Gibraltar - History

A Brief History of Gibraltar

When people think of the history of Gibraltar they often think in terms of the bloody 18th century sieges when Spain tried to regain the Rock from the British. However, the history of Gibraltar very much reflects that of the Mediterranean and it could indeed be argued that it reflects that of man himself.

When man first lived in Gibraltar he dwelt in the numerous caves that make up the Rock. In 1848 an ancient skull, now housed in the British Museum in London, was discovered in Forbes' Quarry which is at the foot of the Rock's steep North face. It was a woman's skull. Eight years later an identical skull was discovered in the Neander Valley near Dusseldorf in Germany. This skull came to be known to us as that of Neanderthal Man but it could be strongly argued that Neanderthal Man should in fact be Gibraltar Woman.

The ancient Greeks applied the name Calpe to the Rock of Gibraltar. It means “hollowed out”. They gave the same name to a rock, which is very similar to Gibraltar at Ifach in Spain on the Costa Blanca plus other in the Med. Ledesma Miranda, in his book 'Gibraltar, La Roca de Calpe' suggests that the Scylla and Charybdis of the Odyssey were like to have been the Pillars of Hercules - the Rock of Gibraltar on one side and Mont Abyla in Morocco on the other.

Apart from the Greeks, the Phoenicians, Visigoths and Romans all passed this way. The Muslim invasion of Europe started across the Strait of Gibraltar when the Berber chief Tarik Ibn Zeyad invaded Tarifa. He later moved on to take Mons Calpe which he promptly renamed Jebel Tarik - the rock of Tarik. It is from Jebel Tarik that Gibraltar gets its name.

Gibraltar remained under Moorish domination for seven centuries. It didn't come under Spanish rule till the early 14th century and then for just 24 years. Then in 1462 the Spaniards finally recaptured the Rock and held it until the beginning of the 18th century.

  In 1502, the Spanish Crown took back control of Gibraltar from the Duke of Medina Sidonia. It gave Gibraltar a coat of arms - a red castle with a golden key. It is still Gibraltar's arms till this day and the Rock interestingly shares it with nearby town of San Roque. It was to San Roque (Gibraltar's traditional place of pilgrimage) that the Rock's Spanish residents fled after Britain took over. They intended to stay there till the Spanish army re-took Gibraltar and they could return home.

In 1540 the great Queen Isabella died. In her will she wrote of Gibraltar: "That they may always hold for The Crown and in Our Royal Patrimony the said City of Gibraltar, with all which appertains thereto, and may not give away nor alienate, nor consent to being given or alienated, any part thereof." None-the-less, her descendent Philip V gave it away conditionally but effectively to Britain in 1713.
Admiral Rooke took the Rock for the British in 1704 when he led an Anglo-Dutch force in the Spanish War of Succession. The Treaty of Utrecht of 1713 ceded Gibraltar to the British crown in perpetuity and it is on the basis of that treaty that Gibraltar remains British to this day.

Over the years Spain has attempted to retake Gibraltar. There were a series of bloody sieges in the 18th century. In 1969 Franco closed the border between Spain and Gibraltar for 13 years. Today, a more subtle siege continues with occasional enforced lengthy delays in crossing the border by car.

The Battle of Trafalgar was fought off the Cádiz coast in 1805. It was into Gibraltar's harbour that HMS Victory sailed with the body of Admiral Nelson, stored it is said, in a barrel of rum, although it was more likely wine.
During the 19th century Gibraltar enjoyed its heyday as a port. It was a staging point on the vital route to India. Gibraltar also played an important part in both World Wars. In World War II it was home to naval fleet Force H. It was from Gibraltar that Eisenhower masterminded the North Africa landings of 1942. For an in-depth view of Gibraltar's history visitors should visit the splendid Gibraltar Museum situated in the centre of town at Bomb House Lane. It is just a few minutes walk off Main Street from Marks & Spencer and is clearly sign-posted.

For a more comprehensive history of Gibraltar click here.

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