Gibraltar & The Med: Pt 5 – Algeciras, Spain

The final stop on our week in Gibraltar was a bus trip from the Spanish town of La Linea, to the city of Algeciras on the far side of the Bay of Gibraltar…

Algeciras:

Status: Cadiz Province, Andalucia, City, Spain

Date: 27/08/2014

Travel: Bus (La Linea – Algeciras)

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Port of Algeciras, Bay of Gibraltar, Hotel Seville, Kursaal Building, King Alfonso XI Statue, Church of our Lady of Europe, Tribute to the Mother Statue, Parish Church of our Lady of the Palm, Plaza Alta, City Hall, Colonial Cairo etc

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We arrived at Algeciras bus station, and exiting the building we stepped out onto the Calle Segismundo Moret, a main road leading down towards the shoreline by the docks. We passed a number of fine looking buildings, including the one shown above, called the Hotel Seville, designed by Emilio Anton (Spanish Architect) and completed in 1925.

It’s a beautiful building, and located across the road from the local Tourist Information Office, which provided us with a very handy map of the city, without which I doubt we would have seen as many interesting sites as we did.

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Further down the same road (on the same side as the Tourist Info) as we moved towards the docks, we spotted the tower of the “Kursaal Building”, designed by Guillermo Perez Villalta and Enrique Salvo. It took 10 years to complete, after it ran into what I assume was financial difficulties, but it was finally opened in 2007, and it houses the HQ of the “Centre of Permanent Relations” who promote the two borders of Spain and Gibraltar across the bay culturally.

The Calle Segismundo Moret road meets the Avenue la Marina further East, where we found a bust of Jose Luis Batugg Barragan, a dock worker who was sadly killed in an accident on the 15th June 1987. Behind him the vast sprawl of the docks stretch out into the bay. There are a number of docks around the bay, including out at Campamento near the Torre de Hercules, as well as in Algeciras itself.

Aside from the usual cargo ships that arrive here, the docks also cater to the ferries that transit between Spain and the African Continent, to the Spanish Exclave of Ceuta, and Tangier. The ferries leave on a timetable that would actually allow you to make a day trip into Tangier, the capital city of Morocco, which we were very tempted to try alas the hard part was getting round from Gibraltar in time.

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After a brief walk around the dockland area, and enjoying the view towards Gibraltar, we wandered through into the main city centre, towards the central square. En route, we found this statue of a mother and her child. The inscription on the base reads:

“Homenaje a la Madre” or “Tribute to the Mother”. The right hand side of the base states that it was placed by Algeciras City Council, in May 1995.

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Moving on, we arrived in Plaza Alta, at the South East corner of which stands the “Chapel of Our Lady of Europe”, which serves the Roman Catholic population of Algeciras. It was completed in 1769, replacing the previous incarnation which had been dedicated to St Bernard (Patron Saint of Gibraltar) and was unfortunately destroyed in the earthquake of 1755.

It’s a stunning little building, and really stands out amongst the many more modern buildings on either side. The history of the Church is closely linked to the capture of Gibraltar by the English/Dutch in 1704, as many Gibraltarians evacuated the city and moved towards this Church, building temporary homes. Gibraltar never returned to Spanish hands, and the population here remained permanently, founding the modern version of Algeciras.

The Plaza Alta is the heart of Algeciras, and is 1 of the most impressive squares we have seen in a long time. At it’s centre sits an ornate fountain, around the rim of which sit a number of small frog fountains, firing water into the main fountain. The whole square is beautifully decorated, and even the benches are covered in mosaics.

The standout building in the square has to be the large “Parroquia De Nuestra Senora de la Palma” at the South West corner. This translates as the Church of the Parish of Our Lady of the Palm, dedicated to the Virgin Mary of Palm Sunday. The name dates back to 1344 when King Alfonso XI invaded the city and a new diocese was created to cover the area. The original church was later destroyed after the Granada King Muhammed V (1338 – 1391) invaded just 25 years later, and obliterated the original incarnation of Algeciras, which only reappeared after the invasion of Gibraltar as noted above. The new church was designed by Alonso Barranco and Isidro Casaus when The Chapel of Our Lady of Europe became too small for the expanding population. It was completed in 1738 after 15 years of construction, after which it became the new Parish Church.

