The last day in Morocco and a little walk on this peculiar rock with long and interesting history.
You know the drill already – getting up early, having breakfast but this time, heading to the Tangier’s port. There we waited a really long time for our guides to get our tickets and to finally board the ferry to Tarifa, Spain. I already wrote about this ferry service in my travel dairy for the first day of our trip, so I’ll just show you some pictures.
We arrived in Tarifa on time and immediately left for Gibraltar.
Gibraltar is steeped in history; the result of an intertwining and moulding 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 Portuguese, Genoese or Moorish influence.
In 1848 an ancient skull was discovered in Forbes’ Quarry, at the foot of the steep north face.
Ancient mariners first arrived here by the 8-9 century BC, leaving gifts to the gods seeking the blessings of the almighty before sailing into the Atlantic and the unknown. 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 in 711. 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 14 century. It was not until 1462 that the Christians finally re-captured the Rock. The famous Spanish ‘Catholic Monarchs’ Isabel and Fernando were initially involved in finally securing the Rock as Crown Property of Castille in 1501.
Gibraltar was ceded to Britain following the War of the Spanish Succession of 1701-14. Charles II of Spain, died in 1700 without an heir. It was unclear who should succeed him, and so emerged a number of pretenders. Eventually war broke out, and in August 1704 British Marines, together with Dutch marines, captured the Rock, on behalf of Charles of Austria. The war continued until 1713, when the Treaty of Utrecht concluded that Philip V, a grandson of the King of France, would inherit the Spanish throne. Under the Treaty, Gibraltar was ceded to Great Britain, as well as Minorca, which changed hands several times before being returned to Spain as part of the Treaty of Amiens in 1802.
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. In 1782 work began on the famous ‘Great Siege Tunnels’. The Battle of Trafalgar was fought close to the Rock in 1805.
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.
Here a big part of the group decided to wander around by themselves and few of us wanted a guided tour to some of Gibraltar’s biggest landmarks. You can do the same by a tour agency, which offers a ride by a van to the peak of the rock and a introduction to the history an the live here.
Our fisrt stop was the The Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque, also known as the King Fahd bin Abdulaziz al-Saud Mosque, a gift from King Fahd of Saudi Arabia and took two years to build at a cost of around 5 million pounds.It is the southernmost mosque in continental Europe, and is one of the largest mosques in a non-Muslim country. The mosque complex also contains a school, library, and lecture hall. It is the only purpose-built mosque in Gibraltar to serve the Muslims in the territory who number over 1,000: around 4% of Gibraltar’s total population.
On the way we saw a beautiful waterfall:
Near the mosque is a huge historical complex with several monuments and viewing points. Here’s also the Trinity House Lighthouse, built in 1841 .
And some lovely views:
The Sikorski Memorial commemorates the 1943 Gibraltar B-24 crash which caused the death of General Władysław Sikorski, the commander-in-chief of the Polish Army and Prime Minister of the Polish government in exile. Fifteen other people also died in the crash, with only the pilot Eduard Prchal surviving. The present version of the memorial is the third, replacing two earlier memorials erected in 1945 and 2003 near the scene of the crash. It was designed and constructed by a Polish company, using sandstone from Poland brought across Europe to Gibraltar where it now comprises much of the 5 metres wide memorial.
Harding’s Battery is a restored artillery battery that is also known as Harding’s Fort. It received its name after Sir George Harding, the Chief Engineer of Gibraltar at the time in 1844. The Battery is located at Europa Point at the southern end of Gibraltar and holds the Europa Sunken Magazine that today is utilised as an information center for visitors.
Next we took a steep ride to the top of the rock, offering breathtaking views.
We reached one of Gibraltars biggest landmarks – Saint Michael’s Cave – a network of limestone caves located within the Upper Rock Nature Reserve in the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, at a height of over 300 metres above sea level. According to Alonso Hernández del Portillo, the first historian of Gibraltar, its name is derived from a similar grotto in Monte Gargano near the Sanctuary of Monte Sant’Angelo in Apulia, Italy, where the archangel Michael is said to have appeared.
It is the most visited of the more than 150 caves found inside the Rock of Gibraltar, receiving almost 1,000,000 visitors a year.
