An A to Z of Gibraltar 


Gibraltar seems to be dominating the news a lot these days, so for those of you who don’t know much about this Rock which we call our home, here’s a little ABC…

A is for Apes

Our furry friends who live (most of the time) at the top of the Rock are perhaps Gibraltar’s most famous inhabitants. They’re the only wild apes in mainland Europe and rumoured to be the reason why Gibraltar remains British – legend has it that if the apes were to leave, the UK would lose Gibraltar. (Winston Churchill reputedly imported some extra ones during World War II to make sure the Rock remained under the British flag). Legend also has it that they first arrived on the Rock via tunnels which link Gibraltar to northern Africa… not too sure about that one! 

B is for border


Gibraltar has only one land border to the north of the territory and shares it with Spain. It is across this border (or Frontier as it’s also known) that thousands of Spanish residents travel to work in Gibraltar each day and also which Gibraltar residents cross to access Spain and rest of the European mainland. 

Under the Franco regime the border was closed between 1969 and 1985. Gibraltarians found themselves with lots of vacant jobs to be filled as the cross-border workers were no longer able to work here and resources like food and fuel had to be sourced via alternative means. During this period, the Rock’s relationship with Morocco flourished and resulted in the diverse community we now enjoy today.

C is for cable car

Gibraltar’s main tourist attraction is the Rock itself and there are a number of different ways of getting to the top, on foot and by car or taxi, but perhaps the most dramatic way (and certainly the fastest) is by cable car. It has been a feature on the Rock for decades and takes just six minutes from the base station to the summit.

D is for defence


Due to it’s strategic position geographically at the gateway to the Mediterranean, it’s no surprise that Gibraltar has been a key British military base. Though fewer service personnel are based here now than in it’s heyday, there is still a considerable Army, Navy and RAF presence on the Rock.

E is for Europa Point

At Gibraltar’s southern most tip, you can find Europa Point lighthouse, the only lighthouse to be operated by Trinity House which is outside of the British Isles. It’s been keeping watch over the Strait of Gibraltar for over 175 years. On a clear day, you can see across the Strait to north Africa and the Rif mountains of Morocco.

Europa Point is also home to Gibraltar’s largest mosque (the Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque) as well as the Roman Catholic Shrine of Our Lady of Europe.

F is for Festivals


In recent years Gibraltar’s cultural life has flourished with the creation of a number of festivals, the biggest of which is the Gibraltar Music Festival or GMF as it’s become known locally. 2017 will see the festival run for the first time by MTV. Other musical festivals include the Festival of Colours and the World Music Festival. In addition to music another large annual event is the Gibraltar Literary Festival.

G is for Governor & Government 

Gibraltar Parliament building

Although key defence and strategic decisions about Gibraltar are made in Westminster, day to day affairs on the Rock are looked after by Government of Gibraltar. 

The Convent, official residence of the Governor of Gibraltar
We also have a Governor, who is the Queen’s representative here. Our current Governor, Lieutenant General Ed Davies, like all his predecessors lives in the official residence known as The Convent.

H is for history 

Tower of Homage aka Moorish Castle

Gibraltar is steeped in history, from cave men to the Phoenecians, Moorish invasions and the Great Siege. Gibraltar is filled with historic buildings and sites. There’s even a weekly historical reenactment.

I is for isthmus not an island


Despite popular misconception, Gibraltar is not an island. It is an isthmus of 5.8 square kilometres. If you are looking for a diverse and challenging 10k route to run, Gibraltar is the place for you, it’s exactly 10km all the way round on the main roads.

J is for Jebel Tariq

Gibraltar is regarded as one of the Pillars of Hercules, Jebel Musa across the Strait in Morocco being the other one. The name Gibraltar is believed to have come from it’s Moorish name of Jebel Tariq, meaning Tariq’s Mountain or Tariq’s Path. Tariq lead the Moorish Invasion of Andalusia.

K is for Kaiane

Front cover of Gibraltar Panorama 5.4.17

Irrespective of your views on beauty pageants, Kaiane Lopez (née Aldorino) achieved something remarkable for Gibraltar. In 2009, was crowned Miss World. She was a great ambassador for Gibraltar during her year-long reign and has continued to fly the flag for the Rock ever since. Yesterday she became the youngest ever Mayor of Gibraltar as well as being the first ever Miss World to take mayoral office.

L is for lifestyle 

Gibraltar boasts a great climate, healthcare modeled on the NHS, schools which follow the UK system and a thriving community. Plus everything is within a short distance so activities/entertainment especially for children are more achievable than our experience in the UK. As an ‘incomer’ I’ve had a really positive experience living here and was welcomed by locals and expats alike.