The tower stands 150 ft above the rest of the square, making it 1 of the standout landmarks in the city as a whole.

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Heading North out of the square, we arrived on the Calle Alfonse XI, where the impressive City Hall, shown above, dominates the street. Across the top of the building are the words “Casa Consistorial” which translates as House of the Constitution, or City Hall.

It is the most recent in a line of Town Halls, which date back to 1755 when the City Council was established. The present version was completed in 1897, to designs by Amadeo Rodriguez. The 3 flags flying from the front facade of the building are, from left to right:

1) Andalucia

2) Spain

3) Algeciras

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There are many interesting and varied shops in Algeciras, and 1 that stood out in particular was called “Colonial Cairo” which has been stunningly crafted to resemble the type of building you might find in ancient Egypt. It’s such an unexpected find in the heart of a large city in Southern Spain, but it certainly adds something to the city.

Continuing along the same road which houses both the City Hall and Colonial Cairo, we arrived at an extensive series of ruins, which consists of some ancient Merinies Walls, dating back to when the Marinid Dynasty under Islamic Rule was in charge of the area around Algeciras and Gibraltar, as well as Morocco. The Marinid Dynasty eventually surrendered in 1344 to King Alfonso XI and his Castilian Army, who had laid siege to the city for the previous 2 years. They rebuilt much of the city, including creating the original Parish of our Lady of the Palm Church, but as noted in that section King Muhammed later invaded the area and retook the city for Islamic rule. He himself then destroyed the entire city in 1379, and it disappeared from history for a number of centuries.

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The last thing we found in Algeciras, before we headed back to get the bus towards La Linea for Gibraltar, was a statue of King Alfonso XI (1311 – 1350, King of Castille) who conquered the area in 1344, leading to the establishment of the Diocese of Algeciras as mentioned earlier. It is located just up the road from the ruined walls. Castille eventually united with the Kingdom of Aragon when Isabella of Castile (crowned 1474) and Ferdinand II of Aragon (crowned 1479) were married, paving the way for the Union that created Spain.

Algeciras is an interesting city with a rich history closely linked to that of the other towns around the bay, along with neighbouring Gibraltar and Morocco. It’s got pleasant squares, some great architecture and 1 of the largest ports in Europe, making it important economically and strategically. It also benefits from Gibraltar Airport just around the bay and the meeting of various main roads close to the town. In 1890 the railway station was completed, and provides links towards Ronda , a city near Malaga where you can reach Spanish mainlines towards Malaga itself, as well as the capital, Madrid.

As for us, we left Algeciras behind us, and returned to Gibraltar via La Linea, at the culmination of our fascinating week around the Bay of Gibraltar…

Gibraltar & The Med: Pt 4 – Road to Algeciras

We had just left the town of La Linea in Spain by bus, to complete the 40 minute bus journey to the city of Algeciras. En route, we spotted a few things of interest…

Spain 0

La Linea as a town has a number of intricate roundabouts, including this 1, which we passed on the bus. It appears to feature a number of brick columns, topped by lamps, and must look quite stunning in the evening when it gets dark. Also on the picture you can see far across the bay towards Algeciras.

Spain 1

Leaving the boundaries of La Linea, we entered the suburb of Campamento, where you can find the “Parroquia de la Immaculada” which translates as the Parish of the Immaculate. It’s a stunning little Church, with a tall bell tower which no doubt resonates around the local area when rung.

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Further round the bay, as we passed through the village of Los Cortijillos, which is a suburb of the town of Los Barrios, we spotted the 330 ft Torra de Hercules (Tower of Hercules), completed in 2009. It’s a notable skyscraper as it’s the tallest in the whole of Andalucia, and its name is linked to the Pillars of Hercules, a legend which says that the Rock of Gibraltar and Jebel Musa in Morocco were both once joined, as 1 large mountain called Atlas. Hercules then smashed through it and inadvertently created the Mediterranean Sea when the Atlantic flooded through.

