Gibraltar is a forty mile sail from Tangier at the very bottom of the Iberian peninsula and is three square miles of mountainous rock. Its unique position at the mouth of the Mediterranean has made it a desirable location to control everyone trying to sail in and out. The promontory here has been settled for more than a millennium, first by Phoenicians and then, in turn, by Arab sultans and Spaniards. Today it’s a British territory even though geographically it should really belong to Spain. Not too long ago the Spanish closed down the border in an effort to seize control. The British hired Moroccan workers to replace the Spaniards that had been locked out, kept calm, and carried on. So many Moroccans came, a Saudi sultan built them a mosque so they could worship properly. Now that Great Britain is severing its ties with the EU, Gibraltar’s position may be tenuous once again. Currently it is making the most of its status as a duty free port and the spot where ships reprovision before the leave the Med and sail out into the Atlantic. Massive construction projects are ongoing and the Gibralterans are hiring Spanish workers big time from Andalusia where the jobless rate is high. Good psychology.
Tourists take twisting and winding roads through tunnels to the top of the rock to visit to St. Michael’s Cave, perched 980 feet above the sea. We’re used to visiting caves in pristine conditions in national parks. This one has been developed within an inch of its life with a huge amphitheater where musical performances are held and with dramatic lighting at every turn. Outside the cave tourists are ambushed by macaque monkeys— Gibraltar is the only European colony home to this species. They were originally brought here so that the English would have something to eat. There’s no room for agriculture on the tip of the peninsula and everything consumed here has to be brought in, mostly from the UK. The monkeys are fed healthy food twice daily to protect the vegetation and keep them from foraging in the tourists’ bags. Last time we were here one stole the sunglasses right off of Ken’s head, but this time we escaped unscathed.
From the top you can also look down on the airfield built with US funds under Eisenhower. He came here to the underground bunkers that were built in World War II to protect this important piece of land. Supposedly Gibraltar has more miles of road underneath the rock than on the surface. A compete city was dug over time with dorms, hospital, and everything else you would need to hide underground for long periods. Running water was piped in, although during the long, dry summers it had to be severely rationed. As the bunkers were dug, the rock removed formed the bed of the airstrip. Today it is one of the most dangerous places in the world to land. The end of the runway is a highway and cars have to stop whenever flights come in or out. You can also see across the strait to Africa on a clear day such as the one we had today.
The residents of Gibraltar make their living in a variety of financial endeavors. Nearly all the online gaming that takes place in the world is registered here. 90,000 companies make this their home base, on paper at least. A fleet of lawyers is based here to make sure that all the business is conducted in such a way that no one goes to jail. When you have no raw materials, service industries are the way to prosper.
A unique island that isn’t really an island.