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Gibraltar, a huge rock of sand and limestone that forms a peninsula almost at the very southern tip of Spain. It has always been a strategic location. In the eighth century, the Islamic invasion of Iberia began when Muslims landed on the rock and headed inland from there. A millennium later, the British wrestled with the Spaniards over the land, eventually gaining full control. Now, almost three centuries later, Gibraltar remains under British sovereignty: it is an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom.
It is a fascinating place, not only for its history. Gibraltarians are a modern mix of Spanish, Jewish, British and Genoese descendants, though they firmly regard themselves as British. Reminders of past conflict can be found around Gibraltar, whether in the museum or in the town centre. Though Gibraltar may not be worth much more than a week's visit, any trip to the Iberian Peninsula is incomplete without a journey to Gibraltar.
On 30 April 711, a Berber-dominated army crossed the Strait from Ceuta. The first attempted to land at Algeciras but failed. Subsequently, he landed undetected at the southern point of the Rock. The Almohad Sultan Abd al-Mu'min built a fortification on the Rock in the 1150s. Gibraltar would later become part of the Kingdom of Granada until 1309, when Castillian troops briefly occupied it. In 1333, the Marinids, who had invaded Muslim Spain, conquered it, but ceded Gibraltar to the Kingdom of Granada in 1374. Finally, the Duke of Medina Sidonia reconquered it in 1462. In 1501 Gibraltar passed again under the hands of the Spanish Crown,
The Battle of Gibraltar took place on 25 April 1607 during the Eighty Years' War when a Dutch fleet attacked the Spanish fleet anchored at the Bay of Gibraltar. During the battle the entire Spanish fleet was destroyed. During the War of the Spanish Succession, English and Dutch troops, allies of Archduke Charles, the Austrian pretender to the Spanish Crown, formed a joint fleet and attacked various towns on the southern coast of Spain. On 4 August 1704, they captured the town of Gibraltar and claimed it in the name of the Archduke Charles. The Treaty of Utrecht, which ended the war, awarded Britain sovereignty over Gibraltar. Gibraltar became a key base for the British Royal Navy, playing an important part prior to the Battle of Trafalgar. Its strategic value increased with the opening of the Suez Canal.
During World War II, the British turned the Rock into a fortress and converted the civilian racecourse into an airfield. In the 1950s, Spain, under the dictatorship of Franco, renewed its claim to sovereignty over Gibraltar. Gibraltar's first sovereignty referendum was held on 10 September 1967. The vote was overwhelmingly in favour of continuance of British sovereignty. In response, Spain completely closed the border with Gibraltar. The border with Spain was partially reopened in 1982, and fully reopened in 1985 prior to Spain's accession into the European Union. Joint talks on the future of The Rock held between Spain and the United Kingdom have occurred since the late 1980s under the Brussels Agreement. In July 2002 proposals for joint sovereignty with Spain were revealed A second sovereignty referendum was organised in Gibraltar in November 2002, which rejected any idea of joint sovereignty by 17,900 votes to 187.
Gibraltar covers less than 7 square kilometres and shares a 1.2-kilometre land border with Spain. On the Spanish side lies the town of La Línea de la Concepción, a municipality of the province of Cádiz. The Spanish hinterland forms the comarca of Campo de Gibraltar (literally Gibraltar Countryside). The shoreline measures 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) in length. There are two coasts (sides) of Gibraltar – the east side, which contains the settlements of Sandy Bay and Catalan Bay, and the west side, where the vast majority of the population lives. Gibraltar has no administrative divisions but is divided into seven major residential areas.
Having negligible natural resources and few natural freshwater resources, limited to natural wells in the north, until recently Gibraltar used large concrete and/or natural rock water catchments to collect rainwater. Gibraltar's terrain consists of the 426-metre high Rock of Gibraltar made of Jurassic limestone, and the narrow coastal lowland surrounding it. It contains many tunnelled roads, most of which are still operated by the military and closed to the general public.
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One of the main sights in Gibraltar are the Barbary Macaques, a species of monkey. These monkeys have been on the rock long before the British took control. Some say they have been there for millions of years. Other say the Moors brought them from Africa as pets, some people even think they came from underground tunnels linking the rock back to Africa. According to local legend as long as the Barbary Macaques exist the British will maintain control of the rock. During World War II the population dwindled to only seven and Sir Winston Churchill ordered that their numbers grow at any costs. From the 1950s on the government has taken strict control of the Barbary Macaques population and health, including identification tags and a yearly census. Even though the Barbary Macaques have become used to humans remember it is illegal to feed them and the fine is £500. If you go up the rock, don't take any food or drink and keep a strong grip on your possessions as they are likely to snatch things right out of your hands.
