Gibraltar is situated at the narrow entrance to the Mediterranean Sea on one side of the well-known Straits of Gibraltar. Across the water a dozen miles away lies Northern Africa. Far from a mere geological outcropping, the city is a fascinating mixture of Spanish and British culture.
The Rock of Gibraltar, of course, is famous. But that fame derives from much more than merely being a curiosity in a large body of crystal blue water.
Among other things, it is the home to several tribes of Barbary Macaques, tailless monkeys who were carried here centuries earlier by traders. The only wild monkeys in Europe, these residents of The Rock freely make their way around among the humans, stealing ice cream and cameras when they can. Tourists, be on guard.
Visit about 160 of them in the Apes Den at Queens Gate, or near the area of the Great Seige Tunnels. Part of the Upper Rock Nature Reserve, it’s perched 420m (1380 ft) above the water and also houses buzzards and Barbary partridges.
Further up, which can easily be reached by cable car, there are spectacular views of the Mediterranean as well as Spain, visible in the distance. Down below there is also much to see and do, not least of which is St. Michael’s Cave.
Actually a vast system of caves, full of stalagmites and stalactites, is reminiscent of the caves of Nerja on the Spanish mainland. Used as a hospital during WWII, it now holds many wonders for the fit, a requirement to hike within. Not least of those is a huge auditorium where concerts are performed.
Nearby are the Seige Tunnels, built by the British during the Great Siege of the late 18th century. From 1779-1783 the French and Spanish laid siege to the British citizens of Gibraltar but failed to drive them out. The tunnels were carved during those years in order to move and place artillery throughout the Rock of Gibraltar without being fired upon by the enemy. One such, known as The Notch, is over 600 feet (183 m) long.
Also not far away, and part of The Reserve is the Moorish Castle. Built in the 14th century during the Moorish occupation of Spain, it is yet one more example of the diversity of Andalucia.
One of the most popular attractions of Gibraltar is the Governor’s House, also known as The Convent. The latter name derives from the ground’s use as a Franciscan convent from 1531-1704. Next door is the King’s Chapel, a small structure once part of the Franciscan convent, later the garrison church.
Guarded by soldiers of the Royal Gibraltar Regiment, the changing of the guards is one of the highlights of any visit. As a British colony, Gibraltar maintains many of the traditions of the empire. Nowhere is this more evident than in the guard changing ceremony. Another is the fact that the site has been the official residence of the Governor of Gibraltar, officially a British subject, since 1728. At first glance, things seem to have changed little since then.