M is for Mediterranean 


The Eastern side of the Rock is lapped by the tides of the Mediterranean Sea and the three Mediterranean beaches we have on the Rock are hugely popular in summer (Gibraltar has other beaches on the Western side too).

N is for Neanderthal 


The first Neaderthal skull ever to be found was discovered at Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar in 1848. The find, which is celebrated on Gibraltarian pound coins, has led to Gibraltar recently being granted UNESCO World Heritage status.

O is for ornithology


A hot spot for twitchers, Gibraltar is a haven for wildlife and, in particular, migratory birds. Volunteers from the British Trust for Ornithology travel to Gibraltar to study the migration of birds from the southern hemisphere where they have over wintered, up to northern Europe and Russia. Vultures, and eagles can often be spotted along with other smaller birds.

P is for port


Gibraltar has long been a stop off for seagoing travellers, from the Phoenicians who dropped anchor here before setting off into the Atlantic and up as far north as Cornwall. These days Gibraltar’s marine trade includes dry docks for maintenance, as well as bunkering services for ships which are mid voyage.

Q is for queues 


We do spend quite a while in queues here in Gibraltar at times, especially if you choose the wrong moment to cross the runway – you can get stuck waiting for planes to land or take off. 

We also have to queue to enter and leave Gibraltar at the border with Spain, which can at times be problematic. Thorough checks by the authorities across the border can mean long waits in rather uncomfortable conditions (like the height of summer) at it’s worst it can take several hours to cross. 

R is for runway

Gibraltar Airport is famous for it’s stunning backdrop and for the fact that the main road to and from the Rock runs straight across it. It makes for an interesting commute to work for those who live over in Spain!

S is for St Michael’s Cave

St Michael’s Cave
The Rock of Gibraltar itself is full of holes, with natural caves and manmade tunnels carved through it. The largest and perhaps most dramatic of which is St Michael’s Cave which as well as being a popular tourist destination is also a venue for shows and concerts.

T is for tunnels 

In order to get around the Rock we need to travel through a few tunnels. The World War II Tunnels (which include a war time hospital ward) and the Great Siege Tunnels are popular tourist attractions. 

There are miles and miles of military tunnels excavated through the Rock most of which are out of bounds to the public. They are used for military exercises and there was even a plan during World War II for some military personnel to be bricked into a tunnel so they could spy on the enemy in case of an invasion.

U is for Upper Rock

Windsor Suspension Bridge

The Upper Rock is a Nature Reserve, home to the Barbary Macaques and other native species like the Barbary partridge and national flowers like the Gibraltar Candytuft and Gibraltar Campion.

Gibraltar Candytuft

The Med Steps or Mediterranean Steps to give them their proper name, is a footpath and several sets of steps which lead from the southern tip of the Upper Rock Nature Reserve, at the Pillar of Hercules monument and round the Eastern side of the Upper Rock before emerging at the summit. 

Med Steps

It’s a place of outstanding natural beauty and affords walkers stunning views across the Strait to Morocco, along the Mediterranean coast to Spain and onto the Costa del Sol on a clear day, and across the Bay of Gibraltar to Algeciras. 

V is for visitors


Gibraltar is a very popular destination for cruise liners and coach tours. At peak times in the summer, the population of the Rock can almost be doubled for a day, when several large cruise ships arrive all at once. Those are the times when it’s wise to give Main Street a wide berth, especially if you have small children and pushhairs to steer through the crowds.

W is for weather

We are blessed with pretty mild winters (although there was some snow a few miles up the coast this winter) and long hot sunny summers. Thankfully because of our location surrounded on three sides by sea we don’t get such high temperatures as they do further up the coast or inland in Spain.


We can get a rather large cloud developing on the top of the Rock called the Levanter. It’s formed by the easterly wind and just sits above us creating humid conditions below. Some people refuse to have their hair done on Levanter days and it’s been blamed for meringues failing to rise and paint from drying properly.

X is for BreXit (sorry couldn’t think of anything beginning with X)

Well this is the main reason why everyone’s talking about Gibraltar at the moment isn’t it? 96% of the Gibraltar electorate voted to remain in Europe and no one knows what Brexit will mean for us all here on the Rock (or the UK for that matter).

Y is for Yanito or Llanito 

Yanito or Llanito is the dialect which is spoken by Gibraltarians. Anyone wandering along Main Street will hear locals speaking a mixture of English and Spanish with a few Genoese or Maltese words thrown in too. 

Z is for zebra crossings (post boxes and red telephone boxes)

We may live at the very south of Iberian Peninsular and we can see Africa from our windows but there are a lot of familiar British sights around Gibraltar. There are often tourists posing for photos by the phone boxes and and post boxes trying to catch a little of Britain in the Med.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this Gibraltar A to Z, if you only take one thing from it, can it please be that Gibraltar’s NOT an island? (I have read two articles today which described it as one) Thank you!

