9 Gibraltar Facts Which Anthony Bourdain Did Not Tell You-Adrift On The Strait
Gibraltar Harbor, British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar
Sometimes known as Gibdock, the Port of Gibraltar (or Gibraltar Harbor) is the maritime intersection of the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea shipping lanes. It occupies a unique strategic location in many naval wars fought at and for the Iberian peninsula. Gibdock offers a wide range of services to vessels of all sizes. It is a major bunkering port to thousands of ships heading out of the Mediterranean Sea going to the Atlantic Ocean or vice versa to supply and refuel their vessels. Container ships also use this dock to discharge their cargo. However, a great success of Gibraltar Harbor is credited to the thousands of tourists that arrive each year from cruise ships. Passenger vessels make a stop at Gibdock to visit the amazing town of Gibraltar and to learn the rich culture of the area.
Gibraltar (jib-Brawl-tehr) is a British Overseas Territory at the southern tip of Iberian Peninsula, north of Spain. It is dominated by its Rock (Rock of Gibraltar) of which at its foot is home to about 32,000 residents, mostly Gibraltarians. During the War of Spanish Succession (1704), Gibraltar was captured by Anglo-Dutch forces from Spain. The territory then was ceded to Great Britain, forever, under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. In the Napoleonic Wars and during World War II, the Royal Navy used Gibraltar as an important base. They controlled the entrance and exit to the Mediterranean via the Strait of Gibraltar. When General Franco ruled Spain in the 1950s, he tried again Spain’s claim over Gibraltar. He restricted the movement between the territory and to Spain. However, Gibraltarians voted in a 1967 referendum to remain under British rule. In response, Spain closed the border with Gibraltar and halted all ties with the territory. In 1982, the border was reopened partially and in 1985, all ties were restored before Spain’s entry into the European Union. Both the United Kingdom and Spain negotiated for a sharing of sovereignty in 2000 but 99% of the population rejected the idea. Gibraltar is a rich territory, the economy is dominated by financial conglomerates, online gambling, shipping and tourism. It has an extremely low unemployment rate of 1%. About half of the total workforce are normally from Spain but employed in Gibraltar. Aside from being popular as an online gaming mecca, Gibraltar is also a great shopping destination because it is VAT-free. Many of the famous British high-street brands have shops in the territory like Morrisons and Marks and Spencer. Other international brands include Tommy Hilfiger and Spain’s Mango and Zara. Since the UK is not a member of the Schengen Agreement, crossing to Spain’s La Linea is one of the few remaining controlled international borders in Western Europe.
While I was under contract at M/T Knock Dun in 1997, we made a stop at the territory because our ship’s head, the British, Capt. Anthony Paul Nixon had signed-off at Gibdock. For a first timer in this little piece of a place (about 2.6 square miles) like me, Gibraltar is a bit confusing. How come that it is located at the northern tip of Spain and yet it is so British? It is part of EU but outside of some of its economic associations like custom, VAT and the Schengen area. English is the official language and yet the residents here speak Llanito ( a mix of Mediterranean words). The official currency is the pound, and money from the UK is accepted here, but Gibraltar pound can’t be used in the UK. It uses the same time zone as that in Spain, and not Great Britain. But anyways, there’s more to Gibraltar than politics, language, time zone and currency. In our short stay at the territory, I’ve come to know some awesome things about Gibraltar. That the Strait is more famous than the city itself as it cradles a huge historical impact to the world. That Gibraltar is very close to Africa by a mere nine miles of water. That The Rock which is its prominent icon is the very first thing that comes to mind when you think of Gibraltar. So here goes 9 insane Gibraltar facts the late Anthony Bourdain did not tell you.
1. Winston Churchill Avenue in Gibraltar is also their airport’s runway.
Gibraltar Airport is an insane fact Anthony Bourdain did not tell you as a busy 4-lane road spans across the runway. The Winston Churchill avenue leads into Spain and out of Gibraltar. Each time a plane lands or takes-off, the road has to be closed to pedestrians and vehicles crossing into Spain. So it creates the most insane traffic pattern in the world. And of course an insane traffic as well. (more insane than my country’s EDSA perhaps?) Fitting an airport into a city that measures 2.6 sq. miles is not an easy job anyway. History Channel’s “Most Extreme Airport” segment even ranked Gibraltar Airport as the 5th most extreme airport in the world for that. Everyone is at a standstill to let flights depart and arrive from London, Birmingham and Manchester in the UK.
2. The Governor’s Residence a.k.a. The Convent is haunted by the Lady In Grey.
Found at Main Street, Gibraltar’s major shopping street is one of the territory’s most popular attraction – Governor’s House a.k.a. The Convent. In 1531-1704, the area was previously used as a Franciscan convent. So that’s where it got its name. Since 1728, The Convent has served as the official residence of the Governor of Gibraltar. An insane Gibraltar fact Anthony Bourdain did not tell you, a lady in grey is reputed to roam at The Convent. A young Spanish girl named Alitea fell in love with Silvano whom her family disapproved of. Her parents sent her to Gibraltar in the convent to be a nun. But Silvano tracked her down by disguising as a monk. They plotted their escape but was detected. Silvano died during the escape. Alitea was buried alive behind a wall in the convent’s chapel as was the form of punishment during that period. And stories of the “lady in grey” started to appear in the 1700s. It is a lady dressed in a grey nun’s habit believed to be Alitea.
