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A Day (or so) on The Rock

”Look round, my boys, and view how beautiful the Rock appears by the light of the glorious fire.”

George Augustus Elliott, General and Governor of Gibraltar during The Great Siege

Do the United States owe their independence to a large rock on a spit of land off of Spain? Probably, but first, let us tell you about our sojourn in Gibraltar.

We arrived at this fascinating chunk of Great Britain on foot, crossing from Spain into Gibraltar over a commercial runway that takes up the full width of the narrow isthmus. The rock itself is stunning, and touring it consumed our first full day here. Just a few highlights.

You can reach the top of The Rock via a cable car which gives you access to the nature reserve and historic features of this massive lump of limestone. Friends warned us about the Gibraltar Macaques, a tailless monkey that can be mischievous or aggressive. We found them to be well fed, adorable, and totally bored with tourists. Kind of an “I’m too cool for you,” attitude. Well, there was one that cornered me on a landing and gave me the stink eye. I just waited him out. Legend has it that as long as the macaques live in Gibraltar, the British will reign. Based on the population we saw their 320 year reign is safe.

One surprise was Saint Michael’s Cave, a natural cave system discovered originally by the Romans. Now a light show highlights this natural feature that includes a rock formation that resembles an angel. The admission price to the nature reserve includes the cave system.

Also included was access to tunnel systems built during World War II. This extensive system covered 34 miles and could house a 16,000 person garrison with supplies for 16 months. Although the Nazis had a plan to invade Gibraltar, it was never carried out. Partly because of the heavy fortifications and because of their failures on other fronts. Occupation of the rock was key to Allied success in the African and Mediterranean areas of conflict.

And what about the role of Gibraltar in the American Revolution? Last year I read a fascinating book, Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History by Roy and Leslie Adkins. The siege by Spanish and French forces started in 1799 and lasted for over three and a half years. It was actually part of our War for Independence and drained British resources that could have been used against the colonies. In terms of combatants, it was the largest battle in the war. In the end, Britain retained the rock, but lost the colonies in America.

Gibraltar is fun and fascinating. We would highly recommend a visit. Just keep an eye on the monkeys.

As always, glad to answer questions posted in the comments.