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As we neared Algeciras, the road rejoined the coast, and we got a stunning view across to Gibraltar and La Linea. It’s an incredible view, and heralded our arrival into the city, where we set out to explore…

Gibraltar & The Med: Pt 3 – La Linea, Spain

Whilst we were actually staying in Gibraltar for a week, and we had great fun exploring the stunning City/Nature Reserve, we took a day out to explore neighbouring Spain, and the town of La Linea was 1st, lying directly across the Spanish Border…

La Linea de la Concepcion:

Status: Cadiz Province, Andalucia, Town, Spain

Date: 27/08/2014

Travel: Walking

Eating & Sleeping: McDonalds

Attractions: Marina, Constitution Square, Spanish Worker in Gibraltar Statue, Information Point, Rock of Gibraltar, Cultural Museum, City Council Building, Isthmus Museum, Dogma Memorial etc

La Linea 1

Whilst recently there has been some controversy over the Spanish decision to search extensively cars trying to travel into Gibraltar by road, we found the foot crossing at the border to be a very simple affair. We simply waved our passports at a rather disinterested looking Spanish Border Guard and that was it. Road is the only mode of transport that actually links La Linea and Gibraltar, as there are no rail lines in the immediate area, the closest station being in Algeciras on the other side of the bay.

Just past the frontier, we came across this statue of a man with his bicycle, with the caption “A Los Trabajadores Espanoles En Gibraltar. 1 Mayo 2003″. This basically means a Spaniard who works in Gibraltar, as many residents in La Linea commute to work in Gibraltar. I assume from the “1 Mayo 2003″ that it was the 1st May 2003 when the statue was erected.

La Linea 2

En route to the main town centre, we found the new Tourist Information Centre, which has a range of maps that will help you find your way around the town, and without which we probably wouldn’t have seen as much as we did in La Linea. A pedestrian footbridge links the Tourist Info with the main square in town, taking you above a major road, and also affording you this magnificent view back at Gibraltar. It’s really only once you actually leave the territory itself and look back that you realise just how large and imposing the Rock is compared with the surrounding areas. To the far right you can make out the square tower of the Moorish Castle on the side of the Rock, along with the Cable Car in roughly the centre of the Rock.

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Crossing the bridge, we arrived in Constitution Square, 1 of a number of squares in the town. Spain is well known for it’s central squares, although there are some stunning examples back in Britain, including in Preston, Bradford and Trafalgar Square in London.

I gather that the square is a recent addition to the town, as on the Malagarcar website it describes the La Linea fair which takes place here in the square, which used to be “a flat wasteland”, and indeed the area of town between Gibraltar and the square appears to be undeveloped currently. There are a few things of interest around the edge of the square:

On the way towards the Isthmus Museum, we passed this rather interesting looking statue, sat outside the La Linea post office. It appears to depict a man holding a book whilst simultaneously swimming, however I could be wrong, as I haven’t been able to find any information about the statue itself. If anyone knows who made it, or what it represents, feel free to comment below :).

Just past the statue (and you can see it at the far left of the statue picture) is the Isthmus Museum, housed inside the former Military Headquarters, as there used to be a Spanish Military presence here. Interestingly, it is actually the oldest building in the whole town, having been completed in 1865 (older forts are ruinous). The Museum features various exhibits about the towns history, as well as that of the local area.

We left the square, heading North West up the Calle Real, through the crowded streets, full of locals, tourists, and seating areas for restaurants, all enjoying the roaring sun overhead. La Linea is a relatively busy town, as a large proportion of residents work in Gibraltar, so to do a number of Gibraltarians work in La Linea, and they apparently also frequent the town for a good night out.

I assume it is also reasonably popular with tourists visiting Gibraltar like ourselves, as it is within easy walking distance and the perfect place to chill for a few hours.

