Take a look at the old part of the city, inside the wall. One of the most prominent buildings is the Roman Catholic cathedral, which is on Main Street.
It was built on the remains of a 13th century Moorish mosque and some of the original Moorish design can still be seen today in the Cathedral’s courtyard. The Spanish converted it into a Catholic church in the 1400s. You might be surprised to learn that the Roman Catholic cathedral is less than two hundred metres from an Anglican cathedral and a Jewish synagogue; a clear sign of the coexistence and understanding between Gibraltar’s many different creeds and cultures.
Next to the Cathedral is the Piazza, one of the town’s nerve centres.
And not far from the Piazza is the Governor’s Residence, which you can recognise by its luxuriant garden. This was originally built as a Franciscan friary but sadly part of the old friary was lost during the Great Siege of Gibraltar, in the late 1700s. In all, Gibraltar has been besieged no less than fifteen times during its history.
House of Assembly
On the Piazza stands Gibraltar’s parliament, called the House of Assembly.
This building was originally built as a chamber of commerce, where merchants held their meetings. Gibraltar has its own parliament, which governs all matters related to the life of its community – apart from Defence and Foreign Affairs, that is. Gibraltar’s system of government is very similar to that of other British colonies, or indeed ex-colonies, such as Hong Kong. However, unlike the other colonies, Gibraltar was granted to Great Britain absolutely and “in perpetuity” under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.
You might be surprised to know that Gibraltar has its own police force, which is in fact the second oldest in history after the Metropolitan Police Force of London.
Port & Dockyard
Have a look at the Port and Dockyard below. The Dockyard consists of three dry docks. It was built in the 18th century and is an impressive feat of engineering. Over the years, many historic ships have passed through these docks.
The port was for a long time essentially a military port, but today it’s a very popular port of call for ocean liners. Over 200 of these big ships dock here each year. Gibraltar’s strategic value as part of the network of supply posts for the British Empire in Australia, India and South Africa was invaluable, and it continues to play an important strategic role in NATO today.
Many people visiting Gibraltar like to take advantage of the great shopping and excellent prices on offer here. Gibraltar’s tax status means that purchases are exempt from VAT, although there are other local import taxes. Its special political and economic status has turned Gibraltar into a highly regulated financial centre similar to Guernsey, Jersey or Luxembourg.
Following the coast of the Rock to the left you can see a small bay. This is Rosia Bay.
It was here that the HMS Victory dropped anchor on 28 October 1805, seven days after the Battle of Trafalgar, with the lifeless body of Admiral Nelson on board. The body was apparently transported in a barrel of brandy to preserve it. Legend has it that while repairs were being carried out to the boat, the ship’s doctor exchanged the brandy for spirits of wine. The mortal remains of Nelson lie in St Paul’s Cathedral in London. However, some of those who died during the Battle of Trafalgar were buried here in Gibraltar, in what is now known as Trafalgar Cemetery.
You can see Trafalgar Cemetery below you, not far from where you got on the Cable Car. Look for a green area at the end of Main Street.
This is an old cemetery in which several of the victims of the Battle of Trafalgar are buried. This famous battle took place off the coast of Cadiz between the fleet of the Royal Navy, under the command of Admiral Horatio Nelson, and the combined Spanish and French fleets. The lifeless body of Nelson himself was brought to Gibraltar on its way back to the United Kingdom. Every year on Trafalgar Day a ceremony is held to commemorate those who died in battle.
100 Ton Gun
There is a cannon located between the dry docks and Rosia Bay known as the 100 Ton Gun, which dates from the late 19th century.
This cannon was steam-operated and had a maximum range of 12 kilometres. Only two such guns exist in the world. The other one is on the island of Malta. It has never been fired in anger, but it was so powerful that before firing it those living nearby were advised to open their windows so that the force of the explosion would not break them! It took 35 men to operate it and fired a 2000 pound shell.
If you are interested in visiting the 100 Ton Gun today you will be required to purchase a Nature Reserve ticket. These are available from the souvenir shop, just ask a member of staff for assistance.
St Michael’s Cave
St. Michael’s Cave is the biggest of the Rock’s 140 natural caves. For a long time this cave was believed to be bottomless, which is probably what gave rise to the legend that Gibraltar was connected to North Africa by an underground passage across the Straits. It was believed that the Rock’s Apes came over from Africa through this underground passage.
During the Second World War, St. Michael’s cave was fitted out as an emergency hospital, although it was never used. Because of its magnificent acoustics, it is now occasionally used as a concert hall. It’s well worth a visit. The stalactites and stalagmites that you can see in the cave are truly spectacular. One of the larger stalagmites was formerly a stalactite that became so heavy that it fell from the roof and remained stuck to the floor. A cut has been made through it to show you its internal structure, helping to explain the formation of these strange natural formations.
St Michael’s Cave is part of the Upper Rock Nature Reserve. If you’d like to visit the cave, you can buy a ticket from the Souvenir Shop in the restaurant. It’s about a 20-minute walk down the Rock to the cave.
At the southernmost point of Gibraltar, called “Europa Point” stands the Lighthouse, built in 1838.
It is operated by Trinity House in London and is the only lighthouse in the world operated by Trinity House outside of the British Isles. It rises 44 metres above sea level and its beam of light can be seen 50 kilometres away, so is vital to ships navigating the Straits. The currents in the Straits are very strong. During the Second World War, German submarines managed to pass through without being detected by shutting down their engines and letting themselves be dragged by the current.
Gibraltar’s Botanical Garden, the Alameda Gardens, is next to the Bottom Station, at the base of the Rock. These gardens are in a location originally known as Red Sands. This was where executions and duels were held. During the Moorish occupation, this area was planted with fruit trees, and the red earth was used for making bricks. The Moors constructed an underground aqueduct here to bring rainwater to the town.
This still remains today. The gardens now contain an excellent display of flora from Gibraltar and other parts of the world, and they are a great source of pride for the Rock’s inhabitants. A visit is highly recommended.