Sunday, September 10th, Gibraltar
The Rock! The
gateway between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean
Sea! Gibraltar, "Calpe" in ancient times, is the northernmost of
legendary Pillars of Hercules that bracket this
strategic position. The other, a mountain known as
Mons Abyla to Plato and today as Jebel Musa, stands guard from
the African continent.
History shrouds this area
as assuredly as the clouds that sweep over the crest of
blown by the temperamental Mediterranean winds.
We spent all day Thursday battling those winds to travel
the 40 miles between Barbate and Gibraltar. It was
an upwind beat, but the forecast called for easterlies
for the foreseeable future. It was either 20 knots
on the nose in mellow seas on Thursday, or wait until
Sunday for lighter winds, still on the nose. We
spent the day tacking between Europe and Africa, dodging
about a hundred huge container ships and ferry boats in
the heavily traveled shipping lanes along the way.
After a total of 75 miles, we pulled into the seawall at
the Queensway Quay Marina in the heart of downtown
Evidence of human
history in Gibraltar goes all the way back to the era of
the Neanderthal. Remains were found in the
spectacular St. Michael's Cave, one of the attractions
of the Upper Rock. Stunning stalactites and
stalagmites adorn the huge caves which one legend claims
are bottomless. It seems unlikely, however, that
they actually connect with Africa by means of a
subterranean passage, as the legend claims.
The Phoenicians, the
Carthaginians, and the Romans all left evidence of
visits to Calpe from as far back as 950BC. The
decline of the Roman Empire led to invasions by the
Vandals and the Goths, and finally the Arab armies from
Africa who occupied the region for over six centuries
from 711AD into the 1300s. Tarik ibn Zeyad
led the forces that landed at the southern end of the
Rock in 711 and part of his legacy lives on in the
present day name of Gibraltar, a corruption of the
Arabic works "Jebel Tarik" or Tarik's mountain.
The first settlement was begun in Gibraltar in 1160 and
it has been occupied continuously since that time.
When the Spanish
recaptured the area from the Moors in 1462, it remained
in their possession (basically) until it was yielded to
the British in the early 1700s by the Treaty of Utrecht
that ended the War of the Spanish Succession.
Spain made two full fledged attempts to recapture the
Rock in 1727 and again in 1779. Both attempts
failed miserably, but created some wonderful stories
that adorn the history of Gibraltar with colorful tales.
A band of Spanish soldiers, intent on retaking the Rock
for Spain, scaled up the seemingly impassable Eastern
side of the Rock and hid in the natural caves before
being spotted and captured. Later, during the four
year siege of Gibraltar from 1779 to 1783, the defending
British forces began an elaborate system of tunnels that
they bore through the Northern face of the Rock in order
to fire down on the enemy forces, who were so close to
the steep face that none of their existing batteries
could angle down sharply enough to reach them.
Work on the tunnels continued well past the end of the
siege. They were even used during World War II to
protect the entrance in and out of the Mediterranean.
The layout of Gibraltar
is unmistakably that of a Fortress. Surrounded by
a huge wall, entrance into the city is through a half a
dozen gates. Luckily, there is an opening just
across the street from our spot at the marina.
Walking the narrow, congested streets can be
challenging, as throngs of cruise ship passengers clog
the pedestrian areas and speeding motorists threaten
other passages at every turn. Nonetheless, we are
soaking up the history and ambiance of the city.
It is very British, despite being surrounded so closely
by Spain. Although the marina fees (about $60 a
night) are still quite reasonable by American standards,
they are about double those in Spain (the Club Nautico
de Sevilla aside!). The British pound is killing
our enjoyment of the myriad choices for dining out.
A simple Indian dinner for the four of us at a
unremarkable restaurant set us back $80. I guess
we have been spoiled lately by the prices in Spain and
Portugal. Yesterday's tour of the Upper Rock was a
bit of a sticker shock as well, costing us a total of
fifty Euros despite walking most of it instead of hiring
Although it isn't
cheap, we are thrilled that we decided to stop here.
It is a nice break for us to be able to speak English
with confidence to shop owners and waiters. I love
being in a place so steeped in history. Modern
commerce is also much in evidence with dozens of
container ships loading and unloading cargo, and sitting
at anchor both in Gibraltar Bay and to the East of the
Rock in Mediterranean waters. Not a part of
the European Union, Gibraltar is VAT free and if it
weren't for the strength of the pound, I imagine we
could find some bargains here. We are planning of
filling up our nearly empty fuel tanks with duty-free
diesel before we depart, which should save us a bundle.
Of course, we saw the
famous Rock apes! You couldn't miss them on our
tour of the Upper Rock yesterday. The only wild
primates in Europe, no one quite knows how or when they
were brought over from Africa. They are protected
and the old saying is that Gibraltar will cease to be
British on the day that there are no apes left on the
Our timing is also
fortunate as today is Gibraltar's National Day.
Decked out in red and white, the colors of Gibraltar's
unofficial flag, residents and tourists alike prepare
for a day of celebrations throughout the city.
Parades, music, dancing, eating and fireworks are all on
the agenda. We look forward to partaking in the
festivities before we depart sometime next week.
Many thanks to our
friend Craig Homenko for his assistance in setting up
We also would like
to thank our buddy Scott Brunner who has been kind
enough to host the website on his server.