I mentioned earlier there are a few different squares to be found in the town, and coming off the Calle Real, we came across our 2nd, pictured above. It’s a pleasant area, with palm trees lining the perimeter. At the Eastern edge of the square lies the “Casa de Culture”, translated as House of the Culture, or Cultural Museum.

I suppose the irony in the name is that the building is in the brutalist style, which is in stark contrast to the multi coloured mediterranean feel you get around the rest of the town.

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We kept heading South and cut through to the Avenue de Espana, and stopped outside the local equivalent of the Town Hall, where the council offices are located. It’s a grand villa esque building, and features 3 flags flying from the roof, which in order from left to right are:

1) European Union

2) Spain

3) Andalucia

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Outside in the courtyard lies a monument topped by the figure of a lady. A plaque on the base reads “In Memorian 150 Anniversario Del Dogma” which translates as “In Memory of the 150th Anniversary of the Dogma”. I am unsure exactly what that means, but there is a term known as a Dogma related to a series of rules or ideals laid out by a local authority which everyone lives by, which would make sense as the memorial is outside the Council building.

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Much like Gibraltar itself, La Linea lies on the edge of the bay of Gibraltar, which curves round to the city of Algeciras. This provides plenty of space for an extensive marina on the bays shore, which in turn provides some stunning views across to the rock of Gibraltar, which dominates the skyline in the area.

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Here you can see the various boats I mentioned earlier which can be found in and around the Marina, with beautiful blue water to sail in. La Linea is in a great location, and whilst it does get a number of tourists it is also a great place to live as well.

Elsewhere in La Linea you can visit the famous Bullring, completed in 1883, and has a similar status to the Isthmus Museum, as 1 of the oldest buildings in town.

This was our 1st ever visit to Spain, and it has made a good 1st impression, as we had an enjoyable walk around the town. Our next destination was the city of Algeciras on the other side of the bay, so we headed to the local bus station to find some transport…

Gibraltar & The Med: Pt 2 – Gibraltar Nature Reserve & Europa Point

Sat high above the famous city of Gibraltar lies the Great Rock, home to a large colony of Barbary Apes who inhabit the nature reserve, accessible to tourists via the Cable Car, and peppered with numerous landmarks from the Castle to the Caves…

Rock of Gibraltar:

Location: British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar

Attractions: Moorish Castle, Barbary Apes, Gibraltar Caves, Cable Car, Viewing Platform, Europa Point Lighthouse, Europa Point Mosque, Strait of Gibraltar etc

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There are many views available from the top of the rock, which is itself accessible via different routes. On our 1st day in Gibraltar we wandered up the paths that lead to the Moorish Castle, situated at the Northern end of the rock, looking towards Spain. You get a stunning view of the area from up here, looking out over the City of Gibraltar, and across the bay towards the Airport, and Spain.

The Moorish Castle itself dates back to around 711 when the Moorish People were in control of Gibraltar. They held the area until 1309, and the Castle has changed hands numerous times since. The main surviving section of the Castle is shown above, called the “Tower of Homage”, rebuilt in the 14th century, which is enclosed within many defensive walls, which once stretched down towards the city itself. Many of the old defenses of Gibraltar have been rebuilt numerous times due to the high number of times the area has been besieged, by the British, Dutch, and Spanish etc. Until 2010 the Castle also housed the local Prison, however this has since been moved.

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From the area around the Castle you get a commanding view of Gibraltar Airport, the runway of which is built out over the water, and makes for an interesting landing when coming in by plane. This is reclaimed land, as originally a narrow isthmus was all that separated Spain from Gibraltar.

The original airport was built during World War II, as Gibraltar was located at a very strategic position by the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea, making it a key Naval Base for the Allies. Although misgivings by Spain have prevented the Airport from becoming a major international Airport, flights regularly run to Heathrow, Luton, Birmingham and Manchester airports back in the UK, with flights to Bristol soon to start. The only other major destination from the Airport is Tangier in neighbouring Africa.

