When you first see the Rock of Gibraltar, whether it is from the air, from the sea or from the Costa del Sol , it is its impressive stature, towering isolated above the surrounding countryside, that causes the greatest impact. It has had this effect on people for many thousands of years. Gibraltar is a beacon which signals the position of the Strait of Gibraltar, the narrow neck which separates Europe from Africa and provides the only link between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Through the following text you will be given a dated account of all the historical moments of importance involving Gibraltar.
The African Plate collided tightly with Europe some 55 million years ago. The Mediterranean became a lake which, in the course of time, dried up until 5 million years ago when the Atlantic broke through the Strait of Gibraltar and flooded it again, isolating the Rock of Jurassic limestone.
The Phoenicians follow other navigators from the eastern Mediterranean in visiting the Strait and found the city Carteia at the head of the Bay of Gibraltar. The Rock becomes a place of worship where sailors sacrifice to the gods before entering the Atlantic.
It happened in the month of April in the year 711 AD. Following the death of the prophet Mohammed a wave of Islamic conquest overran North Africa from Arabia. By 710 AD it had reached the shores of the Strait and Europe was poised for the Islamic conquest. There are various versions of the events but one thing is clear - the Visgoths who had deposed the Romans and ruled Spain were weak and divided. The Visgothic Count Julian who ruled over Ceuta in North Africa was surrounded and he had a score to settle with his compatriots on the other side of the Strait. So, to divert the Muslims, he offered to assist them in the conquest of Spain.
The assault was down to a Berber chief, Tarik-ibn-Ziyad, the Governor of Tangier. He sailed across the Strait by night, from Ceuta not Tangier so as not to arouse suspicion and used Visgothic ships. His first attempt on Algeciras failed but he was successful in landing undetected on Gibraltar.
Following the Moslem General Tarik successful landing on the Rock, he assembles his forces before defeating the Gothic King Roderick, and entering into the conquest of Spain. Gibraltar becomes known as Jebal Tarik (Mountain of Tarik) from which it takes its present name.
By the 11th Century AD Gibraltar is part of the Arab kingdom of Seville except for a short period when it comes under Berber rule from Malaga. The mounting threat of invasion by North Africa sects forces the Arab Governor of Algeciras to order in 1068 the building of a fort in Gibraltar. Spain is eventually overrun by another North African sect, the Almohads, and it was their leader, Abd-ad-Mummin, who commanded the building of the first city in Gibraltar - the Medinat al-Fath, the City of Victory. It was by all accounts, an impressive city and its foundations were laid on the 19th May 1160 AD. On completion of the works Al - Mummin personally crossed the Strait to inspect the works and stayed in Gibraltar for two months, inviting all his subordinate kings to see his works. It is said that Al - Mummin was especially impressed by a large windmill which had been built on top of the hill (Windmill Hill).
Skirmishing and fighting continued between 1160 and 1300, among Muslims or between Muslims and Christians. 1252 left only two Islamic kingdoms in Spain, in Murcia and Granada. By the year 1309, King Ferdinand IV had laid siege on Algeciras and, learning of Arab weaknesses on the Rock sent Alonso Perez de Guzman to capture it. Thus Gibraltar endured its first siege. The Spaniards took the Upper Rock from where they bombarded the town using cannons. The garrison surrendered after one month. Gibraltar then had 1500 inhabitants and they were allowed to leave for North Africa.
The Spaniards set to repair the fortifications and shipyard but few people wanted to settle in Gibraltar, which was considered to be a high risk town. This forced Ferdinand to offer freedom from justice to anyone who lived in Gibraltar for one year and one day. By 1333 Gibraltar was once more in Muslim hands as Abdul Malik, son of the King of Morocco, laid siege. The garrison surrendered after four and a half months of siege.
Gibraltar becomes part of the Muslim Kingdom of Granada.
Gibraltar is recaptured by Castille and became part of the estates of the Duke of Medina Sidonia.
The Catholic King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella conquer Granada, the last vestige of the Muslim domination of Spain. The Jews are expelled from Spain and many pass through Gibraltar on their way into exile in North Africa.
Queen Isabella grants Gibraltar a coat of arms consisting of a castle, which symbolises its importance as a fortress, and a key which highlights its reputation as the key to Spain, which it has held since the time of Moslem conquest.
