I have been in and around Gibraltar for 20 years so when the Gibraltar Tourist Board recently asked me would I like to go on a tour to see some sides of the Rock perhaps I wasn’t aware of, what was my reaction?
For the answer to that question you have to go 1,000 miles north to my native London. As a child I walked every part of the city, West End, Westminster – you name it, I went there. Yet if you speak to the average Londoner whilst they rattle off the names of all the historic sites and attractions, they will then look guilty and say: “actually I have never been to the Tower of London”. Hence my immediate response to the GTB’s kind offer was an enthusiastic yes!
There are numerous ways to arrive on the Rock but probably the three main groups who visit Gibraltar are: tourists from the Costa del Sol who come by coach on a day trip; residents or holidaymakers who come by car and those who fly in and stay at one of the Rock’s hotels.
If you ask the majority of them what did they see their answer will be the airport because you have to cross the runway to get in or out, Main Street plus Casemates Square, the Cathedrals, the Trafalgar Museum, many will have done the Rock tour and seen the various tunnels dating from the years of siege and World War II, been out in the bay to see the dolphins plus of course visited Gibraltar’s famous apes or rather macaques.
I have done all these things numerous times myself often in the company of visiting friends and family. I have also been round the back streets and harbours but I didn’t realise until Gail took me on the tour the numerous places I have missed or was simply not aware of.
Gail is a former Miss Gibraltar and also a very fine artist yet at heart she is a Gibraltarian with a great pride in her Rock; the fact she works for the tourist board is almost incidental. I have yet to meet a Gibraltarian who wasn’t an ambassador for the Rock. We drove around for nearly four hours so what I saw would fill a book rather than an article. Here I will list just some highlights.
Devil’s Tower Road is not the most glamorous place on the Rock. It is an industrial zone which is now being beautified which may mean that in years to come the cave behind the buildings will become more accessible. It was here in 1848 at Forbes’ Quay they discovered the ancient skull of a woman. Eight years later in Germany they discovered an identical skull from the same period. That is now universally known as Neanderthal man but the world should really be talking about Gibraltar woman.
A non-Gibraltarian would never think of Gibraltar as a beach destination. It is a giant rock with harbours and the odd patch of sand over by the Caleta Hotel. The reality is very different with a splendid Eastern Beach but many others hidden away. Actually they are simple to find – you ask the tourist office.
When you used to drive along the eastern side of the Rock you passed an engineering marvel. The catchments literally caught the rain and it ran down the huge corrugated sheets into reservoirs in the Rock. Now they have gone but what is left is even more extraordinary. Once when the Med was land locked it was a desert and the winds blew the sand against the Rock face. The result was a huge sand dune now many millions of years old but which remains intact and newly planted with native species. Incidentally the Rock of Gibraltar is Jurassic limestone dating back some 200 million years but what you see is inverted because in the seismic activity it was turned upside down before the Atlantic roared in and created the Mediterranean.
Everybody knows that Gibraltar is British having been ceded by Spain in perpetuity by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Prior to it being under Spanish rule it became part of the Muslim empire in the seventh century – its name Gibraltar coming from the Arabic Jebel Tarik – Tarik’s Rock. It was named after the Berber chief Tarik Ibn Zeyad who took if for the Moors. So logically there is British Colonial, Spanish and Moorish architecture to be seen. However apart from the Greeks, Visigoths, Phoenicians and Romans all passing through the modern day people of Gibraltar also come from Genoa, Malta, Portugal and numerous other places and that influence can be seen in the houses and buildings of the Rock, especially those in the myriad of side streets.
Queensway Quay has long been popular with tourists but there are now many other marinas in Gibraltar. Perhaps the pride of place goes to Ocean View with its stunning development of top of the market apartments which hide the harbour. Apart from a 24-hour casino it is packed with bars and restaurants on pontoons – some with live music. It is the first port of call for Gibraltarians on a Friday night. The weekend starts here.
I think for me the highlight of the visit was the new King’s Bastion Leisure Centre. The King’s Bastion is a key part of Gibraltar’s heritage because it was from here that the Spanish siege was finally defeated. So expect an old fort inside the thick stone walls of which are displays of its historic past. However in the centre is a totally new glass building with a bowling alley, cinemas, ice rink, gym, kids and adults disco, a restaurant, snack bar, pool tables, internet centre plus much more. Security is a top priority so Gibraltar’s youngsters (and young at heart) can relax and enjoy themselves in complete safety.
I have merely scratched the surface of the Rock here because there is much more to see and do. However whether you spend a day on the Rock or visit for longer please do contact the Gibraltar Tourist Board. Their main office is in Casemates Square but there are others at the border, cruise terminal, coach park and so on. If you don’t you’ll still see the Rock but you’ll miss out on so much of the Gibraltar experience. Like the ghost of the nun at the Governor’s official residence – The Convent. Ask the tourist office, they’ll tell you all about her tragic story.
Gibraltar Tourist Board
(The pictures of the Gibraltar aerial view and the King’s Bastion are the copyright of Gail Francis Tiron. To see more of her work visit her website at www.gailfrancistiron.com)