The main road into Gibraltar from Spain, Winston Churchill Avenue, crosses the Airport Runway directly, so both motor vehicles and pedestrians have to cross the runway to enter or leave the area. The road is closed when flights take off or land, using barriers similar to those at level crossings. A new tunnel is planned to take traffic underneath the runway and improve travel into the City.

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On the way up the rock, we came across this old Lime Kiln from the 19th century,  the last of its kind in Gibraltar. The great Rock of Gibraltar is primarily Limestone Rock, making it a substantial natural resource. Many of the buildings in the city were cleaned using Lime, which was also used in water containers to reduce contaminants. The bricks that make up the structure were actually made in England, and shipped over for use.

You can only travel so far up this side of the rock, and when we reached the top we got an even more incredible view out over the bay. Above us, the flags of Gibraltar, the United Kingdom and the European Union were flying in the wind atop “Princess Carolines Battery”, a defensive installation completed in 1905. Gibraltar is the only British Territory that has membership of the EU, although it is not part of the Schengen Area similar to the UK. Further up the Rock you will find the Great Siege Tunnels, which were dug by the British when a joint French/Spanish force tried to invade during the 18th century.

The Cannon next to the Battery is notable as it was close to this spot that Queen Elizabeth II/Prince Philip from the UK took in the view of Gibraltar back in 1954 when they made a 2 day visit to the Territory, despite protests by the Spanish Government.

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The following day we made our way towards the Cable Car, which leaves from a base station outside the Gibraltar Botanical Gardens in the city, and terminates at a large observation platform at 1 of the highest points on the rock.

Opened in 1966, the Cable Car is 1 of the best ways to see the city, as you rise the 1,352 ft to the top of the line. There is a 3rd station, midway up the rock at an area known as the Ape’s Den, where the famous Barbary Apes have their dens, however the Cable Car doesn’t general stop here, and continues on to the summit station. The current riding Cars were introduced in 1986, and allow 360 degree views as you ascend.

The Summit Station contains a Gift Shop and a Cafe, and thanks to its position allows you to look North across the Rock towards the highest part of the Rock, which houses an observation station, as well as West over the Bay towards Spain, South to Morocco, and East into the Mediterranean towards the many ships berthed there. The views from here are truly incredible, and what makes them more special is that its a natural view, not from a tower, but from what is effectively a mountain behind the city.

The most famous inhabitants of the Rock of Gibraltar are of course the Barbary Apes, which live wild and free in the Nature Reserve here. They are only found in 2 places in the wild, Gibraltar, and across in North Africa. You can get up and close and personal with the animals as they will happily sit and go about their business whilst you pass along the various paths along the rock, although be careful as they may try to grab any food you may have! The monkeys are cared for by the military presence on the rock, and they are regularly fed fruit and other foods.

We were even lucky enough to spot a few baby monkeys as we went! The monkeys are certainly 1 of the highlights of Gibraltar, and have even been seen down in the city itself. No one knows just how the monkeys made it from their native home of Africa to Gibraltar originally, however legend tells of a tunnel beneath the Strait of Gibraltar which they used to get here. Another legend also says that if the monkeys ever disappear from Gibraltar, so will the British, although happily there is no sign of this happening any time in the near future.

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There are many things to see on and around the rock, and instead of taking the Cable Car back down into the city we decided to walk down instead, following the road towards the southern end of the rock, with the ultimate intention to reach Europa Point at the Southernmost point in Gibraltar.

On the way down we passed numerous caves, including St Michael’s Cave,  1 of the areas most visited attractions. Inside it is a large chamber called “Cathedral Cave”, inside which is based an auditorium where regular performances are held, with incredible natural acoustics which make it an unforgettable experience. The Cave is also featured in Legend, and it was once thought that the Cave was bottomless, and linked up to a tunnel underneath the Strait, presumably which the Monkeys were believed to have used to cross from Africa.

