Thursday, 31 July 2008

Gibraltar - remnant of the British Empire

Gibraltar is one of the few remaining remnants of the British Empire, and very odd it is too. It is essentially a big rock tacked on to the bottom of Spain, but because it is at the narrow mouth of the Mediterranean, it has been a prized strategic base for centuries.
It is still a major British military base, although progressively more land is being released by the chaps in uniform.
Tourism is becoming increasingly big business, and Gibraltar has enough crammed in – caves, monkeys, diving, tunnel tours – to be a great weekend break destination.
The tiny territory became British in 1713, when the War of the Spanish Succession was ended by the Treaty of Utrecht. Gibraltar was ceded to the United Kingdom in perpetuity.
It’s fair to say that the Spanish aren’t too happy about this. The border between Gibraltar and Spain was shut off between 1969 and 1982, and it’s only very recently that planes heading for Gibraltar have been allowed to fly over Spanish airspace.
But the locals wish to remain British – 99% voted against proposals of joint Spanish-British sovereignty in 2002 – and a very British feel permeates. In a hot, Latin corner of the Mediterranean, there are still red phone boxes, policemen with helmets and fish and chip shops.
Perhaps most odd of all is the language visitors may catch being spoken on the streets. Called Llanito, it appears to switch at random between English and Spanish, although in truth there are also elements of Maltese and Genoese thrown in.
Amongst the bizarre places in Gibraltar that are worth seeing, there are the World War II tunnels, the airport and the monkeys on The Rock.

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