The Moors controlled Gibraltar for a total of 710 years. During their first reign they built the original castle, most likely in the 8th century. This original castle was destroyed when Spain took back Gibraltar in 1309. When the Moors re-conquered Gibraltar in 1350 they rebuilt a new castle. When Spain took it back again in 1462 the Tower of Homage was saved, which was one of the tallest towers of the Islamic period in the Iberian Peninsula. Today the castle and the tower are two very popular tourist sights.
St. Michael's Cave has been a tourist sight since Roman times. The cave is in the Upper Rock Nature Reserve and is quite stunning. The Cathedral Cave, which is the largest, is over 24-kilometre-long under the straits. There are countless chambers and caves to explore and some were even prepared to be used as hospital during World War II, even though they were never used for that purpose. The Cathedral Cave is now used as an auditorium, which holds many popular events.
Gibraltar’s first major festival of the year takes place on the day before Epiphany, when people in costumes toss sweets to the townsfolk during the annual Three Kings Cavalcade parade along Main Street. Marching bands play lively music and prizes are presented for the most impressive floats.
Each year between January and February, the four-star Caleta Hotel hosts one of the world’s most prestigious chess tournaments. Nearly 60 Grand Masters participate in the Gibraltar Chess Festival, whose final event boasts around 240 players from around the world.
Although luxury yachts are the star of this April event, automobiles, fashion, dance, and music are also main attractions. Gibraltar’s police and navy display their latest vessels, while the water zone at the Ocean Village Marina offers dolphin watching tours, canoe racing, and scuba diving lessons.
Gibraltar’s most important national holiday takes place on September 10, the anniversary of the 1967 sovereignty referendum, when citizens voted to stay under British sovereignty instead of joining Spain. Residents dress in white and red, the colors of their flag, and join a lively street fest on the Naval Grounds. A food fair showcasing some of Gibraltar’s tastiest dishes takes place at the John Mackintosh Square, while Grand Casemates offers a children’s corner filled with amusement rides and bouncy castle. Fireworks are held over the Bay of Gibraltar and 30,000 red and white balloons representing Gibraltar’s total population are released into the sky.
The most talented local musicians get the opportunity to share the stage with some of the world’s most famous musical acts at the annual Gibraltar Song Festival. This early September event features a songwriting contest where hundreds of people around the world compete to win a large cash prize. All proceeds are donated directly to area charities.
Gibraltar is not usually overly cold at Christmas, but the waters of Catalan Bay are frigid on this Boxing Day event where dozens of brave (or crazy?) people take the plunge during the city’s annual Polar Bear Swim. Warm mulled wine and mince pies help bathers warm up once they return to dry land.
Gibraltar has a pleasantly Mediterranean climate with generally warm dry summers and mild but wet winters. Temperatures are around 29 °C during the summermonths of July and August. January and February still have average highs of around 16 °C or 17 °C. Nights vary between 10 °C in January to a warm 21 °C in August. Summers are a bit cooler and winters a bit warmer compared to southern Spain. November to March are the wettest months, actually wetter compared to neighbouring regions in southern Spain. Summermonhs have little or sometimes no rainfall. Gibraltar is also known for its wind and the airport and port can be affected because of it.
Gibraltar International airport has a limited number of flights, for example with Iberia to Madrid and with Monarch Airlines to easyJet is planning to fly to and from Air Malta has seasonal chartered flights to and from Malta.
Gibraltar doesn't have a trainstation but with RENFE, the Spanish Railways, you can travel to Algeciras and San Roque, which are a short drive away.
The border with Spain is near La Linea and crossings are easy. Be sure to have your documentation in order. Take the N-340 and turn off at San Roque for La Línea. If there are long queues, park your car and walk across, it's just a 15-minute walk or so to the rock.
Many people who come to Gibraltar have their own car or rented a car in Spain. For renting cars in Spain, check the Spain article. There are few roads but all are tarred.
Bus number 3 runs between the border, the town and on to Europa Point. Buses are run by the Gibraltar Bus Company
and there are several lines more, including number 2, 4 and 9.
Taxis are widely available for short trips as well as longer organized tours.
