Saturday, October 01, 2011

Gibraltar - a few facts

And following on from National Day, a few Gibfacts, for those of you who wonder where on earth it is and what life is like here.


First up - where it is. It's on the tip of the Iberian Peninsula and juts out dramatically into the Mediterranean. It is NOT an island, although is often mistakenly referred to as one. It's an easy mistake to make, I know, I've done it even while living here, as - with the exception of the frontier with Spain - it is surrounded by water.

View of Gibraltar (and in the distance, Africa) from El Higueron in Spain

The very southernmost tip of Gibraltar, Europa Point, looks across the Strait of Gibraltar 20 miles away to Africa, and on clear days the Spanish enclave of Ceuta can be clearly seen, and behind, the high Rif mountains in Morocco.

Lighthouse at Europa Point

Gib is small, nearly three miles long, less than a mile wide, total area being around two and a quarter square miles. Most of the 30,000 population live in the lower part of Gibraltar on the western side. As such, that makes us one of the most densely populated territories in the world - and that's why nearly all of us live in small flats.

Taken from Insight magazine - reclamation on the western side to provide more housing

What is it? It is currently a British Overseas Territory and part of the Commonwealth, previously a Crown Colony and part of the British Empire. We have a Governor who is the Queen's representative.

Gib has its own government which is responsible for everything except defence and foreign policy - they fall to the British. Our government is elected every four years (or less) and the current party in power is the Gibraltar Social Democrats (GSD). Despite the name it is the right of centre option and is led by Chief Minister Peter Caruana.


A little bit of potted history next. Hundreds of thousands of years ago it actually was an island, and at another point it was also connected to Africa.

Modern day Gibraltar really started when the Moors took Gibraltar in 711AD under the leadership of Berber chief, Tarik-ibn-Ziyad. The Rock became known as Jebel Tarik (Mountain of Tarik) which led to the present name of Gibraltar.

Today's obvious remains of the Moorish past are the castle on the hill - the Moorish Castle or Tower of Homage, and the beautiful baths under the present museum.

Moorish Castle

Four hundred years later the Spaniards and Muslims were fighting it out in Spain, and Gibraltar passed backwards and forwards between the two. But by 1462 Gib was retaken by Spain and became part of the estates of the Duke of Medina Sidonia. The Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, completed the reconquest of Spain when they retook Granada in 1492, and in December 1501, Gibraltar became Spanish crown property.

Some 200 years later - 1704 - Gibraltar was taken from the Spanish by an Anglo-Dutch force fighting in the War of Spanish Succession, and, has been British ever since. Not that British sovereignty has stopped Spain claiming Gib.

In 1713, Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in perpetuity, yet in 1727 the Spaniards besieged the Rock, but this was a relatively short siege, ending the same year.

In 1779, the Spaniards and the French joined forces and started the Great Siege which lasted for nearly four years and led to the huge development of the tunnel network within the Rock. Finally, in 1784 the war with Spain ended and the Treaty of Versailles was signed.

Moving swiftly forward to the 1960s and Franco. The subject of Gibraltar's decolonisation was put before a United Nations committee, which favoured the Spanish point of view. Spain started imposing restrictions at the frontier and it was fully closed in 1969. Franco cut off access by land and sea, and the only external communications were by air with London or by sea to Morocco. Telephone communications were also cut by Spain.

Although Franco died in 1975, the border remained closed until December 1982, when it was finally reopened for pedestrians. It was another two years however, before open access across the frontier was fully restored.


So - present day Gib. Who lives in it? Well, Gibraltarians obviously, but also lots of other nationalities. The Gibraltarian heritage is a mix of Genovese, Maltese, Portuguese, British, Spanish, and Jewish. Walking down the street however, or going to work, you will meet Indians, Moroccans, Eastern Europeans, even the odd few South Africans and Australians. Culturally and demographically Gib is an eclectic mixture.

Reflecting the diversity of people living here, there is the same broad range of religions represented in Gib. The predominant one is Roman Catholic, and other Christian denominations are present. Other religions include Judaism, Islam and Hinduism.

The official language here is English, but on the streets you will most likely hear Gibraltarians speaking Llanito which is the local language. Llanito is largely Andalucian Spanish, but includes English words, and words from other languages reflecting Gibraltar's multi-racial heritage. People will happily switch between Llanito, English and Spanish within the same conversation - and even the same sentence.