Where do we go from here? 

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Wow I really didn’t see that coming. I went to bed last night expecting to wake up a fully paid up member of the EU. I feel so shocked and sad that things have turned out the way they have.

Gibraltar got a bit of coverage during the Referendum campaigning with major international news organisations coming over to gauge the mood here. Even I got interviewed by the BBC (not an everyday occurrence in my world). For those of you who live beyond the shores of Gibraltar, you may already know that for us the impact of a Brexit is huge, but here’s a brief outline of what concerns us at the moment.

Apart from voters in Northern Ireland, we are closer than most other UK citizens to Europe. We can see it from our windows, it’s literally on our doorstep in the form of our nearest neighbour, Spain. By staying in the EU, Gibraltarians believed their rights would be much better protected by European law – particularly in relation to the border. In recent weeks there have been threats in the Spanish media that if Brexit were to happen, the land border we share with Spain would be closed. We are now left wondering whether that will become a reality?

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The Rock of Gibraltar with Spain behind

For Gibraltarians it isn’t an idle threat, the border was closed by General Franco in 1969 and remained blocked for 13 years. During the time of the frontier closure families were split up and kept apart. The only way to get over to Spain was to catch a ferry to another continent (Africa)  and then get a second one across to Spain.

If a border closure were to happen again it would impact on all of us living here and a great many on the other side of the border. Thousands of people who work in Gibraltar live in Spain. Plus there’s the everyday basics like how do you get food into the shops if your only land border is closed?

 

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Europa Point Lighthouse with Morocco in the distance

During the years of the closed border, Morocco came to the aid of the people of Gibraltar. Many Moroccans came here to work and filled the gaps left by the cross-border Spanish workers. Morocco also became a major source of food and supplies during the years of the closed frontier. A lot of the families who came here remain in Gibraltar and add to the diverse and tolerant community we enjoy today.

In the hours since the news of the Leave result broke there has been much debate about what will happen next, some of it coming from across the border. Spain is reported to be reinforcing it’s belief that sovereignty of the Rock belongs to them and not Britain.

Last week, David Cameron felt it important enough to give Gibraltar it’s first Prime Ministerial visit since 1968. One week before polling day, he became the first serving British Prime Minister to visit the Rock since Harold Wilson. What’s more significant is that he is the first one ever to come specifically to discuss an issue which directly affects Gibraltar.

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Over 24,100 Gibraltar residents registered to vote in the EU referendum and many turned out last week to see the Prime Minister and hear what he had to say. He flew in by private jet and held talks with local decision makers. A reasonably large press pack came too.

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There was a real buzz in the air and many people from all walks of life turned out to see what the PM had to say about Gibraltar and about Europe. The Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo called on everyone to come down to Casemates Square and give our visitor “the greatest ever Gibraltarian welcome”.

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Very sadly, the rally which we had all turned up for was cancelled at the last minute due to the awful attack on Labour MP Jo Cox in the north of England. As news filtered through about the shocking events in West Yorkshire and the fact that campaigning was to be suspended as a mark of respect, the crowds began to drift away from Casemates Square. The fizzing excitement of moments before gave way to a stunned disappointment and shock.

During his visit, David Cameron met with senior local politicians and it’s reported that discussions covered both possible referendum outcomes and what it would mean for the UK’s responsibilities to Gibraltar. Whether those assurances still hold once he has left his post in October remains to be seen.

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One week on and 84% of the Gibraltar electorate turned out to vote in the EU Referendum. 96% of those voters chose the option to remain in the EU. Last night I thought it was a marvellous example of democracy at work, not that it helped us a great deal.

This morning on the school run many of the parents were bleary eyed after staying up much of the night to watch the results come in. Clutching strong coffees and shaking their heads in disbelief there was a real air of despondency and worry about what the future holds for us here on the Rock.

One father joked that he might as well just sell his car as trips to Spain could be about to get tricky. A mother who works for a UK gaming company said that her firm’s HR department were holding emergency talks this morning to try and figure out how to help their many cross-border workers should there be tensions at the border. They didn’t have a plan in place because they didn’t believe it would happen. Fears about the local job market were voiced, while others discussed whether their summer holidays to Europe would now require them to have a visa.

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No one knows what the future holds for the UK as a whole following this referendum result but for those of us at the southern most tip of Europe, we feel we are very much at the sharp end. Gibraltar woke up under a cloud this morning, and for once it wasn’t caused by the usual levanter winds, this one was sent by the UK electorate.