Friday, June 17, 2011

Gibraltar, the modern Troy

Gibraltar - Africa in the fog

Gibraltar has been, during the history, an important strategic point for controlling the entry and exit from the Mediterranean Sea. One after another, the Phoenicians, Arabs, Spanish or British took control and used the advantages given by "The Rock" in their eternal fights for the supremacy of the area.

Gibraltar - boats

Many thousands years ago, the peninsula was surrounded by fertile plains instead of water. The Neanderthals were using the caves around the rock as their home, different fossils of them being found in Gorham's Cave or Forbes' Quarry. Around 950 BCE the Phoenicians settled some shrines and altars, making offerings to their gods. The Greeks were venerating the rock, considering it created by Hercules during his Tenth Labour to join the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Some temples dedicated to the demigod existed in Gibraltar, the travellers making sacrifices for a safe passage through the dangerous waters. The rock was considered mostly a sacred place, so the closest located settlement was established on the place of the modern Spanish town of San Roque (Carteia was called in antiquity being initially Phoencian and evolving later into a Chartaginan city).

Gibraltar - La Linea de la Conception

In 710 a Berber army lead by Tariq ibn Ziyad crossed from Africa to Europe, landed in the proximity of Gibraltar and started their campaign of conquering the most part of Iberian peninsula. The Almohad Sultan Abd al-Mu'min fortified Gibraltar first time in 1160 feeling the danger of Reconquista lead by the Christian kings of Aragon and Castile. In 1309, Ferdinand IV of Castile and James II of Aragon besieged and finally conquered Gibraltar (that was counting about 1200 citizens at that time) and repopulated it with Christians. A lot of naval wars and attacks had Gibraltar as target in 17th century, involving Dutch, British, Danish and Spanish fleet and very often alliances were just made and broken. In the beginning 18th century, the British took the total control of Gibraltar (in August 1704 the fleet commanded by Admiral Sir George Rooke, conquered it, lost it again in October but managed to hit back in December). In 1713 Gibraltar come officially under British possession after the Treaty of Utrecht and was consolidated and fortified. Spain tried to reconquer it many times during the 18th century, culminating with the fourteenth siege, in 1779, that transformed most of the city into a ruin. The British had to cede West Florida, East Florida and Minorca to Spain in order to keep Gibraltar.

Gibraltar - Africa is a misty goal

The British navy used Gibraltar as a key military base in their following wars, Battle of Trafalgar and Crimean War. In the World War II Spanish dictator Francisco Franco refused to allow the allied German army to cross Spain, vanishing German plans to capture Gibraltar. Franco wishes to control again Gibraltar so he imposed travel and communication restrictions between Spain and Gibraltar. The border was completely closed in 1969 being fully reopened in 1985. The inhabitants had their chance to express their opinion about the control of Gibraltar by either Great Britain or Spain, but they opted for UK in both 1967 and 2002. Today, Gibraltar is considered a British overseas territory, its inhabitants having the British citizenship with all the rights that resides from this.

Gibraltar - The old continent