No you can't have it, said
the British Government, supported by most of Gibraltar's 29,500 citizens, who
rallied around the slogan ''Let no-one dare untie this knot''.
The Spanish response was
border checks with consequently long queues and delays, so I was pleased to
come into Gibraltar by sea, during a port-hopping Mediterranean cruise.
But how did the Brits
acquire this 6.7sq km chunk of Spain?
In a sense, it was Spain's
own fault, or rather that of King Carlos II, who died childless in 1700.
He had nominated as his
successor his 16-year-old great-nephew, Philip, Duke of Anjou, who duly was
crowned with the support of his grandfather, French King Louis XIV.
It sounded fairly
straightforward but another of Louis' grandsons, Austria's Archduke Charles, also
fancied the Spanish throne.
Britain, Holland and
Portugal joined the Austrians in getting behind Charles and they fought it out.
The Spanish War of
Succession was won by Austria and her allies, although one has to wonder what
the point was, as Philip became king after all.
Admittedly, it was under a
deal whereby he gave up all claims to the French throne, while the long-term
winner was probably Britain, which was handed Gibraltar in 1713 as part of the
Treaty of Utrecht.
Its location overlooking
the Strait of Gibraltar meant the new territory was ideally situated as a
The Battle of Trafalgar
took place off Point Trafalgar, some 60km from Gibraltar, in October 1805.
After the defeat of a
33-strong French and Spanish fleet by 27 Royal Navy vessels, under the command
of Admiral Horatio Nelson, wounded seamen were taken to Gibraltar.
However, as headstones in
the little Trafalgar Cemetery mutely testify, not all the wounded survived.
Nelson died during the
battle and his body, preserved in a barrel of brandy, was taken ashore at
Gibraltar before being transferred to England for a state funeral.
Gibraltar was of strategic
importance to the British during World War 2 and despite Adolf Hitler urging
Spain to grab back the territory, the Spanish - who now undoubtedly regret
their inaction - stayed neutral.
British military leaders
ordered the construction of a network of tunnels inside the Rock of Gibraltar
to provide secure accommodation and storage.
The idea wasn't new, for
as early as 1782 defensive tunnels had been dug and even before that, there
were stories that the Rock was hollow, probably based on the existence of St
Michael's Cave, an immense limestone cavern where Neolithic skulls and rock
drawings have been found.
Two-hour tours of the
tunnel complex and cave are available and a combined ticket is £8 ($NZ16) per
My father-in-law, a Royal
Navy signalman, was stationed on Gibraltar during World War 2 and described
being left perched halfway up the Rock during an enemy attack, watching his
ship sailing away without him.
Seeing the old signals
station on an exposed site high up the Rock brought home to me how vulnerable
he must have felt, but he survived and rejoined his ship some time later.
A ride on the cable car to
the top of the Rock (£8.50 one way, or £10.50 return) is a must for any
I opted for the return but
had the weather been better would have ridden up and walked down via the nature
reserve, even though I wouldn't want too many close encounters with the Barbary
apes with their formidable teeth.
Until 1984, when it closed
its major dockyard, the British Ministry of Defence was the mainstay of
Gibraltar's economy, accounting for more than a third of all spending.
Things perked up in 1985,
when the reopening of the border with Spain at La Linea de la Concepcion
enabled visitors to pop across for a day's bargain hunting.
These days, Main St
resembles the high street of any bustling English town, with all the usual
British chain stores such as Marks and Spencers, Dorothy Perkins and British
Because Gibraltar is duty
free, there are great buys in more expensive cosmetics (I bought face cream at
half the price I pay at home), perfumes, high-end jewellery, tobacco and
alcohol, the latter at prices well below those anywhere else in Europe, or New
Zealand, for that matter.
However, with the Spanish
economy improving and cities such as Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia showcasing
their beautiful buildings, old and new, to attract tourists, Gibraltar looks
rather like the poor relation.