Further down the rock, we arrived at a monument featuring the “Pillars of Hercules”, which leads into another local legend. Supposedly, the Rock of Gibraltar was the northern end of a large mountain called Atlas which stretched across to Africa, with the Southern end being 1 of the north African mountains. Hercules (Legendary Greek Hero) passed through the area, and instead of climbing over the mountain, he simply smashed his way through, creating the strait of Gibraltar, and allowing the Atlantic Ocean to flood through, creating the Mediterranean Sea.

The two remaining sections of Altas became known as the Pillars of Hercules, 1 being Gibraltar. There is some dispute as to exactly which mountain in Africa is the 2nd Pillar of Hercules, although it is likely to be Jebel Musa in Morocco. On the Monument there are 2 maps, on 1 side is the “Ancient World”, as at that time most of the world beyond Europe and North Africa hadn’t been explored, including the America’s. On the other side lies a map of the “Modern World” showing the worlds continents today.

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Leaving the rock and reaching street level, we finally arrived at Europa Point, the Southernmost point in Gibraltar, and 1 of the furthest points South in the whole of Europe, along with Sicily and some of the Greek islands.

1 of the newer buildings of Europa Point is the “Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque”, built by King Fahd of Saudi Arabia between 1995 & 1997, as a gift to Gibraltar. It became one of the 1st purpose built Mosques in the territory since the original Moorish settlers arrived in the 6th/7th centuries. It’s impressive tower dwarves the most famous inhabitant of Europa Point, the Lighthouse of 1841…

Before we reached the Lighthouse, we passed the RML 12.5 Inch Gun originally used by the British Royal Navy in the latter half of the 19th century. This is another recent addition, having been brought here in 2013 during a revamp by the Gibraltarian Government of the surrounding area.

The Strait of Gibraltar is 1 of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, and as Gibraltar is located on an outcrop it is a major danger to passing ships. The new Lighthouse was commissioned in the early 19th century, and was built by Trinity House, a Royal Corporation created in Britain in 1514. The then Governor Sir Alexander George Woodford (1782 – 1870) laid the foundation stone, and by 1841 the building was complete, and in operation.  The light was changed numerous times over the years, as at the time it ran off an oil lamp with a wick. Electricity wouldn’t be installed until the mid 20th century, which eventually led to the whole Lighthouse being run automatically, which it continues to be today. It has a similar appearance to another notable Trinity House Lighthouse, Portland Bill at the tip of the Isle of Portland in England, overlooking the English Channel.

Our exploration of Gibraltar was coming to an end, however before we left the area, we had 2 things left to do. 1st, we stopped to pay respect at the “Sikorski Memorial”, shown above featuring a mangled propeller blade at it’s centre. It commemorates the 4 July 1943, when the Prime Minister of Poland, Wladyslaw Sikorski (1881 – 1943, Prime Minister of the Polish Government in Exile during Nazi Occupation) was killed when his plane crashed into the sea not long after take off from Gibraltar. The original memorial was set up at Gibraltar Airport, before being moved to Sir Herbert Miles Road which runs around the Eastern side of the Rock. It was finally moved here to Europa Point in 2013 during the revamp, and is a fitting memorial to a man who had the difficult task of trying to free his country from Nazi oppression during the worst war in history.

Gibraltar is an incredible, beautiful place which has so much to offer, from stunning buildings to some of the best views in Europe. It is the perfect place to go exploring, and we have thoroughly enjoyed every moment here, and we would certainly recommend anybody to visit the territory.

