When we were in southern Spain a few years ago, we visited Gibraltar, which is a British territory located on the most southern end of the Iberian peninsula. Gibraltar is more of a sovereign city than a country, but despite its size, you still have to pass through customs and border patrol in order to enter and leave. The Rock of Gibraltar is the most famous landmark of the region and is strategic due to its location on the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean. It is also the location of an important naval fortress that is built into the hills of the Rock of Gibraltar. Gibraltar is distinctly British despite its location in southern Spain. The pubs, the people, the atmosphere of the city almost all go out of their way to emphasize their allegiance to Britain and the United Kingdom. It was very interesting to visit, but in many ways it was very odd, and to say that there is controversy over the ownership of Gibraltar would be an understatement.
Before going, we talked to several people in Spain who had very strong opinions about this tiny country within a country. First and foremost, the people of Spain believe that the land should be theirs and they believe that the citizens of Gibraltar are occupying foreign land. In addition to that, the other thing that we were told was that there were huge problems with people going into Gibraltar and buying cigarettes and alcohol where it is cheaper and then selling it on the black market in other parts of Spain. There are strict limits on how much alcohol and tobacco can be brought across the border, but due to the number of people crossing on a daily basis, obviously there is the opportunity for smuggling. Regardless of the political friction, it was still an interesting place to visit.
Visiting the Rock of Gibraltar and walking the trails that led to the top was certainly the highlight of our visit there. The views of the Strait of Gibraltar were certainly stunning and definitely worth the hard hike in the heat, even though we were there in November. One of the more well-known, yet still interesting, things about the Rock of Gibraltar is the population of Barbary macaques that roam wild throughout the park area. Although these monkeys are definitely cute, they are wild animals and have been known to attack people at times, but are more likely to steal anything held too loosely. So, even though they make for great photo opportunities, don’t approach them and keep an eye on your possessions while you’re around them.
Walking through the caves and tunnels that make up the fortifications was also quite fascinating. There is also a cable car for those that don’t want to hike the steep trail to the top of the giant rock, but we would recommend only taking the cable car one direction and taking the time to either hike up or down since that is the only way to go into the fortifications that have been carved into the hillside. The fortifications are no longer in use today and we couldn’t imagine how claustrophobic it must have been for the soldiers who manned the canons within the tunnels. We definitely earned a pint by the time that we finished hiking around the Rock of Gibraltar.
Despite the controversy that exists over the ownership of Gibraltar, it is definitely worth visiting while in southern Spain. Stepping across the border, you are immediately transported into a different world with thick British accents, the Union Jack flying everywhere to be seen, and restaurants serving typical English food such as fish and chips, bangers and masher, and steak and kidney pie. We have to admit; we did take a couple of bottles of wine back to our hotel with us since the prices were so much less than what we were paying throughout the rest of southern Spain. All-in-all, it was a very interesting day, but a day was about all of the time needed to visit this country within a country.