The site now occupied by the Top Station used to be a Signal Station many years ago.
On a clear day, you can see for up to sixty kilometres – that’s 37 miles – from the top of the Rock. From this lookout post, the guards used to alert the population to the arrival of ships by firing signal cannon and raising flags. The number of cannon shots fired and type of flags raised varied according to the nationality and type of ship approaching the rock. Cannons were also fired to announce the opening and closing of the City gates at sunrise and sunset, or to signal a fire on the Rock.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the signal station was converted into a gun battery. And during the Second World War it was equipped with anti-aircraft guns. The ammunition for the guns was stored in man-made tunnels that still exist today and extend from beneath what is now the restaurant as far as the North Terrace.
And in Gibraltar’s more recent past, the area around the Top Station was also used as the setting for the opening scenes of a James Bond film, The Living Daylights starring Timothy Dalton as Agent 007.
The Romans gave Gibraltar the name Mons Calpe, which means “high mountain”.
However, the name ‘Gibraltar’ is not Roman, but Arab in origin. In the early eighth century a Muslim general, Quue, mounted an invasion of Spain, using the Rock as a jumping-off point. The Rock was named ‘Gibel Tarik’, or ‘Tarik’s Mountain’, in his honour. The name ‘Gibel Tarik’ was eventually corrupted to ‘Gibraltar’. Although the Moors came early to Gibraltar, they did not settle on the Rock until the twelfth century.
According to classical mythology, the western entrance to the Mediterranean was marked by two pillars: Mount Abyla, across the Straits in Africa and Mount Calpe, also known as Gibraltar. It was believed that Hercules himself created the Straits of Gibraltar by pulling these two pillars apart. As proof of his feat, Hercules wrote on the mountains the words Non plus ultra which in Latin mean “There is nothing beyond”, to show that no land existed beyond this point. Centuries later, when Columbus discovered America, the Spanish Royal Coat of Arms was amended to incorporate the inscription Plus Ultra to assert that something did exist beyond the Straits of Gibraltar.
In front of you, on the right across the bay, is the town of Algeciras, which means “green island” in Arabic.
When Italy declared war on Great Britain in 1940, a contingent of Italian troops was sent to Algeciras to attack British or Allied ships that were entering or leaving Gibraltar. They used human torpedoes, known as “pigs” which had room for two divers and could travel on the surface or underwater. In spite of the steel anti-submarine nets that were installed at the port’s two entrances, the Italians managed to sink 68,000 tonnes of Allied ships before their surrender in 1943. These steel nets themselves can still be seen stored in tunnels inside the Rock today
Gibraltar’s sea life is also spectacular.
The Bay and Strait of Gibraltar are a natural breeding area for three species of dolphin: the Common Dolphin, the Striped Dolphin and the Bottlenose Dolphin. It is not uncommon to see pods ranging from 20 to 30 or even up to many hundreds, an incredible sight! Whales can also occasionally be seen in the surrounding waters including: the Minke Whale, the Pilot Whale or the Fin Whale.
Tarifa & Strait of Gibraltar
The town of Tarifa is the southernmost point of the Iberian Peninsula. The straits between Tarifa and North Africa are only 14.5 kilometres wide. This is one of the busiest sea routes in the world. On the other side of the straits in North Africa, are the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.
Can you imagine the naval battles that have taken place around these coasts? Perhaps you can put yourself in the place of the seafarers of the past, who found themselves here at the crossroads not only of two seas, but also of two continents and two opposing cultures.
A little further to the south from here, and higher up, is O’Hara’s Battery, built on what is in fact the highest point of the Rock.
Charles O’Hara was governor of Gibraltar from 1795 to 1805 (audio wrong ‘ 1787 to 1791), just after the Great Siege. O’Hara was convinced that from this location he would be able to monitor all shipping movements off Cadiz, more than a hundred kilometres away. So he had this tower built. It proved a spectacular failure and was immediately dubbed “O’Hara’s folly”. There is a cannon on this summit capable of firing almost 28 kilometres, although it has never been fired in anger. However, on the occasions it has been fired it has caused irreparable damage to the stalactites in St. Michael’s cave, which lies just beneath it.
Gibraltar is justly famous as an impregnable fortress. Over the centuries, it has repeatedly strengthened its defences. As you’ll hear later in the tour, these have even been extended into the heart of the Rock itself.
This character of a fortress, strong under attack, has arisen largely through its history of conflict with Spain. In 1462, after seven (audio wrong ‘1457 after 6’) centuries of Moorish dominion, Gibraltar was recaptured by the Castilians and remained under Spanish control until the early 18th century, when it played a key role in the War of the Spanish Succession. At the root of this war was a desire, on the part of England, to prevent a French king succeeding to the throne of Spain: the fear was that such far-reaching French influence would upset the balance of power in Europe. During the course of the war, Gibraltar was captured by a joint English and Dutch fleet under Admiral Sir George Rooke. It was a memorable victory; and, to this day, the British Royal Marines have the word ‘Gibraltar’ on their badge to mark their 1st battle honour.
When the war ended, Spain granted Gibraltar to England under the Treaty of Utrecht. However, Spain laid siege to the Rock on several occasions in an attempt to regain sovereignty. The longest, most bloody conflict was “The Great Siege” of 1779. The Great Siege lasted for four years and destroyed a large part of the city and its fortifications. This was to be Spain’s last attempt to take Gibraltar by force. Though Spain continues to claim sovereignty over the Rock, Gibraltar remains British to this day.
Frontier with Spain
In 1954, Queen Elizabeth II made an official visit to Gibraltar – a visit which was to mark a turning point in Gibraltar’s history.
The Spanish government protested against the Queen’s visit. They ordered the Spanish consul to withdraw from Gibraltar, and they closed the border between Spain and Gibraltar. Ten years later, the quarrel was still rumbling on. Spain was claiming the right to sovereignty over Gibraltar; and their harsh restrictions ended in an economic blockade. The aim was to strengthen ties between the people of Gibraltar and Spain. In fact, these tactics had the opposite effect: they merely reinforced the Gibraltarian’s sense identity. A referendum was held in 1967 (audio wrong ‘1968’) and the results were overwhelming: only 44 people out of the entire population of Gibraltar voted in favour of Spanish sovereignty. Following this referendum, in 1969, Spain closed the frontier gates thus severing all communication by land.
The border was finally re-opened 13 years later in 1982 as part of the conditions for Spain’s entry into the European Union.