Destinations Magazine

Gibraltar: Britain’s Foot in the Mediterranean

By Periscope @periscopepost

So tiny yet so big in terms of its strategic location, its long-lasting identity problem and its huge tourism and economic potential, Gibraltar is one of the smallest gems of the British Crown and yet one of its most sparkling ones.

Sunny, white-washed façades of centuries old houses facing an emerald and blue coast; hundreds of acres of olive trees and melancholic gipsy-sang flamenco tunes; rocky hilltops decorated with yellowish cacti and jasmine trees; octogenarian looking peasants grazing picture-perfect donkeys. Your quintessential southern Spanish setting, complete with mouth-watering meals and supreme red and white wines. And, of course, that unmistakable Union Jack, flying in the distance over the star-filled sky. Yes you are reading correctly, we are a stone’s throw away from Marbella and Picasso’s birth-town of Malaga, just a few hundred miles away from Seville and Moorish-inspired Granada and Cordova and yet, pleasantly, on British soil. Gibraltar is the most unexpected of surprises at this very austral edge of continental Europe.

 

Gibraltar: Britain’s foot in the Mediterranean
The Rock in Gibraltar, dividing the Atlantic from the Mediterranean

“This is actually where Europe originates, where this continent was born. From Phoenician and Greek times this is where the world began and ended; where Hercules’ Pillars used to be; the last frontier and at the same time the beginning of civilization. Gibraltar stands at the edge of the Mediterranean, between Europe and Africa and in the middle of the Old and the New Worlds. Not only geographically and historically but also culturally and sentimentally, Gibraltar is an hybrid, difficult to explain but even more difficult to understand” says a smiling sixty-something year-old shop owner by the name of John Serfaty who sells duty-free cigarettes and liquor to the hordes of day-trippers that cross over from Spain to visit this tiny but charming piece of land.

With a territory of just 2.6 square miles -less than 0.5% of greater London’s area- and a population just under 30, 000 people – yet with a very strong character –  Gibraltar is definitely in a league of its own. “You will hardly find a piece of land as cosmopolitan and diverse yet as proud and resilient as this one” affirms Serfaty.

Regardless of its size, Gibraltar has had a long and mostly troublesome existence. With its earliest settlements dating back to the Phoenicians, Greek and Romans, the Strait was annexed to the nascent Spanish Kingdom after the defeat of the Moors in the Fifteenth Century. After the Spanish War of Succession in which most of Europe, including Britain, was involved, the Treaty of Utrecht, signed in 1713, ceded the tiny peninsula, along with its famous Rock, to Great Britain “for perpetuity”. Despite being, territorially, economically, linguistically and culturally, split between Britain and Spain for over the last three hundred years, Gibraltarians stand on their own. London is just too far away and Spain, despite being next door, has never been close enough. A racially and religiously vigorous society, Gibraltar is the perfect melting pot: Genoese, Portuguese, Maltese, Moroccans, Indians, Spaniards and Britons; Hindus, Muslims, Catholics, Protestants and Jews.

Today, its rich culture and vibrant mix of colors, flavors and accents provide Gibraltar with a very authentic and distinctive allure that attracts not only investments worth billions of dollars -making it one of the safest havens for fortunes wanting discretion- but also new breeds of tourists in search for an authenticity that is running short in an ever globalized world. It’s not everywhere that you can walk across an international airport’s runaway or sip a pint of your favorite ale to accompany homemade paella. Only in Gibraltar can you watch entire families of Barbary apes atop an impressive rock monolith overlooking the Atlantic, North Africa and Spain in the morning; and go swimming in the Mediterranean in the afternoon without leaving British soil.

“Please stop by again, you bet we will still be here waiting for whatever might come our way” concludes an ever smiling Mr. Serfaty while handing me back the bottle of Hendrinck’s gin I bought in euros at his shop, along with the change in Sterling -yet Gibraltarian- pounds.


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