Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Gibraltar - a very special place.

2 cruise liners dock and spill out their  passengers
There are so many more architecturally superior cities than Gibraltar - think of Rome or Paris or Barcelona, Madrid or Seville. So why do we come back to Gibraltar? It is the popular stop of cruise liners. It is the hop across the border from Spain for cheap booze, petrol and cigarettes. It has fish and chips, red telephone boxes and English style pubs with British beers and people who speak English. There is tax free shopping in Mothercare, Marks and Spencers, British Home Stores and branches of British banks. There are the cute apes that will snatch your camera or packed lunch in a second or who can be tempted by the tour guides to pose on your shoulder. You are not tempted? None of these are the reason for The Curate and I returning to Gibraltar.

The main road crosses the airport runway.
There is constant noise - noise from the generators that power Gibraltar, noise from the  scooters that buzz around this outcrop like flies, noise from the mass of people who pass up and down Main street and sit in the open air bars and cafes exchanging news in a mix of Gibraltarian and English.  There is the noise of building, building on every possible scrap of rock and, if there is no rock, reclaimed land from the sea. There is the smell and noise from the engines of 500 or more cars an hour, squeezing themselves over the border onto this tiny peninsular. It doesn't sound like a holiday destination.

But look beyond the obvious, suppress your prejudices - look up above the shops, look round the corners and into the passage ways. If you are really observant you can spot the Rock's history in so many places. If you are exploring without a guide, you are helped with excellent heritage signs that explain what you are looking at. Gibraltar was a fortress and fought over many times. It is the northern Pillar of Hercules - sail pass this and you were in the unknown . It is thought to be the last outpost of  Neanderthal man  who lived in the caves in the limestone rock. 
In AD 711 it was conquered by the Moors and the Moorish castle still stands as evidence of their occupation. The Rock itself is riddled with tunnels - these helping it to survive 'The great siege' between 1779 and 1883. During the 2nd world war these tunnels were in full use  with hospitals and command centres being situated actually inside the rock. We were lucky enough to be taken on a tour when we lived in Gibraltar. Looking out to Spain from an opening high up on the north face of the rock, that you probably would not have noticed from ground level, is amazing These Siege tunnels are now open for everyone to see.
Gibraltar has a turbulent past - fought over by different countries and civilizations often because of its strategic position.

It is the last resting place of sailors who may have survived the battle of Trafalgar and there is a leafy green graveyard that you pass on the way to the cable car. It is a place to stop and rest, read and remember.  

We just scratch the surface of Gibraltar - each time we visit we discover something new and we see huge changes. Hopefully, despite the need to provide modern housing, the Gibraltarian government will value the old town. Hopefully all the Gibraltarians will learn the history of Gibraltar. Our taxi driver told us he only learned about Gibraltar when he became a tour guide and 'Did we know there had been a prisoner of war camp in Gibraltar?' .

This is only part of the reason we return to this unique, perhaps unlikely holiday destination. It is because here, towards the end of our posting here with  Royal Navy - my husband walked through our front door and told me that he knew all that he had been hearing in The Methodist Church - was true. And from that moment - the direction of his life changed ......and mine.
 And every so often, we both need to be reminded of this very special place.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely post with a lovely end to it. I am an inveterate traveller--and maybe shouldn't read travel posts! I want to go there!