bomb shelters, hospitals, and munitions and equipment depots. (Gibraltar was one of two possible launch points for British and American forces into French North Africa; in the end Operation Torch launched from Malta.) Today, tunnels inside The Rock are used for military training and to house massive private servers for online gaming in Europe (tax haven, comparably lax banking regulations, blah blah blah).

The official language of Gibraltar is English, but most Gibraltarians are bilingual and tend to speak a mix of Spanish and English called llanito. Both Pete and I had experiences where the conversation started in one language and ended up in the other, or was a mix throughout, or sounded like it was translated from Spanish into English. The friends we were with said Gibraltarians or Llanitos often speak a very correct kind of English with a British accent, and street-Spanish with an Andalusian accent. There are other languages spoken, too, by immigrants from India, Pakistan, and Malta (historically), and by the relatively large Jewish population.

And there are monkeys. Barbary macaques, to be exact, that live in an open-zoo environment in a nature reserve on top of The Rock. See one here (0:14 sec).

Looking down the so-called Mediterranean steps, on the eastern side of The Rock

Looking down the so-called Mediterranean Steps, on the eastern side of The Rock

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