I am certainly no fan of Gibraltar as a “vacation destination”. It’s a very confused place that seems to struggle to come up with an identity, and the folks that come here on vacation seem to come for the shopping more than anything else. But…Gibraltar is an amazing physical sight, and does have a very interesting history.
I’ve been somewhat bored lately waiting for help to arrive for my return trip to Barcelona. Here are some “interesting facts” that I’ve learned about Gibraltar.
- The road into Gibraltar gets closed down every time a plane lands at the territory’s airport. The runway runs the whole width of Gibraltar alongside the border with Spain and you can walk right across it when there are no planes coming or going.
- There are more than 50 kilometres of tunnels dug into the Rock of Gibraltar, some of which were dug at the time of our American Revolution.
- The Second World War led to another great wave of tunnelling as work was undertaken to enable The Rock to house a garrison of 16,000 men with water, food, ammunition and fuel supplies sufficient to last a year under siege
- During the Second World War, the Germans devised plans to take Gibraltar, which was a strategically placed naval based for Great Britain. The operation with the codename Felix never got off the ground, but it was on the books until 1944.
- Hidden in the famous rock is a secret chamber, known as the “Stay Behind Cave.” Measuring 45 x 16 x 8 feet, the enclosure was the site of a top secret World War II plot called Operation Tracer.
In 1940, the British Intelligence was privy to Hitler’s desire to invade Gibraltar and cut off Great Britain from the rest of the British Empire. British Admirals suggested that a secret room be constructed within the Rock of Gibraltar, where six men would hide and observe from two small openings any movement they could see on the harbor.
- The apes – Gibraltar is the only place in Europe with monkeys. Legend has it that if the apes ever leave the mountain, Gibraltar will cease to be British.During the Second World War there were just 7 of them left but the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, ordered that new ones be brought across from North Africa to replenish the colony. Now there are about 300 of them wandering around the rock, stealing food from unsuspecting tourists.
- Anyone can get married in Gibraltar with just a day’s notice – and it will be recognised worldwide. Sean Connery has been married in Gibraltar (twice) and this is where John Lennon and Yoko Ono tied the knot as well.
- Gibraltar has applied to be a part of the Olympics but so far hasn’t been accepted (and probably never will under the current rules).
- Referendums: There have been two referendums on Gibraltar´s future in recent times. In 1967, Gibraltarians were asked if they wanted to become Spanish, with locals being allowed to keep their British citizenship. A total of 12,138 said they wanted to remain British. Just 44 voted to go with Spain. Then in 2002, locals of The Rock voted on whether Spain and the UK should ‘share’ Gibraltar. Only 187 people said yes. That was just 1.03 percent of the vote.
- One of the main sticking points between the UK and Spain is over the waters around Gibraltar. The original 1713 treaty handing The Rock to the British Crown didn’t specify who these belonged to. The United Kingdom now “applies a 3-mile area of British Gibraltar Territorial Water”. But Spain “exerts its sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its territorial waters that include all maritime areas around Gibraltar with the only exception of its port facilities”.