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!

Creative Gibraltar : Fashion Design & Dressmaking with Dorcas Hammond

From making clothes for her Pippa doll out of scraps of discarded fabric, to creating the dress worn by Miss Gibraltar the night she became Miss World and setting dozens of sewing students off on their own making and designing careers, Dorcas Hammond tells  me how she turned her passion into a creative business.

Christened with the name of a seamstress from the Old Testament, it would seem that Dorcas Hammond was born to sew. Her father, who Dorcas describes as a very religious man, had liked the name and as his wife was a keen seamstress herself, he thought it appropriate to name his second daughter Dorcas. Little did he know at that time, what an accomplished designer and dressmaker, she would later become.

Dorcas began sewing at a very young age. Her mother made curtains at home and she picked up the remnants of curtain fabric and hand sewed them to make dolls clothes. By the age of six, she was using her mother’s sewing machine in secret with the help of her older sister, Ingrid. “When my mother was out, my sister helped me get the sewing machine to work” she told me. The pair would operate the tredle-powered machine until Dorcas was able to manage on her own using her tip-toes to reach the pedal.

Her secret was only discovered when “the ironing lady (who came to the house) said she needed two sheets sewing together but as my mother wasn’t there it couldn’t be done. I told her I would do it and machined them together for her … the ironing lady told my mother that it was me who had done the sewing”. After being rumbled for using the sewing machine, Dorcas’s mum put her to work doing embroidery but she hated it, “I remember embroidering this bird and it was rubbish, I just wanted to sew”.

Later on in childhood, she would make simple clothes using Burda and Simplicity patterns and experiment with her cousin. They would lock themselves into a bedroom and measure, sew and fit the clothes. No one was allowed to see what they had done until they were completely happy with the finished result.

Dorcas’s passion for sewing continued into her teens, she began making clothes for clients at the age of 18 while working in a cosmetics shop on Main Street. Each lunchtime she would rush home at 1 o’clock, her mother would have her lunch prepared for her and she’d spend her lunch break sewing garments for clients before returning to work at 3pm for the second half of her shift.

In the evening, Dorcas would begin her sewing work again with the help of her mum. “My mother would go to bed when she got tired, but I would carry on until I’d finished. I couldn’t sleep until the garment was on the hanger – sometimes I’d sew until 2am”.

Sewing has run in Dorcas’ family for generations. Her grandmother had a workshop with her own mother making clothes. When Dorcas told her mum that she would like a workshop like her grandmother’s (at a time when no one else had one in Gibraltar), her mother said she was crazy and said she was to keep working at her job in the shop.

It wasn’t until the age of 26, when she’d been married and had her two sons and “had a load of problems that I decided it was the time to do it”. The ICC shopping centre had just opened in town and she opened her first shop there.

At that time, Dorcas created her garments using manufactured patterns but soon discovered that they didn’t always work well for her clients. “Someone would want a dress with a sleeve from this pattern, the skirt from another pattern and a top from the other pattern”. Dorcas then had to decipher how she was going to join all the elements together.

She’d had no formal training but was given a book of instructions on how to cut your own patterns by one of the ladies who did sewing for her. “I still have that book to this day” she says, “it was very old but I went through it and as I have always had a good eye, I knew some parts were wrong for what I was making. It was the first steps to the pattern cutting system I use and teach now”.

The first made-to-measure garments Dorcas created (using her own patterns) were for her mum before implementing the method in her shop. Because she’d not been formally taught how to make the patterns properly, Dorcas says she was always scared that she wouldn’t have enough fabric to fit the garments properly. As a consequence, she cut huge seam allowances. It wasn’t until she went to a crash course in pattern cutting in Madrid in 2000, that she learned the seam allowances only need to be 1 or 2cms.

While in Madrid, she was asked by one of the teachers why she had come to the course as Dorcas had created the best sample jacket sleeve the teacher had ever seen. It was thanks to this compliment that Dorcas left filled with the confidence to truly believe in her designing and dressmaking capabilities. That was almost seventeen years ago and since then her business has gone from strength to strength.


Alongside her dressmaking and designing business, Dorcas inadvertantly ended up teaching the skills she’d developed over the years to others. During the time she had run her shop, people had occasionally asked her to teach them dressmaking. She also took on interns every now and then from University, however it was an ecclesiastical request which set her on the road to teaching properly.

“I was at a song contest and Father Caruana asked me if I would teach some of his social cases. By the time I said yes, a room had already been set aside at Nazareth House and six sewing machines had been bought”. Dorcas spent several years volunteering at Nazareth House teaching not just sewing but life skills to the young women who attended the classes. She says “we discussed things like what you should wear to go to a job interview and how to behave” a bit like a mother or big sister might.


The lessons came to an end when Father Caruana died, but there were still a few students who wanted to carry on being taught. Eventually, Dorcas needed to find new premises for the lessons and converted the rear of her workshop into a classroom and began the Dorcas Hammond Fashion Academy. After perfecting her own method of pattern cutting, she compiled all her notes into a four year course to teach dressmaking, from beginners through to tailoring and wedding dress design.

Dorcas says she has had many highs throughout her career including fashion shows in London, Marbella, Morocco, Madrid and Portugal. She designed and created the Gibraltar National Costume worn by the Miss Gibraltar contestants when they attend pageants, and is most famous for creating the dress worn by the 2009 winner of Miss World, Gibraltar’s Kaiane Aldorino.

Kaiane Aldorino wearing Dorcas’s National costume

Dorcas says she still gets a thrill out of making dresses “I love what I do… I get butterflies in my stomach when it looks good”. The biggest highlight for her though, is seeing her students go out from her Academy and make the most of their great potential. So far she has seen former students go on to study fashion at University, get PGCEs and go into teaching themselves and one has opened her own fashion boutique. “I want them to achieve what I haven’t and fulfill their dreams” she says.

So what does the future hold for Dorcas? “Well I’m a chicken” she says. “If I haven’t done more things it’s because I take a long time thinking about doing them. When I was young I just jumped into things, but not so much now”. Her small alterations and dressmaking shop developed into a fashion design business and academy and the next step will see her selling her fashion designs online. “Some days I wake up and I say who will buy my clothes? But then I think if other people can do it why can’t I?”

Dorcas is currently working on her first online collection and is looking forward to launching it later on in 2017. You can find Dorcas at her shop on Governor’s Street and on Facebook and Twitter as Dorcas Hammond Fashion Design.

Also in the Creative Gibraltar series:

Creative Gibraltar : Watercolour painting with Deborah M Lawson

The Postcard from Gibraltar Podcast Episode 004: Rebecca Faller