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Gibraltar - Top of the Rock

gibraltar

Whatever you may think of Gibraltar itself, nobody can deny that it is a fascinating place due to its history, geography, culture and unique status within the EC. The passengers on cruise liners calling at Gib have less than a day to explore The Rock. Most make it no further than Main Street. To fully appreciate Gib can take many days, weeks and some make it a life's work. I hope this short offering, that takes you to two places not often visited by toursists, will encourage more people to open their eyes to what Gib has to offer.

There is only one road into Gibraltar from the border. Whether you opt to drive or walk, after going through customs (don't forget your passport), you will go over the airfield runway. The original runway was built during the second world war and has been extended a number of times since. It is still in use as an RAF base, host to naval aircraft and for civilian flights. From here you can appreciate the Rock itself, a massive, almost sheer, limestone buttress. The caves you see, used as defensive gun positions, are the ends of the miles of tunnels excavated since the British gained Gibraltar in 1713. An entire city is hidden within the rock.

The town is entered through one of the gates through the massive walls built during the 18th and 19th Centuries. In those times the sea came right up to the walls, all the land outside the walls has been reclaimed over two centuries.

Walk up Main Street to the square just before Marks and Spencers and take the small alley at the top right hand side of the square that leads to the Gibraltar Museum. For £2 from 10am to 6pm Monday to Friday and 10am to 2pm on Saturdays you can discover the fauna, flora, history, geography and, through an excellent film, the geology, of Gibraltar. The museum itself appears small from the outside but is a rabbit warren of small rooms within. There is so much packed in that one visit is never enough.

From the museum return to Main Street and turn right. Walk up the street and you will soon see Governors House on the right. On occasional Saturdays at noon the changing of the guard ceremony takes place here with all the pomp and ceremony the Brits are renowned for. This ceremony used to take place every Saturday but security measures in 2005 were iintroduced and the dates of the ceremony are not announced so it's a case of being lucky.

One smaller ceremony that does happen at noon every Saturday starts at Casemates Square at the lower end of Main Street. Nine volunteers in 18th Century Infantry uniforms, to the sound of fife and drum, march up Main Street turn around and march back again for a well earned pint. The statement they are making is pretty obvious. Notice the smallest volunteer, well into his sixties, only as tall as his musket and with a grin from ear to ear.

gibraltar

Continue up Main Street and through the Cemetery Gates following the signs for the Alameda Gardens. The Alameda Gardens were opened in 1816 at the instigation of Lieutenant-Governor George Don who wished to provide a scenic walk for residents and visitors to Gibraltar "where the inhabitants might enjoy the air protected from the extreme heat of the sun". They have been developed and expanded ever since and provide a small tranquil sanctuary in the centre of this bustling town. The Alameda is now the home of the Gibraltar Botanical Gardens with displays of native foreign plants that grow in a Mediterranean environment. Many native and rare insects, reptiles, butterflies and birds have taken up residence. Sad that I am I try to go there once every couple of months so as not to miss anything in its season.

By the time you leave the Alameda you will be ready for a coffee. I have a theory there is a competition in Gib for serving the worst coffee on the planet - Morrisons are winning so far. The Piccadilly Garden Bar is on your left as you leave the gardens car park. Not only is it good coffee they are also known for their excellent, home made, churros and papitos. Churros are the round dough confections eaten with sugar and hot chocolate, the papitos are similar but straight. A sweet way to end the visit.

Not Too Hot For The Top of The Rock

gibraltar

In July it was too hot for the "Top of the Rock" but now, as we move into autumn, another aspect of Gibraltar can be explored in comfort.

For this day out we took the car into Gibraltar rather than use the official taxis to tour the Rock. Our main reason was that the guided tours tend to be rushed and, as Julie will tell you, I like to read every plaque and explore every cranny. Having got onto the Rock follow the signs for the 'Upper Rock'. Just past the Rock Hotel and Casino do not miss the left turn that takes you to the pay booth.

The car costs £1 and each person in it costs £7. Those prices include entrance to St. Michaels Cave, the Apes Den, the Great Seige Tunnels, the Moorish Castle and the 100 Ton Gun. If you do read every plaque it is a very full day.

From the pay booth, immediately ahead is the Pillar of Hercules monument and from there you can see, on a clear day, the Pillar in North Africa on Jebel Musa just west of Ceuta. The pillars feature in Greek mythology with all sorts of dire warnings designed to dissuade adventurous traders from going further west, thus protecting their trade routes. Beyond the pillars a mariner had to face turbulent seas, sea monsters, rapacious sirens, and, if he were really unlucky, he would sail off the edge of the world.