Oddly enough, although Gibraltarians are fluent Spanish speakers, this doesn't extend to reading and writing. Some do read Spanish, but most of our Gibraltarian friends don't, and they certainly don't write in Spanish.

On the topic of speaking Spanish - you don't need it to live here, but it helps if you do. Apart from the fact that you can understand if someone is being rude about you, there are a lot of cross-border workers who come across from Spain every day, a lot of whom speak little, or no English. British cross-border workers who live in Spain come to work in Gib too.


Our currency is Gibraltar pounds. English currency is acceptable here and the rate of exchange is one Gib pound to one English pound. Shops and bars will accept euros - but note that it is a vastly inflated exchange rate.

Wages in Gibraltar are higher than they are in Spain (not that they are high here compared with the UK), and the current economic situation in Spain has left a lot of people unemployed. There are still jobs in Gibraltar, not that I can find one, well, not one that suits.

Tourism plays a large part in the Gibraltar economy, with cruise liners regularly stopping here - sometimes three in one day. When this happens you need to hide inside because you can't move down Main Street for tourists looking for duty free bargains - especially spirits, tobacco, and perfume.

Most of the shops in Gib are down Main Street, the side streets that run off it, or the ones that run parallel to it - to the west, Irish Town, and to the east, Engineers Lane/Governors Street.

We have some supermarkets, the Spanish franchise Coviran has branches here (Devils Tower, Waterport and Jumpers), and our biggest supermarket is Morrisons. Morrisons is something of a Mecca for ex-pats living in Andalucia and there are regular bus trips down the coast for people to shop in a Real! British! Supermarket! They invariably arrive on a Thursday which is probably the best day of the week to visit for a good choice of products. By the weekend the shelves are looking rather sad and empty, and on Monday and Tuesday, we are all waiting for the trucks to unload their goodies and for the shelves to be stocked back up again.

Unless I am buying organic veg, I tend to use my local Coviran, Moroccan or Jewish shops for fresh vegetables. For a change there is the market which is open from Monday to Saturday in the mornings.

Opening hours for shops and offices in Gib are something else again. For another post.

The Upper Rock - and the monkeys

Now when our tourists have finished buying their perfume, fags and booze, they then go up to the top of the Rock to see the monkeys. Either in the cable car or by taxi although a few intrepid souls do walk it.

The upper rock is a nature reserve, and is home to some unique flora and fauna in Europe. Barbary Macaques - the famous monkeys, Barbary partridge, Gibraltar candytuft, campion, and chickweed, are only found in Europe on the Rock. There are other attractions too, St Michael's Cave, the World War II Tunnels, geocaches, lots of different walks and wonderful views. Unmissable.

Barbary Macaque takes a trip downtown.

More info about Gib on the sites below. I'll post other Gibfacts later.

Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society

Gibraltar History and Politics

Government of Gibraltar Information Services - links for history, heritage, geography, flora and fauna amongst others


Ashleigh said...

How timely is this post! We need to go down to the Navy base in the south of Spain and want to do a day trip on a Sunday to the Gib. We will be with the kids and don't really need most of the shops to be open, but we do need the buses and cable car to be running. Should that be a problem on a Sunday?

roughseasinthemed said...

Hi Ashleigh
Buses and cable car both run on a Sunday. Back in May (I think) there is link to the bus timetable and stuff on my post about the buses. The cable car runs - unless it is too windy.

Is there anything else you need to know? Perfume, alcohol and tobacco can all be bought on Sunday, and the big super, Morrisons, is also open.

Plenty of places to eat too. If you need any more detail - just shout.

Vicky said...

What an interesting read :)

roughseasinthemed said...

Cheers Vicky, for such a small place, it's hard to write a snapshot of it!! So there will be more gibfacts later, if and when I remember.

Ruger said...

Wow - so much history in such a tiny place. I didn't really understand that Gibraltar was such a small bit of land and SO many people living there.
It sounds kind of interesting to live in such an ethnically diverse place though. Is the food most 'Spanish' or does it reflect the range of cultures through the ages and nowadays??
I will have to check out your links too. :)

Kind regards