Friday, December 8, 2023

This tiny destination rocks – no wonder so many countries fought over it

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Just outside the cemetery, there’s also a life-size bronze statue of Nelson. That triumph turned him into a national hero and his favoured acolyte William Bligh, infamous survivor of the mutiny of the Bounty, was that same year anointed the next governor of the distant colony of New South Wales. That’s not the only link between Gibraltar and Australia, either.

For many years following, Gibraltar also exacted its pound of flesh from the convicts en route to the colony. It was usually their first stop, too, on the long voyage to the other side of the Earth, and also provided an alternative penal colony when Tasmania – or Van Diemen’s Land as it was – couldn’t cope with the influx.

It’s good to gaze at the extensive Mole breakwater erected around the harbour and pay one’s respects to the convict prison gangs on their way to Australia who built it; a miserable task, according to researcher Katy Roscoe.

“Dredging bays, ferrying rocks in rowboats and placing heavy stones for the New Mole Breakwater with their bodies halfway up in water were liable to keep convicts wet through for much of the day,” she reports.

There are many other reminders of the turbulent past, like the 100-tonne gun brought over by the British in 1882. But other aspects of Gibraltar’s past are more cheering. The cheeky Barbary macaques are descendants of those originally brought from Morocco towards the end of the 17th century and are a great attraction. Check out the troop at Queen’s Gate where they’ll often clamber over visitors to say hello.

Macaques waiting for a welcome.Credit: iStock

There’s plenty of more recent history, too. There are tours in sections of the 55 kilometres of tunnels running through the Rock of Gibraltar, which were intended as fortified defensive lines in the case of attack and where munitions were kept and men could hide in a siege. Many were dug at the time of the rise of Nazi Germany, of the Spanish Civil War and then of World War II, while there are more than 200 caves, including the famed St Michael’s Cave.

Catch the cable car or climb to the top of the craggy-faced rock for fabulous views over the sea towards Morocco on a clear day and the bays of Gibraltar, where the natural scenery is just as stunning as it was for James Bond in the movies filmed there, You Only Live Twice and The Living Daylights.

Then check out the Botanic Gardens, wander around the streets of the Old Town, enjoy tax-free shopping and eat at the many restaurants and wineries.

For English-speakers, Gibraltar’s a breeze, but pity those 15,000 Spaniards who live over the border but travel in each day, often negotiating long traffic queues, to work in the city’s main industry sectors of banking and finance, tourism, gaming, and shipping.

Despite the clashes of Gibraltar’s past and the tensions over its future, there are many signs of harmony at play. Awkwardly side-by-side at Europa Point, close by the lighthouse, are the Catholic church and the magnificent Ibrahim-Al-Ibrahim mosque, donated by the Saudi King in 1997. Elsewhere, there’s a cathedral, the Great Synagogue of 1793 and even a Hindu temple.

And as internal tensions continue to heighten over Spanish-English sporting rivalry, Gibraltar provides an important lesson to all of resilience, endurance and forgiveness.

The writer was a guest of Princess Cruises.


Princess Cruises’ Enchanted Princess at sea.

Princess Cruises’ Enchanted Princess at sea.

A seven-day Mediterranean Princess cruise starting in Barcelona, visiting France and Italy and finishing in Rome, from $1457 for an interior cabin, twin-share, and $2217 with balcony. Four Princess ships, including Enchanted Princess, are now based in Europe, with two more joining them next year (2024). See

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