Gibraltar is steeped in history; the result of an intertwining and moulding of civilisations and cultures which dates back many thousands of years. What’s more, it is a living history reflected, not just in the Gibraltarians themselves, but also in the many legacies that remain to this day, including a number of prehistoric caves and a Moorish Castle and baths that date back to the 11th and 14th century. The architecture is similarly eclectic with many Georgian and Victorian buildings, as well as those that reflect Portuguese, Genoese or Moorish influence.
In 1848 an ancient skull was discovered in Forbes’ Quarry, at the foot of the steep north face. Then, just eight years later, an identical skull was discovered, this time in the Neander Valley near Dusseldorf. ‘Neanderthal Man’ should really have been ‘Gibraltar Woman’!
Ancient mariners first arrived here by the 8th / 9th century BC (some suggest as early as the 4th / 5th century BC), leaving gifts to the gods seeking the blessings of the almighty before sailing into the Atlantic and the unknown. The first description of Gibraltar was written by the Roman geographer Pomponius Mela around 45 AD.
The Muslim invasion of Europe started in the Bay of Gibraltar where dissident Visigoths sided with Muslims by lending their ships to Berber Chief, Tarik Ibn Zeyad who landed by Tarik’s mountain – ‘Jebel Tarik’ – in 711. Gibraltar continued under Moorish domination for over seven centuries, until taken by Christians from the Kingdom of Castille for a brief period of 24 years in the early 14th century. It was not until 1462 that the Christians finally re-captured the Rock. The famous Spanish ‘Catholic Monarchs’ Isabel and Fernando were initially involved in finally securing the Rock as Crown Property of Castille in 1501.
Gibraltar was ceded to Britain following the War of the Spanish Succession of 1701-14. Charles II of Spain, died in 1700 without an heir. It was unclear who should succeed him, and so emerged a number of pretenders. Eventually war broke out, and in August 1704 British Marines, together with Dutch marines, captured the Rock, on behalf of Charles of Austria. The war continued until 1713, when the Treaty of Utrecht concluded that Philip V, a grandson of the King of France, would inherit the Spanish throne. Under the Treaty, Gibraltar was ceded to Great Britain, as well as Minorca, which changed hands several times before being returned to Spain as part of the Treaty of Amiens in 1802.
But Gibraltar continued to be subjected to bloody conflicts from Spain. In 1779 Spain and France began the longest and bloodiest siege in Gibraltar’s history: ‘The Great Siege, 1779-1783’. In 1782 work began on the famous ‘Great Siege Tunnels’. The Battle of Trafalgar was fought close to the Rock in 1805.
In the early part of the fourteenth century Spanish forces occupied Gibraltar for twenty-four years; but in 1333 it reverted to Moorish control after a bloody eighteen week siege. The Rock did not finally become Spanish until 1462, when it was recaptured by the Duke of Medina Sidonia.
The 19th century was Gibraltar’s heyday, as a staging port on the vital route to India. Another series of tunnels were completed during the Second World War. Gibraltar became home to the Royal Navy’s ‘Force H’ and the focal point from where Eisenhower controlled the North Africa landings in 1942. During the Franco era, Spain attempted to revive her claim for the reversion of the Rock to Spanish sovereignty, which culminated in the closure of the border for thirteen years in 1969. The roots of Gibraltar have grown deep into the Rock for millions of years. The natural history, the culture and finally, the people themselves - the Gibraltarians - are the result: the ultimate proof that the history of the Rock lives on.