Gibraltar: A Mediterranean melting pot

Gibraltar: A Mediterranean melting pot

by Stacy Roman
Stripes Europe

Hiding on the southern tip of Spain is a tiny, wonderful slice of the U.K. Spanning just four-square kilometers, one could easily explore this narrow piece of land in less than a day. However, with the incredible complex and rich culture and history pulsating through the small territory, it’s worth taking your time. Gibraltar is more than just a check box on your travel itinerary – it’s a colorful Mediterranean melting pot.

A little history

Gibraltar’s history spans more than 50,000 years. In fact, one of the oldest female Neanderthal skulls was unearthed in a local quarry. The Moors trekked from North Africa in the early 700s and settled along the peninsula. Conquered by the Empire of Grenada in the late Middle Ages, it was then passed to the Spanish monarchy in 1501. During the War of the Spanish Succession in the 18th century, the Anglo-Dutch armada captured Gibraltar and fell under British rule. Over the past centuries, there have been several unsuccessful attempts from Spain to regain control of the territory. During wartime conflicts, it has become a key fortress and port for the Royal Navy and her allies.

With the instantly recognizable looming limestone rock face jutting from the center of the territory, Gibraltar sits along the Straits of Gibraltar. This narrow waterway is one home to some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, connecting the Mediterranean with the Atlantic Ocean. It is also a key partner to the Suez Canal, which links the Red Sea to the Mediterranean.

Decidedly British … and Spanish … and Moroccan

Gibraltar is a uniquely British territory with Spanish, Moroccan, Italian, Maltese and other Mediterranean cultures mixed together into one small space. While the currency is in pounds sterling and the signage is in English, you still drive on the right (a departure from the British left-hand driving). The local dialect is a musical combination of English and Spanish known as Yanito, with speakers seemingly switching between the two languages mid-sentence.

With so much cultural fusion, the Gibraltarian cuisine is mouthwateringly delicious. From traditional English pubs with beer-battered fish and chips to spicy Moroccan lamb kabobs to decadent Spanish tapas, you can find just about anything. Tempt your tastebuds with “Calentita,” a savory national dish made of chickpea flour and olive oil, baked and served at a lukewarm temperature. “Rosta” (penne pasta with carrots, meat and tomato and white wine sauce) is another favorite. During the holidays, sweet Pan Dulce can be found in neighborhood bakeries.

Monkey around

One of the most popular tourist draws is the Gibraltar Nature Reserve. Spanning a good majority of land, this beauty spot is home to more than 200 Barbary macaques. These primates are the only wild monkeys in Europe, a similar honor bestowed to the Barbary partridge also found in Gibraltar. Visitors can visit the monkeys at the Apes Den; however, just be cautious as they are not domesticated animals and can bite. Making an escape into town from time to time, the macaques are known to pickpocket unsuspecting tourists. Feeding them is not allowed.

History buffs will love the amazing number of fortifications throughout the reserve and dotted along the coastline. Be sure to check out O’Hara’s Battery. Located atop the Rock of Gibraltar, you’ll drink in stunning vistas and can see across the border into Spain as well as over to Morocco. You can reach the battery by taking a cable car to the top, or hike your way up the steep, rocky Mediterranean Steps which were carved out by the military.

If you’d rather take it underground and cool off a bit, St. Michael’s Cave is a must-visit. This impressive cavern was used as a hospital during World War II. Recently, they discovered even deeper caves below, as well as tunnels and an underground lake. The Great Siege tunnels are another great option to explore. These tunnels were created by the British army and used between 1779 and 1783 when Spain and France attempted to wrestle control away from the Brits. Although the tunnels were extended during WWII, visitors cannot access these particular passageways, as they have become impassable.

For such a small territory, Gibraltar is full of culture, history and (my personal favorite) food. This Mediterranean melting pot is absolutely worth looking into.

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