Gibraltar is located on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula. Overlooking the strait of Gibraltar, it is linked to the Spanish mainland by a narrow isthmus.
This ancient "rock" attracts thousands of British ex-pats living in Spain. They go to stock up on all the English goodies they just cannot live without. Gibraltar has been British since 1704, but long before then, it was home to ancient civilizations. The Arabs and the Spanish, whose influences are evident in some of its buildings, have conquered it, but at the beginning of the 18th century, it fell to a combined Anglo-Dutch force. The treaty of Utrecht ceded it to Britain. Spain continues to protest that ruling and the age-old struggles continue.
This is our second visit to Gibraltar. The last time we were here, we took the cable car tour; it is one of the best ways to experience Gibraltar. The full tour includes a visit to St. Michaels cave and the Apes Den and includes a pocket Multimedia Tour (a hand-held computer that provides information and points out sites of interest). The views from the top are not to be missed. You will find the cable car base station at the end of Main Street, just through the city gates.
Open daily from 9:30am until the last car is down at 5.45pm; it costs £7 for visits to the top and Apes Den and £14 per person for the whole tour.
Today we plan to catch a bus to Europa Point, which marks the end of the European continent. Starting our walk from Casement Square (a 10-minute slow walk from our ship), we notice that the town is already awake. This large pedestrian plaza was once the parade ground for garrison soldiers. Today cafés, restaurants, and shops line its square, and the smell of bacon and eggs fill the air around us.
The sight of red mailboxes and familiar brand-named stores also heightens the sense of being in Britain. Marks & Spencer’s and Mother Care are on the left as we wander up Main Street. Interspersed with these familiar names is a fascinating selection of smaller shops selling everything from Chinese silks to designer jeans. It is an Aladdin’s cave of choice. Exquisite crystal and jewelry. Perfume leather and single-malt whisky. I get a little sidetracked and find a special treasure, but I am not here to shop. It would be easy to spend days exploring these shops in terms of buying power.
Contemplating our street map outside the Clipper pub in Irish town, we take a seat and order a coffee. "Here you are luv," says the smiling waitress in a thick Liverpool accent, and we hear the broadcast of a British quiz Show on sky TV, but the surrounding buildings and palms remind me that I am not in the UK. There are some quality buildings here, and we watch as a tradesman works his magic on the facade of newly renovated buildings. Lovely Georgian architecture is receiving remodeled cornices. Many of these balconied buildings and forest green shuttered houses lining the streets and alleyways were built by the Portuguese and Genoese. They vie now for space with cars that are crammed into the smallest of openings.
As we approach a beautiful malt-colored church, we note a heavy police presence. The annual red mass has just ended at the Cathedral of St. Mary The Crowned. All the legal eagles of Gibraltar emerge in powdered wigs and robes. The cathedral is built on the site of what used to be a mosque. In 1462 King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella decreed it to be a church. Their coat of arms remains in the courtyard.
Just across the street is the Kings Chapel. A small sign on the sidewalk invites visits, so we go in. This Anglican chapel (1480) has many memorials and adornments around the walls and was used as the force’s church. It is a beautiful and peaceful place, with stained glass windows and gleaming walnut pews (free admission).
We caught the bus just outside the Queens hotel near Trafalgar cemetery. WE took the number three blue line. We paid the driver. It was a 2.50€ per person return. A daily pass costs 3€, and buses run every 30 minutes. It was a 10-minute drive up to the point, and we sat on the right side of the bus for the best view. Europa point at the south end of Europa road marks the end of the European continent. The lighthouse there is the only one regulated by Trinity house outside the UK and dates back to 1841.
Prior to the lighthouse, the Chapel of our Lady Of Europe was the original light source. A light was kept burning in the tower above the chapel, and it is Gibraltar’s national shrine. Although pirates plundered the shrine, the 15th-century statue of the Virgin and child is still venerated to this day. Also, a museum there depicts its long history. To reach the shrine from the lighthouse, walk to the left of the last shop in Europe and continue up past the houses; the shrine is a 5-minute walk on the left. Unfortunately, it was closed for painting when we visited. Also at the point is a new mosque that was built in 1997. It is called Ibrahim-Al- Ibrahim and was paid for by King Fahad-al Saud.
It is open to non-Muslims outside of prayer times, but it was closed when we were there. It is a very striking building and can be seen for miles from the ocean.
At Europa point, we joined a group in a mini-cab that was going to view O Hara’s battery. We spoke with a couple who offered to share their cab with us. We had intended to walk, but it was a bit too far. The battery is located at the highest point of the cliff. This gun emplacement was capable of firing artillery shells from Europe into Africa, but it has never been fired in anger. The views of Europe and over to Africa are spectacular. Two landmasses meet. The limestone whiteness of the cliffs of Gibraltar high-five the serrated inky crest of the Moroccan shore. Greeks and Romans called these peaks The Pillars of Hercules and thought them to be the end of the known world. As we stand drinking in the view, another mini-bus draws up. A family of five emerges, including two boys and a girl of around 15. I hear the mother bark at the girl, " Try to at least look as if you are enjoying this Joanne. It cost a lot, and they are the pillars of bleeding Hercules you know." Joanne stares impassively ahead, "I am, it’s great get off my back." She’s doing her best, but I sense she would rather be anywhere but here. A quick photo, and they all disappear into the van, as they have seen the "Pillars Of Bleedin Hercules."
The taxi takes us back down to Main Street (3€ per couple). We wander down main street and find a seat in a café on casement square. A nice cup of English tea is just the ticket, but my husband plumps for a pint of British beer. Gibraltar is a fascinating blend of cultures that have all left their stamp on the town. The result is that it can offer the visitor something for everyone ranging, from its museum of archeological treasures to exciting shopping and a wealth of scenery.
Tourist information centers can be found in Casemates Square (near the museum) and at the coach park stop.
Taxis are plentiful; most wait near the Trafalgar cemetery at the end of main street. The cost for a taxi tour, depending on the amount of people, is around £20 per person.
Buses run on most routes, but they do not go to the top of the rock. A daily ticket costs €3.