By the middle of the sixteenth century a new kind of conflict had arisen as Corsairs from the coast of Barbary, under their infamous leader Barbarossa, hounded the zone. In the summer of 1540 a large fleet of pirates assembled and raided the poorly defended Gibraltar. Years later, after mounting pressure from the inhabitants of Gibraltar, the Emperor Charles V ordered the Italian engineer Calvi to build a protective wall. This wall was extended to reach the top of the Rock in the reign of Philip II some years later.
The Moriscos (the descendants of the Moslem inhabitants in Spain) are expelled and many pass through Gibraltar on their way into exile in North Africa.
So in this way a joint Anglo-Dutch force captured Gibraltar, on behalf of Charles of Austria who was pretender to the throne of Spain. Things took a while to settle down. Shortly after the capture a Spanish goatherd, Simon Susarte, led 500 Spanish troops to Europa Advance on the south-eastern side of the Rock and then killed the guard. They moved to the Upper Rock and spent the night in St Michael's Cave. The next morning they attacked the Signal Station but the alarm was raised and the English counter-attacked. 160 prisoners were taken including a colonel and thirty other officers; the rest were killed trying to escape.
Gibraltar is declared a 'free port', which leads to its development as an important international trading centre.
The first British Governor is appointed and takes up residence in the Convent of the Franciscan Friars.
Spain under the Terms of the Treaty of Utrecht cedes Gibraltar to Britain in perpetuity.
Skirmishes and attacks continued for a while. By 1726 trading between Gibraltar and Spain had resumed. Then, early in 1727 the Spaniards laid the 13th siege on the Rock but after several unsuccessful and costly attempts gave up in June of the same year.
The final military siege on Gibraltar followed many years later, in 1779. On this occasion the Spaniards and French combined forces and launched a massive onslaught, which was to last close to four years. It was a siege, known as the Great Siege, which was to test the ingenuity and will to survive of the garrison. The galleries were dug during this time, as Sergeant Major Ince attempted to drill a tunnel to place a gun in a vantage point on the Rock. On tunnelling sideways to make ventilations he realised that these exits would make perfect gun positions. Later, a Lieutenant Koehler designed a carriage, which allowed guns on the cliffs to be directly pointed down at the enemy. Accounts of the siege are full of vivid stories of survival and daring. On the 21st November, 1781, the defenders of the garrison took the offensive and caught the enemy batteries on the isthmus by surprise, destroying them and setting back their progress: this event is commemorated as the Sortie.
Work starts on the Great Siege Tunnels which became the great and complex system of underground fortifications which today criss-cross the inside of the Rock. After the Siege, the fortifications were rebuilt and, in the following century, the walls were lined with Portland stone which gives them their present white appearance.
The war with Spain ends after the Treaty of Versailles is signed.
The French revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars lead to a big increase in the trade, prosperity and population of Gibraltar. The town, which had been destroyed in the Great Siege, is rebuilt.
The great yellow fever epidemic, over a third of the civilian population die.
The Spanish fortifications at the frontier are demolished as Britain and Spain are allies in the War against Napoleon. Free access across the frontier is established.
Gibraltar is declared a Crown Colony. The Royal Gibraltar Police is established.
A skull was found in the Forbes's Quarry at the foot of the sheer north face of the Rock of Gibraltar. Nobody knew it at the time but it belonged not to a modern human, like us, but to a prehistoric form. It was sent to the UK where it was conserved. Eight years later in the Neander Valley near Dusseldorf in Germany another was found giving this human its name - instead of Gibraltar Man it became Neanderthal Man.
The construction of the dockyards commences.
The City Council is established and the first elections are held in Gibraltar.
As a consequence of the Second World War, which broke out in 1939, the civilian population is evacuated to Britain, Jamaica and Madeira, in order for Gibraltar to be fortified against the possibility of a German attack. By 1942 there are over 30,000 British soldiers, sailors and airmen on the Rock. The repatriation of the civilians started in 1944 and proceeded for some six years although the majority had returned by 1946
Gibraltar's first Legislative Council is opened.
A referendum is held and the Gibraltarians overwhelmingly vote for continuing their association with Britain.
Franco closes the Frontier in pursuit of his claim for Gibraltar.
In 1982, ships were refitted for the Falklands campaign and Gibraltar became a stopover for ships and troops.
Spain reopens the frontier for pedestrians only.
The frontier with Spain is opened fully. Gibraltar's trade and population thrive. Its inhabitants live harmoniously in a peaceful and unique multi-cultural society
As in 1982, Gibraltar served a similar function during the Gulf War. The Rock, the beacon which attracted the Gibraltarians over the ages, retains its power and charms as it looks towards the 21st Century.