The next stop on the tour is St. Michael's Cave. Car parking is some way away up a steep hill so drop your passengers off and then park up, don't forget your entrance tickets. The cave is a natural series of passages and caverns worn out of the soluble limestone rock by the action of water.

There are some good examples of stalagmites, stalactites and calcite curtains. The largest cavern has been converted into an auditorium and must make a stunning setting for the Son et Lumiere shows. Unlike other caves on the Rock, there is no evidence that St. Michael's was ever occupied by prehistoric man despite the prominent cabinet containing a replica of the Neanderthal skull found at Forbes Quarry.

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Having retrieved the car take the road to the Apes Den. This is an area where the Barbary Macaques (Macaca Silvanus) are fed. One tale, told by the guides, says they were imported into Gibraltar by one of the Moorish rulers to remind him of home. A more likely story is that they were imported by the Brits in the early 18thC since the first written record of them dates back to 1740. The legend goes that if the apes leave Gibraltar then so will the British. There seems little danger of either occurrence. Keep your car windows shut.

These rascals are so used to humans that they swarm over your vehicle and, without the benefit of screw drivers, will relieve you of aerials and windscreen wipers. The local guides carry a stick for obvious reasons. Although you are not encouraged to feed the apes a blind eye is turned. They seem to appreciate dry pasta. Remove wrist watches, necklaces, rings and chains or the apes may remove them for you. It's good fun really.

Making sure you have no unwanted passenger within or on your car, carry on to the Great Siege Tunnels. The tunnels you visit are only a very small part of the 60 kilometres of tunnels that honeycomb the Rock. They were excavated during the Great Siege of Gibraltar, the Peninsular War and the Second World War. The Rock shelters a whole town complete with communications rooms, store rooms, magazines and so on.

gibraltar

The part open to visitors concentrates on the siege period and contains some good exhibits including the famous downward depressing gun. A certain Sergeant Major Ince was the man responsible for the idea of siege tunnels and as a reward was given a plot of land on the Rock which is still known as Ince's Farm. The gun ports give fabulous views over the airport and La Linea. During the Great Siege, 1779 - 1783 over 200,000 cannon balls were fired from these embrasures. Mind you the Spanish retrieved quite a few and fired them back.

The Moorish Castle is next. This small fortress commands the only land connection with Spain and dates back to the 11th Century. From the flag pole on the roof flies the Union Flag, just as a reminder you understand. The castle has undergone (2006) a long overdue renovation, the previous one was in 1333. Inside there are some lovely examples of Moorish wall and ceiling decorations. A couple of years ago some Spanish students infiltrated the castle and hoisted the Spanish National Flag. They found the Gibraltarians have no sense of humour.

Leaving the Rock follow the signs for the 100 ton gun which is situated just south of the docks. The gun was manufactured by Sir W C Armstrong at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in 1870 and was one of twelve. Eight were built for the Italian Navy, two were sent to Malta, and two to Gibraltar.

The 17.72 inch Rifled Muzzle loader has a barrel length of 32.65ft, of which 30.25ft are rifled and was capable of firing a 2000lb shell up to 8 miles. Hydraulic power generated by a steam engine was used to elevate and traverse the Gun. It took a minimum of 3 hours to develop the necessary head of steam to operate the mounting though this was quite acceptable since it took a Man O'War at least 3 hours to enter the bay of Gibraltar after being sited off the point of Tarifa in Spain.

gibraltar

It is said that during a visit of the Inspector-General of Artillery in 1902 the Gun was prepared to fire 5 rounds at full charge. On the first order to fire, the tube fired but that was all. After further attempts still nothing happened so the misfire drill was carried out but to no avail. At the end of the stipulated 30 minutes wait, the General asked for a volunteer to go down the bore and fasten the shell extractor to the projectile so that the Gun could be unloaded. After a long pause for consideration a small thin soldier stepped forward and volunteered for the task. Stripped to the waist, a rope round him and the extractor ready, he was himself 'loaded' into the Gun. A few moments later, to everyone's relief, he was hauled back safely, having completed his task.

The gunner's reward, though not princely, was immediate, as it is said that he was promoted to the rank of Bombardier that same day.

Articles and Stories

The Ceremony of The Keys
The Pillars of Hercules
The Red Arrows and The Battle of Britain

Days Out

The Alameda,

History

The Sieges of Gibraltar
The Tunnels and Airfield
Operation Felix
Operation Tracer
The Rockbuster, the 100 Ton Gun
The Trafalgar Cemetery
Fortress Gibraltar - The King's Bastion
The Treaty of Utrecht 1704

Walks in Andalucia

Mediterranean Steps Walk and Douglas Path

© Nicholas Craig Nutter 2004 - 2012. Nick Nutter asserts his rights as the author of this article and all associated images. This article and images may not be copied or reproduced in any way without written permission of the author.

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