Gibraltar is steeped in history; an intertwining of civilisations and cultures which dates back many thousands of years. What’s more, it is a living history reflected, not just in the Gibraltarians themselves, but also in the many legacies that remain to this day, including a number of prehistoric caves and a Moorish Castle and baths that date back to the 11th and 14th century. The architecture is similarly eclectic with many Georgian and Victorian buildings, as well as those that reflect a Portuguese, Genoese or Moorish influence. In 1848 an ancient skull was discovered in Forbes’ Quarry, at the foot of the steep north face. Then, just eight years later, an identical skull was discovered, this time in the Neander Valley near Dusseldorf. ‘Neanderthal Man’ should really have been ‘Gibraltar Woman’! Ancient mariners first arrived here by the 8th / 9th century BC (some suggest as early as the 4th / 5th century BC), leaving gifts to the gods seeking the blessings of the almighty before sailing into the Atlantic and the unknown. The Romans called the Rock ‘Calpe’. Julius Caesar defeated the sons of Pompeii almost within sight of Calpe, and the first description of Gibraltar was written by the Roman geographer Pomponius Mela around 45 AD. The Muslim invasion of Europe started in the Bay of Gibraltar where dissident Visigoths sided with Muslims by lending their ships to Berber Chief, Tarik Ibn Zeyad who landed by Tarik’s mountain – ‘Jebel Tarik’ – and became immortalised in history. The conquest of western Europe by Muslims had begun.
Gibraltar continued under Moorish domination for over seven centuries, until taken by Christians from the Kingdom of Castille for a brief period of 24 years in the early 14th century. It was not until 1462 that the Christians finally re-captured the Rock. Spain was beginning to emerge as a unified nation of various Kingdoms and Dukedoms but it was Castille and Aragon that emerged as the central power in Iberia. The famous Spanish ‘Catholic Monarchs’ Isabel and Fernando were initially involved in finally securing the Rock as Crown Property of Castille in 1501. It remained in Spanish possession until 1704 when it fell to a combined Anglo-Dutch force. The Treaty of Utrecht ceded the Rock to the ‘Crown of Great Britain’ in perpetuity, but Gibraltar continued to be subjected to bloody conflicts from Spain. In 1779 Spain and France began the longest and bloodiest siege in Gibraltar’s history: ‘The Great Siege, 1779-1783’. In 1782 work began on the famous ‘Great Siege Tunnels’. The Treaty of Versailles, 1783, would bring a long overdue peace to Gibraltar. The Battle of Trafalgar was fought close to the Rock in 1805. Spain had sided with Napoleon against Britain until Napoleon overrun Spain resulting in a fresh Spanish attempt to break away from French domination. Britain immediately emerged as Spain’s greatest ally. The 19th century was Gibraltar’s heyday, as a staging port on the vital route to India. Another series of tunnels were completed during the Second World War. Gibraltar became home to the Royal Navy’s ‘Force H’ and the focal point from where Eisenhower controlled the North Africa landings in 1942. During the Franco era, Spain attempted to revive her claim for the reversion of the Rock to Spanish sovereignty, which culminated in the closure of the border for thirteen years in 1969. The roots of Gibraltar have grown deep into the Rock for millions of years. The natural history, the culture and finally, the people themselves – the Gibraltarians – are the result: the ultimate proof that the history of the Rock lives on.
The Rock of Gibraltar seems foreboding from a distance; a great slab of jagged Jurassic Limestone towering high above its surrounds. Look closer and you can appreciate that, for 200 million years, the Rock has continually evolved and changed. At one time it was barren and inhospitable, when the natural woodland was cleared for firewood by soldiers. At other times, it was carpeted with brightly coloured flora and wild flowers, some indigenous such as the Gibraltar Candytuft and Gibraltar Chickweed. The porous limestone means that there is never a shortage of water so, when the Iberian Peninsula looks arid and brown, the Rock is ’green’, covered in shrubs and trees, such as nettle trees, carob, eucalyptus and wild olive.
Gibraltar has a very rich flora, but it is also the home to a variety of wildlife.Without doubt, the best loved is the mischievous Barbary Macaque which lives in a semi-wild state on the Upper Rock tolerating and teasing the camera-clicking tourists. It is believed that this tailless monkey may have been introduced by the British during the 18th century. Red deer, wolves and wild boar once made the Rock their home. Although these have long disappeared, the migratory bird life has seemingly been untouched by the passage of time and over 200 species have been recorded here. Bird migration at Gibraltar manifests itself spectacularly. Thousands of black kites and honey buzzards make the relatively short journey between Europe and Africa across the strait every year and after the breeding seasons. As well as other species of eagles, hawks and falcons it is not unusual to see vultures and storks. Smaller migrants, such as swallows, martins and finches can be seen regularly on passage across our famous Strait. The Barbary Partridge is the Rock’s emblematic bird as Gibraltar is the only place in mainland Europe where it is found in the wild, probably brought to Gibraltar by the British from Morocco three centuries ago. At certain times of the year you can be surprised by beautiful, colourful butterflies, some migrating through Gibraltar, whilst others busy themselves with the everyday chores of feeding and flitting about in typical butterfly fashion. When the chill of winter has given way to milder weather you may see bats swooping around chasing insects. The Strait and Bay of Gibraltar are home to three species of dolphins, these being the common, striped and bottlenose. But take a waterborne safari into the Bay and Strait of Gibraltar and you will see more than dolphins; whales and killer whales also roam the area though not too close to shore.
*Easy (Gibraltar) Weddings would like to thank the Gibraltar Tourist Board
For further information on Gibraltar please visit www.visitgibraltar.gi