Gibraltar is about 7 square kilometres big and most things can be seen by foot as well. Some parts might be steep though, so an average physical condition is the least you need.
The Cable Car will take you to the top of the Rock via the middle station. From here you can enjoy St. Michael's Cave and the Apes' Den. A round trip costs €9 for adults, less for children.
Same requirements as for the United Kingdom. Which means that: Passport holders of members countries of the European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA), or Switzerland have the right of free movement and residence in the UK.
European Economic Area: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Irish Republic, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom. Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway are not members of the European Union (EU) but citizens of these countries have the same rights to enter, live in and work in the United Kingdom as EU citizens.
For all other nationals, entry clearance (visa) may or may not be required for visiting Gibraltar.
Nationals from the following countries do not require entry clearance (visa) for a stay of three or six months:
Andorra, Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Botswana, Brazil, British Virgin Islands, Brunei, Canada, Caymen Islands, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Dominica, East Timor, El Salvador, Falkland Islands, Faroes, Greenland, Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong (SAR), Israel, Japan, Kiribati, Korea (South), Macau (SAR), Malaysia, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Monaco, Montserrat, Namibia, Nauru, Netherlands Antilles, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Saint Helena, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent, Samoa, San Marino, Seychelles, Singapore, South Georgia and Sandwich Islands, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tristan da Cunha, Turks and Caicos Islands, Tuvalu, United States, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Vatican City.
Visa nationals are required to apply for entry clearance before entering the UK.
For the latest visa requirements, visa application guides and other immigration matters, refer to the UK Border Agency Visa Services.
See also: Money Matters
The official currency of Gibraltar is the pound (£, GIP) which is at par with the British Pound (GBP). One pound is 100 pence (p).
Banknotes are in denominations of £5, £10, £20, £50.
Coins come in 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1, £2.
You can also use euros (€) and in some places even US dollars but be careful about the exchange rate as the pricing is always in GBP.
Gibraltar has a favourable corporate tax regime, and many online gambling websites choose to make Gibraltar their base of operations and employ thousands of people in an ever-thriving jobs market.
Gibraltar's official language is English, although most local people also speak Spanish.
That said, most locals converse in Llanito, which is essentially a mix of Andalusian Spanish and British English, a creole unique to Gibraltar. Also keep in mind that many businesses such as cafes and restaurants employ monolingual Spanish workers from across the border. In restaurants, it may not be that different from dining in Spain, language wise.
If you like to sit outside and watch the world go by, head for Casemates Square where a number of pubs & restaurants serve fairly similar meals, with the exception of Cafe Solo which serves good Italian food.
Irish Town, the road which runs parallel to Main Street has a number of bars, like The Clipper which has good food, friendly staff, and satellite television. They serve a hearty English breakfast. There is also Corks which serves more substantial lunches.
If you fancy dining waterside the marinas are worth a visit.
Presumably due to Gibraltar's very limited space - accommodations are expensive. Due to this, many opt for staying across the border in La Linea, Spain & walking across the border.
See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Gibraltar.
See also: Travel Safety
Gibraltar has a low crime rate and a large and efficient police force to ensure it stays that way.
There are a few recent reports, however, of people being attacked on the Spanish side of the border while returning to Gibraltar on foot late at night. It might be smart to take a taxi home after dark if you have been drinking at the bars in Spain, especially if you are by yourself.
Tourists should be aware that the Barbary macaques are wild animals and do bite. It is advisable not to feed the Barbary macaque, despite encouragement from irresponsible taxi drivers. In addition, there are kiosks recklessly selling 'monkey food', further encouraging this. It is indeed illegal (hefty fines are in force) and bad for their health. Never try to pick up a baby Barbary macaque - its mother will not be happy, and neither will you. If you are bitten by a Barbary macaque, you will require hospital treatment. Whilst the Barbary macaques are rabies-free they can infect you with hepatitis, and they are most aggressive on the top of the rock, as the most successful animals claim the uppermost reaches of the rock, with their less successful fellows being shoved down the rock and the social pecking order.
Some bars and restaurants offer free wifi.
See also: International Telephone Calls
Gibraltar's international telephone code is +350. All landline numbers in Gibraltar have been prefixed with 200 since 2008, making all numbers 8-digit long now. If you come across with a 5-digit number, just prefix it with 200 (and, of course, with the country code prior to that if you are calling from out of Gibraltar).
The prefix to dial prior to country code for international calls is 00 in Gibraltar.
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