The Rock of Gibraltar
Though I had heard people refer to "The Rock of Gibraltar," I can truly say I knew next to nothing about the place until I stepped off the cruise ship to see it. I didn't even know Gibraltar is a British territory until the day before we arrived... Maybe I'm just entirely out of the loop, who knows, but I certainly learned a lot once there. Unfortunately the afternoon we docked was extremely hazy and remained so most of the day, so the view was only partial, but we were given a very extensive history lesson by our enthusiastic guide the whole way. She explained that the narrow Straight of Gibraltar, at the entrance to the Mediterranean, has been one of the most important passages for centuries. Only 3,000 feet across (on a clear day you can see Africa across the way), the earliest record of the site was in Ancient Greek mythology, which said that it was the entrance to the underworld. As time went on and mariners made their way back and forth within the Mediterranean, few dared to cross into the rough open waters of the Atlantic. Until, one day, they did. During the Age of Discovery, when explorers began to traverse across the globe, their starting point was usually from within the Mediterranean. Thus whoever controlled the straight controlled that trade and would be very powerful. Originally held by the Moors for centuries, Spaniards conquered the rock in 1462 and remained in control until the War of Spanish Succession, when the territory was ceded to the British in 1713 in exchange for their withdrawal from the war. Spanish monarchs have tried to regain the territory to no avail, once during the siege of 1727 and again with the Great Siege of Gibraltar which lasted from 1779 until 1783. During the great siege, trapped atop the rock with Spanish troops closing in around them, the desperate British soldiers dug a tunnel down through the rock using whatever tools and strength they could muster in order to situate a canon on a strategic overhang a ways down the rock face. These tunnels became the beginning of miles and miles of tunnels carved into the rock in subsequent centuries, especially during World War II, and today it stands as one of the most impenetrable fortresses in the world.
Aside from its fascinating history, the rock is home to a band of Barbary macaque monkeys that seem to have more reign over the area than the human inhabitants. They are protected by the British government and scientists study and monitor them closely, though it can be hard to account for the silly tourists that try to feed them and get a camera stolen or a hand bitten here or there. Luckily we had no such run in and they mostly kept their distance. We even saw some newly born babies with their mothers that we so cute and feisty.
So although Gibraltar is a strange place, to be sure, it is clearly a highly important site for its strategic placement reigning over all who enter and exit the Mediterranean Sea, one of the busiest trade routes in the world.