Gibraltar may well be a British Crown Colony but geographically it's an isthmus of Spain (you can walk across the road, though you do have to pass by some pretty tough customs guards). This proximity over the years has caused no end of irritation on the part of the Spanish government. In fact, during his reign, Ferdinand Franco (who served as dictatorial prime minister until the 1970s) was so upset by England's refusal to cede the territory to Spain that he closed the border and cut off telephone communications.
Did you know the Rock, that famous promontory in the Bay of Gibraltar, actually faces Spain and not the Strait of Gibraltar leading into the Mediterranean? Once any cloud cover clears, and the entire enormity of it is revealed, though, it's an amazing sight visible from the cruise ship docks.
There is an ongoing, off-and-on quarrel between Britain and Spain about who owns Gibraltar. The Spanish believe that because it's attached to Spain, it should belong to Spain. But the locals have voted twice to stay with Britain. As far as they are concerned, they are British and do not want Spanish citizenship.
The 1,400-foot-high "rock" is a limestone formation, riddled with as many as 140 caves. Remains of pre-Neanderthal humans have been found inside the rock and in areas surrounding it, but the territory's more recent history is both turbulent and inspiring.
Over time, populated by Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Muslims, Moors, Spanish, Dutch and finally the British, the town of Gibraltar was formed in the 11th century by North African Islamics. The city is said to be "British Colonial built on Spanish Colonial built on Moorish." And that is exactly what the charming city resembles, with all of the influences present in its architecture.
Owing its current status to Lord Nelson (who protected it during the Great Siege in the late 1700s), there are several monuments honoring the admiral, and museum exhibits explain the most recent history of the region. The strategic location of the territory has caused it to be used over the centuries as a fortified battlement, and in fact, the Rock itself has over 30 miles of roads within it.
Traveling to the top of the Rock is almost mandatory and is easily accomplished via land tours or a quick cable car trip. At the top is a splendid nature reserve, and along the way, you can visit with the Barbary macaques (usually referred to as Barbary apes even though they are monkeys), the only free-living primates in Europe, and the Barbary partridges. Both creatures are unique to Gibraltar.
Beyond the Rock and the handful of museums, the old town of Gibraltar consists of a main street jammed with tiny shops and a handful of famous British chains, such as Marks & Spencer, BHS and Dorothy Perkins. For North Americans, however, there are few bargains because prices are in the Gibraltar pound, which is equivalent to the British pound sterling.
As for the future of the territory, it is claimed that as long as the Barbary apes inhabit Gibraltar, it will remain a British colony. You can bet that the apes are prized and pampered and coddled, and have no plans to leave the Rock anytime soon.
--By Sarah Holt, Cruise Critic contributor