3. The Rock, which is Gibraltar’s icon is home to the mischievous Barbary Macaques.
Sometimes known as The Rock, the Rock of Gibraltar (426 meters high of limestone) is famous for its position at the entrance of the Mediterranean Sea. Because of this, it gives the British complete control of shipping lanes into and out of some of the most important ports in Southern Europe and North Africa. The ancient Greeks consider The Rock as one of the Pillars of Hercules, marking the end of the Mediterranean coastline and symbolizing the last frontier of the world. But at modern times, the one that gets all the attention on The Rock are the mischievous Barbary Macaques – Gibraltar monkeys. An insane Gibraltar fact Anthony Bourdain did not tell you. “Don’t mock the monkeys” says the sign to visitors at The Rock. Meaning they are generally peaceful and harmless otherwise provoked by the presence of food in your pockets or backpack.
4. The Europa Point is an impressive lookout where the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean meet and on a beautiful morning, you can see the Moroccan coast of continental Africa.
Situated at the northernmost end of Gibraltar is Europa Point. When you stand at this area, on a clear day you can see across the Strait to Africa. This is also where the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea come into collision. An insane Gibraltar fact Anthony Bourdain did not tell you. This plateau has some awesome features such as a charming lighthouse, a magnificent mosque, an impressive Catholic cathedral, an underground water reservoir and a battery (fort) site. From Europa Point, you can also see Jebel Sidi Musa (on the Moroccan coast), the other “Pillar of Hercules”.
5. St. Michael’s Cave under The Rock is believed to be the gateway to the underworld (Hades)?
It is a series of caves found at the Rock of Gibraltar. Located at the Upper Rock portion, it is named after St. Michael’s grotto (since they look the same) in Apulia, Italy where the Archangel Michael is known to have an apparition. A part of St. Micahel’s Cave, the Cathedral Cave, at some point was thought to be bottomless and has a secret passage under the Strait from Morocco. And since The Rock is considered as one of the Pillars of Hercules, St. Michael’s Cave was thought to be the entry to Hades (or underworld/hell) where the dead rest. In modern period, special guided tours can be arranged to see the underground auditorium (it seats 400 people). At one time it hosted a Miss Gibraltar beauty pageant. An insane Gibraltar fact Anthony Bourdain did not tell you.
6. Mediterranean Steps is an unforgettable climb to The Rock where you will be rewarded to a view at Africa.
The British built the 600-step climb to The Rock as part of their military communication system. These days, the Mediterranean Steps are used by civilians as a route to the summit of The Rock. It offers a magnificent view to Africa across the water. A pathway carved out at the side of The Rock, it’s one of the hardest climb in the world. Challenging it may be, the beautiful view of the Mediterranean is the reward you can get when you overcome it. An insane Gibraltar fact Antony Bourdain did not tell you.
7. John Lennon and Yoko Ono were hastily married in Gibraltar in 1969.
The date was March 20, 1969. Since they failed to tie the knot in Paris a few days earlier, as per advice by Peter Brown (of Apple), John Lennon and Yoko Ono flew in to Gibraltar. They were married at the British Consulate Office on a 10-minute ceremony done by its registrar, Cecil Wheeler. Because Gibraltar is a territory of the UK and John himself was British, they were able to get ahead with the ceremony at a very short notice. An insane Gibraltar fact Anthony Bourdain did not tell you. The marriage was perfectly documented in Lennon’s ¨The Ballad of John And Yoko¨ which was recorded with Sir Paul McCartney in April 1969.
Finally made the plane into Paris, Honeymooning down by the Seine, Peter Brown called to say, You can make it OK, You can get married in Gibraltar near Spain. – The Ballad of John and Yoko
8. The name is Bond, James bond. Yes, our favorite M16 agent at some point visited Gibraltar once.
Well yes, James Bond and other agents are parachuting from a plane onto the Upper Rock as part of a training exercise in The Living Daylights (1987). An insane Gibraltar fact Anthony Bourdain did not tell you. James Bond (Timothy Dalton) also experienced an epic shootout clinging to a truck as it rolls down the side of The Rock.
9. Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones and American Pie actor Jason Biggs have messed up with the Barbary Macaques while visiting The Rock.
In the ’60s, Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones had a run-in with the Gibraltar monkeys. He was visiting the territory on his way to Morocco to meet up the rest of his band. He saw the monkeys, approached them and started playing a tape of the music he made. When Brian turned on the tape, the monkeys ran away shrieking. This so upset Jones and he became hysterical. Another celebrity, American Pie actor Jason Biggs had also messed up with the Barbary Macaques. While on holiday at Gibraltar with his wife, he had an insane encounter with the monkeys. His wife teased one of the animals with a tampoon from her bag. The monkey opened the tampoon and put it in its mouth. It seemed like the animal was smoking a cigar. They were enraged and started to attack Biggs and his wife. Good thing they were rescued beforehand and a serious harm was avoided. An insane Gibraltar fact Anthony Bourdain did not tell you.
So, these are the insane facts you will discover when you will go on a quick visit to Gibraltar. For such a tiny territory, this ¨country¨ has more than its share of attractions that should be included in your bucket list in the near future. Best of luck mate. Take it easy, eh. Ta ta.