Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory (There are 14 British Overseas Territories in the world including Bermuda and the Falkland Islands) on Spain’s south coast. It’s dominated by the Rock of Gibraltar, a 426m-high limestone ridge. First settled by the Moors in the Middle Ages and later ruled by Spain, the outpost was ceded to the British in 1713.
Layers of fortifications include the remains of a 14th-century Moorish Castle and the 18th century Great Siege Tunnels, which were expanded in WWII. Gibraltar is just 6.8km2 in size and, with a population of about 30,000 people, has the 5th highest density of any country or territory in the world.
English is the official language of Gibraltar but many people also speak Spanish and the local language, which is called Llanito and has a mix of Mediterranean words in it.
The official currency of Gibraltar is the pound and you can spend notes and coins from the UK in the territory – but you can’t use the locally-produced notes or coins back in the UK. Just like in Britain, telephone boxes and post boxes are painted red.
Gibraltar has its own political system that makes many decisions within the territory but issues like defence and foreign affairs are determined by the UK Government in London.
Gibraltar uses the same timezone as Spain (one hour ahead of the UK) and the people drive on the right like in continental Europe. There is virtually no tax on goods in Gibraltar so you will see many tourists stocking up with alcohol and cigarettes as they prepare to leave. A packet of 20 cigarettes in the UK would cost you about £10 but in Gibraltar it would only be around £2. A litre of gin would cost around £25 in the UK but only £10 in Gibraltar.
In sport, Gibraltar has applied to be a part of the Olympics but so far hasn’t been accepted (and probably never will under the current rules). However, it has competed at 15 Commonwealth Games albeit without winning any medals. The territory is also trying to become a full member of FIFA but, for now, has to settle to be a part of UEFA, in which it was granted membership in 2013. Of the 12 UEFA matches that Gibraltar has played, it has won just once against another small country, Malta.
Gibraltar has its own international airport, though space is at a premium so the runway serves as the road into town! The runway covers most of the width of the Spanish border and is used by pedestrians when no planes are landing
There is a rumour that the 50 kilometres of tunnels dug into the Rock of Gibraltar are protected from radiation and the effects of a nuclear bomb and would be used as a secure bunker for the UK government and royal family in the event of a nuclear holocaust. Let’s hope the rumour never gets put to the test…
Gibraltar is famous for its ‘monkeys’, but these are actually macaques. Despite their close links to the territory, they were very nearly wiped out in the Second World War. With just 7 left, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, ordered that reinforcements be brought across from North Africa with the result that something like 300 now roam the Rock.
The national dish of Gibraltar is the ‘calentita’, something like a baked pancake. It is made from chickpea flour, water, olive oil, salt and pepper. In a way it reflects Gibraltar well in that the territory doesn’t have any agricultural land so there has been a reliance on cheap, filling food. There’s now an annual food festival in Gibraltar named in honour of this humble dish – The Calentita Festival.
Did you know that you can get married in Gibraltar at just one day’s notice and the marriage will be recognised worldwide? This speed has appealed to a number of celebrities including John Lennon and Yoko Ono and James Bond himself, Sean Connery, who has twice been married on The Rock. If the Registry Office is too boring for you, other venues such as the botanical gardens are now licensed to conduct weddings.
There are six beaches along the coastline of Gibraltar, though there have been some historic challenges in maintaining them. Sandy Bay beach was the victim of man-made structures like marinas and beach breakers further north mostly in Spain which altered the tide and wave flows. Various attempts were made before 2014 to replenish the sand only for it to be washed away the following winter. In 2014 a breaker was built to protect the newly imported sand.
The education system follows the British model and, once students complete their A Levels, a large proportion of them go on to study in UK universities sponsored by the Gibraltar Government.
A wide variety of faiths are represented in this multi-cultural community. The majority of the population are Roman Catholics with access to a Roman Catholic Cathedral and a number of Catholic churches. There is an Anglican Cathedral, four Synagogues, a Hindu Temple, two Mosques, a Wesleyan Church, a Presbyterian Church of Scotland and other assorted religious groups.