The Rock was formed, more or less in the shape we see it today, by a massive upheaval of the earth about 200 million years ago. While dinosaurs roamed, the earth′s plates that formed Africa and Europe collided and a massive lump of Jurassic limestone was forced up from the sea and flipped over. The top ridge of Gibraltar was once far below the sea and is made from millions of compressed seashells.
Not just on the outside but on the inside too! Rainwater filtered through and cracks, fissures, caves and eventually huge caverns including St Michael′s Cave were formed.
Those who use the expression ′Solid as the Rock of Gibraltar′ can be reminded that it is in fact honeycombed by history - riddled with natural caves and, much later, tunnelled by man to a total of 50km of passages.
It is easy to think of Gibraltar as an island although it is not. At times during the evolution of the world, between Ice Ages, it was an island thanks to rising sea levels. The last time this happened was possibly 120 thousand years ago and about the same time prehistoric man arrived on the scene. Since then Gibraltar has become a peninsula connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus - the very piece of land traversed by the airport runway.
The caves of Gibraltar continue to reveal exciting findings that prove prehistoric man lived here possibly as long as 120 thousand years ago, pre-dating the discovery of ′Neanderthal′ man in Germany′s Neander Valley. The Rocks many caves made it an attractive accommodation for prehistoric people. Later, it would receive visits by ancient mariners - possibly the Mycaeneans (16th - Century BC) and certainly the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks and Romans who followed.
The Rock did not become a settlement until much later. In 711 AD a Moslem general, Tarik ibn Ziyad, landed his forces at the southern end of the Rock to begin the initial Muslim conquest of Spain. From then on the Rock became known as the Mountain of Tarik - ′Jebel Tarik′ - from which derives the name ′Gibraltar′.
For four hundred years, from the 11th century to the 15th century, Gibraltar was made a fortress by the Moors and their architecture prevailed. After the first siege, in 1309, the Spanish retook the Rock but ten sieges were to follow. Each time the Spanish or Moorish buildings were destroyed. In 1704 1,800 English and Dutch marines were landed and captured the Rock. It was ceded to Britain by Spain under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 in perpetuity.
The 14th and last siege saw the old city mostly destroyed again. This was the Great Siege of 1779 - 1783 when Spain and France combined forces. For almost four years the British Garrison was tested in the extreme and during this time the first tunnels and galleries were engineered to make perfect gun emplacements. The siege collapsed following an attempt to breach the King′s Bastion with guns mounted on ′impregnable′ batteries floated into Gibraltar Bay. The British defenders sank them by using shot preheated in furnaces.
During the 19th Century Gibraltar grew in peace although it was here Admiral Nelson based his fleet and fought the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 at the western end of the Strait. Sadly it was to Gibraltar that Nelson′s body was brought. The Trafalgar Cemetery can be visited today in Gibraltar.
Despite the earlier destruction Gibraltar has retained relics of its heritage. The impressive Moorish Castle and Tower of Homage overlook the Bay of Gibraltar and the fascinating Gibraltar museum houses the Moorish baths. Spanish architecture can be seen at the Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned and the Franciscan Convent, which is now the official residence of Gibraltar′s Governor. The Great Siege tunnels can be explored and Nelson′s Anchorage may be visited.
Today Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory. Its community drawn from British, Genoese, Portuguese, Spanish, Jewish and other origins is firmly consolidated - friendly, bilingual and in racial and religious harmony.