Travel Writers: Gibraltar Photo Journal By Jack Cox

Location: Gibraltar, off Southern tip of Spain, Europe

The Rock of Gibraltar

Last October, I received a phone call from a regular client, he was putting together a new financial product and wanted to associate it with the idea of it being as “Solid as the Rock of Gibraltar”. Did I have any suitable pictures for the brochure cover?

I didn’t but, as I live in Spain. about a hour’s drive from the famous rock, I would pop down and take something for him.

Ceremony Of The Keys

The Ceremony of the Keys was revived in 1933 and is now performed twice a year (April & October) by the Royal Gibraltar Regiment
and the resident British Battalions. Its origins date from the Great Siege (1779-1783) when French and Spanish troops attempted in vain to capture Gibraltar.

The keys were kept by the Governor who would hand them to the Port (Gate) Sergeant each evening at sunset, so that the four land entrances could be locked shut. The Gate Sergeant with an escort consisting of several armed soldiers, would then march to each of the four gates in turn. He would be challenged by the sentry at the gate with a loud, “Halt! Who goes there?” to which the Port Sergeant would reply, “The Keys!”.

Once all the gates were locked, the keys would be returned to the Governor at the Convent. In the Morning, the Port Sergeant would
once again collect the keys to open the town for the day.

Today the gates are gone but the keys remain for ceremonial purposes. They are in the keeping of Sir Francis Richards, Governor of Gibraltar. During the ceremony he holds out the keys to the Gate Sergeant but does not actually hand them over. The whole affair if conducted with much pomp and ceremony accompanied by a military band.

St Michael’s Cave

There are more than 140 caves eroded into the Rock of Gibraltar but St. Michael’s is the only one open to the public. It is situated some 300 metres above sea level and is arguably one of the most spectacular natural grottoes in Europe.

This immense natural cavern led ancient peoples to believe the rock was hollow and gave rise to its old name of Mons Calpe (Hollow Mountain). The cave was inhabited as far back as Neolithic times and many prehistoric relics have been found here. A cranium from the Neanderthal period (around 50,000 BC) was discovered here in 1848 and is now exhibited in the Gibraltar Museum.

My walk down the hill was invigorating. Gaps in the vegetation offered wonderful views of the harbour and marina below, in fact you can see across to Spain in one direction and North Africa in the other.

The Great Siege Tunnels

About half way down I came to the entrance to the Great Siege Tunnels. At the time of my visit these are subject to much renovation work but it is still possible to go in. This labyrinth of tunnels inside the Rock of Gibraltar is arguably the most ingenious defence system ever devised. Formally known as “the Upper Galleries”, the tunnels were built during the Great Siege from July 1779 to February 1783.

During the war of American Independence, France and Spain attempted to capture the Rock from the British. This was Gibraltar’s 14th Siege and has come to be known as the Great Siege. Gradually the enemy advanced their trenches on the isthmus, until in 1782 the enemy were so close to the Rock that none of the existing batteries in Gibraltar had room to open fire.

The Governor, General Elliot (later called Baron Heathfield of Gibraltar) is said to have offered a reward to anyone who could tell him how to get guns onto a projection from the precipitous northern face of the Rock known as the ‘Notch’. Sergeant Major Ince, a member of the Company of Soldier Artificers (later to become the Royal Engineers), suggested that this could be done by tunnelling through the Rock and on May 25th, 1782 the work began.

The Great Siege Tunnels, 2.5sq meters in cross section, were cut into The Rock by sheer hard work and guts. In just five weeks 18 men equipped with only simple hand tools and gunpowder, achieved this great task.

The Gibraltar Apes

After exploring the more accessible parts of the cave I emerged into the warm sunlight and set off in search of the Gibraltar Apes. Actuality they are not apes at all but monkeys with very short tails. The Barbary Macaque (Macaca sylvanus L.) is native to Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. It was introduced into Gibraltar, probably by the Moors. In Northern Africa, this species is found in montane oak and cedar forests.

Although Barbary apes were once found throughout north Africa, there are now only 1,200-2,000 left in small areas, threatened by habitat destruction and hunting.

They are peaceful creatures. Each group comprises 10-30 members, and share territories without conflict. Females choose their mates and prefer good fathers. He carries his infant soon after birth, grooms and plays with it and shows it off to other males who peacefully play with the offspring as well. Males cooperate to ferociously defend the group, even against dogs. The babies are almost hairless at birth, and black, getting their adult colouring at about 4 months.

Contact with large numbers of tourists is causing the integrity of these social groups to break down. For this reason, feeding the apes is now an offence punishable by a £300 fine and all close contact with them is strongly discouraged.

Legend has it that the Rock of Gibraltar will remain under British rule
so long as Barbary apes survive here. So when they were wiped out by disease during the Second World War, they were quickly reintroduced from Africa.

There are about now about 160 Macaques on Gibraltar, which are fed and looked after by the army and the Gibraltar Government.

Text & photography © Jack Cox, all rights reserved.

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