The cave was created by rainwater slowly seeping through the limestone rock, turning into a weak carbonic acid which gradually dissolved the rock. Through this process, tiny cracks in The Rock’s geological fault grew into long passages and large caverns over thousands of years. The numerous stalactites and stalagmites in the cave are formed by an accumulation of traces of dissolved rock deposited by water dripping from the ground above.
In 1974 a Neolithic bowl was discovered in the cave, one of many examples which prove that the cave was known to prehistoric humans. Another would be the recently discovered cave art depicting an ibex drawn in charcoal on one of the cave walls.
During the Victorian era the cave was used as a venue for picnics, parties, concerts, weddings and even duels. The caves would be decorated for many of these events and even illuminated for distinguished visitors by soldiers who would perch on stalagmites with torches.
Officers looking for adventure during quiet times of service, would pass their time exploring the many passages within the cave system. Sometime before 1840, Colonel Mitchell accompanied by a second officer got lost in the caves and were never seen again. Their disappearance led to extensive explorations of the cave system in 1840, 1857 and 1865, but no evidence of the officers’ whereabouts was found. Further exploration was carried out between 1936 and 1938, when a scientific expedition was mounted and every known part of the cave system was explored but again no human remains were found.
It is believed that St. Michael’s Cave has had a military use since the Berber general Tariq ibn Ziyad led the Umayyad conquest of Hispania in 711 AD. This is assumed due to the defensive wall of Moorish origin which protected the cave’s entrance until recently.
During World War II the entire cave was prepared for use as an emergency military hospital. It was never used as such.
In 1942, it was decided that an alternate entrance was required to improve air circulation within the emergency hospital in the lower chambers of the cave, as well as to serve as an emergency exit in case of airstrike. Whilst blasting the rock in order to create the extra opening, another deeper system of caves known as New St. Michael’s Cave were discovered. The series of descending chambers are riddled with examples of almost all known cave formations, including an underground lake of crystal clear water.
The largest of the chambers, named the Cathedral Cave, currently serves as an auditorium. It was converted due to the chamber’s natural acoustic properties. It is equipped with a concrete stage and has a seating capacity of over 100.
The ticket for the cave is in combination with other landmarks and costs 12 pounds.
On the entrance we were greeted by the famous macaques. 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. Although most populations in Africa are experiencing declining populations due to hunting and deforestation, the population of Barbary monkeys in Gibraltar is increasing. Currently, some 300 animals in five troops occupy the Upper Rock area of the Gibraltar Nature Reserve, though they make occasional forays into the town.
A popular belief holds that, as long as Gibraltar Barbary macaques exist on Gibraltar, the territory will remain under British rule. In 1942 (during World War II), after the population dwindled to just a handful of individuals (just seven monkeys), British Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered their numbers be replenished immediately from forest fragments in both Morocco and Algeria because of this traditional belief.
Another story links Gibraltar to Africa by a subterranean passage over 24 km long which begins at Lower St. Michael’s Cave and passes under the Strait of Gibraltar, and the Gibraltar Barbary macaques entered the Rock from Morocco this way.
Our tour continued in the streets of this strange mixture of Moroccan, Spanish and British architecture and culture.
The tour ended and we had a few hours to see the town by ourselves. We spent them just walking around and having lunch with the unexpected fish and chips, a typical British meal. I still couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that this piece of land in the most far end of Europe is British territory 🙂
Since our hotel was in Spain, not in Gibraltar, we had to wait for our bus to get us there. But there was some miscommunication and the driver wasn’t allowed to enter back as you can’t enter, exit the territory and enter again in the same day. So we had a choice – to stay and wait for anther bus or walk by ourselves.
We chose the latter and google maps claimed that it would be a half an hour walk. This turned out a great idea, there were no problems at the border, no one even saw our passports, but we were rewarded by great views as the boulevard crosses the airport runway.
Our hotel was the same as our first day – Ohtels Campo de Gibraltar , so we wasn’t looking forward for the dinner and decided to look for paella in the nearby restaurants. We searched for a while, accompanied by rain but saw a little from the town and the sea.
So that’s the end of this day, the only thing left is our little walk in Malaga and then flight home.
So stay tuned and don’t forget to travel!