Gibraltar – A Concise History

Gibraltar has been called many things – quirky and quaint amongst others, but whatever you think of Gibraltar there is one word that it rightly deserves – fascinating! What is undeniable is the sense of history that pervades this rocky limestone outcrop on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula. Gibraltar is a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities, living and working side by side in an area that covers just 6.5 kilometres.

This eclectic mix of people cohabit in a multi-religious society that is based on a mutual tolerance bound together by their cherished status as British subjects. As of July 2011 the population count stood at approximately 28,956.

A tour around the streets of Gibraltar showcases the many diverse architectural styles that are testament to the different influences throughout its history from the 14th century Moorish Castle to the Genoese style patios and the constructions built by the British military. The name Gibraltar derives from “Tariks Mountain,” after Tariq-Ibn-Zeyad, the Muslim conqueror who invaded the Iberian Peninsula in 711. The Moorish occupation of Gibraltar between 711 AD and 1309, and then again between 1350 and 1462, makes the occupation of Gibraltar by the Moors the longest in its history. The Keep of the Moorish Castle is instantly visible to visitors to Gibraltar as it stands overlooking the town from its strategic position on the side of the Rock. The Tower of Homage is the most visible part of the Castle and one of the last remaining remnants of Moorish architecture in Gibraltar dating from around 1333AD when Abu al-Hassan recaptured Gibraltar from the Spanish.

Human presence on the Rock seems to date from prehistoric times when Neanderthals were known to have inhabited it as a settlement, and it appears that it could have been one of their last before their extinction some 24,000 years ago. The ancient Greeks called the Rock ‘Calpe’ meaning “hollowed out”.

Gibraltar remained under Moorish domination for seven centuries. It didn’t come under Spanish rule till the early 14th century and then for just 24 years. In 1469 the Duke of Medina’s son was confirmed as the rightful owner of Gibraltar by Royal Decree and in 1501 Queen Isabella of Castile reclaimed Gibraltar.

Gibraltar was then captured by a combined Anglo-Dutch fleet in 1704, which was under command of the Hapsburg King Charles VI. Following Charles’ death, and during the war of Spanish succession, Gibraltar was ceded by Spain to the British and became one of Britain’s key colonies. The 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, saw Spain lose Gibraltar ‘forever, without any exception or impediment whatsoever’.

During the wars of the 18th century between Britain and Spain, Gibraltar was besieged and bombarded for extended periods but the attacks were successfully repulsed. The colony grew rapidly during the 19th century as Gibraltar became a key British naval base and stopping point for vessels on their way to India via the Suez Canal.

Gibraltar played a vital role in World War II, enabling the British to control the entrance to the Mediterranean. During the 1960s Spanish dictator General Franco revived Spain’s claim to the territory after the war. A new constitution in 1969 emphasised Gibraltar’s UK allegiance, while giving greater internal self-government. Spain responded by closing the border and severing communication and transport links. Moroccans replaced Gibraltar’s Spanish workforce. In 1973, under the terms of the Act of Accession  Gibraltar joined the European Community.

More recently the status of Gibraltar has continued to cause political confrontation, but has still not been resolved. The strategic and important position of Gibraltar at the entrance of the Straits and on the edge of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic will ensure Gibraltar has an ongoing presence in the history books.


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