Gibraltar: The Rock

Gibraltar stands like
a fortress, the gateway
to the Mediterranean. A stubborn little piece of
old England, it’s one of the last bits
of a British Empire that at one time controlled
a quarter of the planet. The rock itself seems to
represent stability and power. And as if to remind visitors that they’ve left Spain
and entered the United Kingdom, international flights
land on this airstrip which runs along the border. Car traffic has to stop
for each plane. Still, entering Gibraltar is far
easier today than back when Franco blockaded
this border — from the late 1960s
until the ’80s, the only way in
was by sea or air. Now you just have to wait for
the plane to taxi by, and Bob’s your uncle. The sea once reached
these ramparts. A modern development
grows into the harbor, and today half the city
is built upon reclaimed land. Gibraltar’s old town
is long and skinny, with one main street. Gibraltarians are a proud bunch. Remaining steadfastly loyal
to Britain, its 30,000 residents
vote overwhelmingly to continue as a self-governing
British dependency. Within a generation
the economy has gone from one dominated by the military
to one based on tourism. But it’s much more than
sunburned Brits on holiday — Gibraltar is
a crossroads community, with a jumble of Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Italians
joining the English, and all crowded together at
the base of this mighty rock. With its strategic setting, Gibraltar has an illustrious
military history and remnants of its martial past
are everywhere. The rock is honeycombed
with tunnels. Many were blasted out
by the Brits in Napoleonic times. During World War II, Britain drilled 30 more miles
of tunnels. The hundred-ton gun
is one of many cannon that both protected Gibraltar and controlled shipping
in the strait. A cable car whisks visitors
from downtown to the rock’s 1,400 foot summit. From “the top of the rock,” Spain’s Costa del Sol
arcs eastward. And 15 miles across the hazy
strait of Gibraltar, the shores of Morocco beckon. These cliffs
and those over in Africa created what ancient societies
in the Mediterranean world called “the Pillars
of Hercules.” For centuries, they were the foreboding gateway
to the unknown. Descending the rock,
whether you like it or not, you’ll meet the famous apes
of Gibraltar. Two hundred of these mischief
makers entertain tourists. And with all the visitors, they’re bold
and they get their way. You can have — you can have —
you can –! Here on the rock of Gibraltar, the locals are very friendly,
but give them your apples. Legend has it that as long as
these apes are here, the British will stay
in Gibraltar.


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