Nobody can deny that Gibraltar is a true British colony on Spanish soil, which incorporates English customs with those of Andalucia.
Its 30,000 inhabitants, who live in the Iberian Peninsula just north of Africa, speak Spanish with a strong, distinctive accent (although the official language is English), and curiously, are loyal to Queen Elizabeth.
Yet, these people certainly do not consider themselves to be English or Spanish. They speak of themselves as being proudly native of this land, and have their own flag to prove it.
This fervor for independence could be due to their controversial history. In 1969, when the United Nations questioned the authenticity of the English colonies, Spain closed off its border, and cut off telephone lines.
This is how Gibraltar remained for 16 years, until the European Economic Community opened the borders once again.
This country is a strange amalgam of cultures, which have merged to create a lifestyle independent from that of the rest of Europe. This is also seen in its independent economy, fundamentally based in tourism, and although production is not its forte, it has developed a relatively strong economic profile.
Its duty-free port has led many to call it “the Commercial Center of the Mediterranean” with good reason. This alone is enough to draw tourists from all over the world, who enjoy a fine selection of porcelain, crystals, clothes, perfumes, liquor, jewelry, silks and electronics (which come in a variety of voltages, for use in different countries).
This type of “city-shopping” (it’s small for a city, with only six square kilometers, but its selection for shopping is immense) has consequently developed all the necessities for tourists. For example, money can easily be changed in any bank or money-changing house. The Gibraltar pound is on par with its English counterpart.
Shopping is not the only activity in Gibraltar; there are several other places of interest and tourist activities, such as the city tour. This 90 minute tour begins in the Botanical Gardens of The Grove, where fountains, statues and waterfalls combine with Mediterranean pines, olive trees and palms, as well as a collection of cacti from all over the world.
There is also a beautiful outdoor theater, surrounded by tropical irises, where concerts can be enjoyed. There is a cable car in the park , open every day but Sunday, which provides visitors with spectacular views of the immense Mediterranean, as well as the Moroccan coast, from the top of the Rock.
Amazingly, there is even more to admire from the peak: a natural reserve of great scientific interest. This reserve houses dens of macaques, or “Gibraltar monkeys”. These are the direct descendants of the tailless breed that are indigenous to Morocco and Algeria, and are the only monkeys in Europe that currently survive in their natural habitat.
The grotto of St. Michael, found 300 meters below sea level, is a must-see. It is known to have been inhabited by Neolithic man, and the Romans also visited it to enjoy its hundreds of stalactites and stalagmites (which today, serve as the ideal setting for a light and sound show that is done twice daily). It was once said that the cave had no end, and connected Gibraltar to Africa. Today, we know that despite its many passages, it has a depth of 62 meters. This is only one of Gibraltar’s 140 caves.
Another main attraction is the tunnels of the great siege. This is a labyrinth excavated by the English in the interior of the Rock of Gibraltar during the Great Siege. According to the tour guides, this represents “one of the greatest defense systems ever made by man.”
The fortification of the city is another example of human accomplishment worth seeing. These walls, constructed around the old city of Gibraltar, were erected by the Arabs and later reinforced by the English and the Spanish.There are various important constructions, one of which is the Wall of Carlos the 5th, (or Carlos the 1st, of Spain), made in the 16th century to defend the city from pirate attacks. Another is the Landport Bridge, which, in the past, offered the only access by land to Gibraltar.
This curious mix of Arabic, Spanish and British history is notable also in the architecture. At first sight, Gibraltar seems to be a 18th century British town, but as you approach more closely, it transforms into a 15th or 16th century Spanish village. Even closer inspection reveals details from a former 11th or 12th century Arabic city.
The culture of the city is also a mosaic of traditions, although some British customs persist, such as the changing of the guard done in the doorway to the governor’s residence.
Far from the usual tourist circuits, one can find the true charm of Gibraltar, such as that of its beaches. On the East Side lie Camp Bay and Little Bay, both perfect for windsurfing, diving and sailing. The beaches to the west are sandier and get all the morning sun.
Either of these options, combined with duty-free shopping, seem to be more than enough for the more than four million tourists who visit Gibraltar each year.