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Our final stop was to take in the view across the Strait of Gibraltar, towards the hazy mountains of North Africa, in Morocco and the Spanish Territory of Ceuta. Gibraltar really is on the edge of the world, especially to us, as the other continents are but a dream to us at the moment, but 1 we hope to realise soon. Seeing Africa there in front of us was quite a sight, a whole new continent, with unique peoples and places, just waiting for us to come and explore. It is of course possible from Gibraltar as weekly ferries run from Gibraltar to Tangier in Morocco, however we didn’t have time during our visit, but I am sure we shall cross the legendary strait eventually, and hopefully gaze upon the 2nd Pillar of Hercules…

Gibraltar & The Med: Pt 1 – City of Gibraltar

One of our most memorable trips occurred in the Summer of 2014, as we jetted off to the British Territory of Gibraltar for some stunning views a very British, yet Mediterranean experience. Before heading off to see the famous Apes in the Clifftop Nature Reserve, we took in the sights in the City Centre…

Gibraltar:

Status: City, British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar

Date: 25-29/08/2014

Travel: Monarch (Manchester – Gibraltar), Gibraltar Buses, Gibraltar Cable Car

Eating & Sleeping: Bristol Hotel, Rock Fish & Chips, Pizza Hut etc

Attractions: City of Gibraltar, British War Memorial, American War Memorial, City Walls, Gibraltar Castle, Cable Car, Nature Reserve, Botanic Gardens, Europa Point, Strait of Gibraltar, Governors House, Gibraltar Museum, City Hall, Parliament Building, Holy Trinity Cathedral, St Mary’s Cathedral etc

Gibraltar 1

Leaving Gibraltar Airport after the 2.5 hour flight, this is the sight that greeted us. The enormous Rock of Gibraltar towers over the rest of the city, and is a major landmark in the area. At it’s base lies the main city of Gibraltar, whilst on top sits a large nature reserve, home to the famous Apes, and the terminus of the Cable Car from the city up to the cliff top. Flights regularly leave the Airport bound for the United Kingdom, to the London Airports as well as Manchester. Aside from the Airport the only other public transport in the territory are the Gibraltar Buses, of which there are a number of services that can take you anywhere in a few minutes, and for a very reasonable price. The territory also has a large International Ferry Terminal where ferries from around the world regularly dock on the way towards Spain and other parts of the Mediterranean such as Italy.

Gibraltar sits on the East side of a large bay in the Mediterranean Sea which stretches round past the town of La Linea directly over the border into Spain, to the larger city of Algeciras in the West. To the South lies the Strait of Gibraltar, and on the other side of that the mountains of Africa, specifically Morocco, are a major feature on the horizon, and on a clear day make for an incredible view.

From the Airport it was just a 25 minute walk into the heart of the ancient city, although to get there you first have to WALK over the Airport runway, which was certainly a new experience! In fact, the main road from the Spanish Border/Gibraltar Airport also crosses the Airport, so barriers come down to stop you crossing when a flight is incoming.

Moving into the City Centre, the first stop for many is the central square, called Casemates Square. It’s a large public area, around the perimeter of which are located a number of cafe’s, restaurants and souvenir shops.

The general area inhabited by the square dates back to around 1160 when Abd al-Mu’min arrived to create the 1st ever settlement here. The city has grown up around this area, which during the 14th century was home to a Galley House, remains of which can still be seen today. The square didn’t gain its current name until the 1770’s when, after it has become a British possession, a large set of Barracks was built at the North End, called “Grand Casemates” (completed in 1817). Just next to this part of the square is a large gate called “Grand Casemates Gates” which opened in 1885, replacing the previous Gate called Waterport Gate. It cuts through part of the extensive Town Walls, which has made Gibraltar a veritable fortress, based on foundations started by the Spanish and greatly improved by the British over the last few centuries.

At the South West edge of the square sits a statue of a member of the “Gibraltar Defence Force”, shown to be wearing summer battle dress, erected in 1998. The statue acts as a monument to celebrate all the local residents who were members of the “Gibraltar Volunteer Crops. The Gibraltar Defence Force and The Gibraltar Regiment”. There are a few different forces listed as they succeeded each other, with the Gibraltar Regiment being formed in 1958 out of the Defence Force. It is still active, and serves with the British Army.

Despite a large portion of its history being linked to nearby Spain, Gibraltar has very much embraced it’s British position, with the locals speaking English, and the local currency officially being the Gibraltar Pound, linked to British Stirling. Euro’s are still accepted everywhere, however officially the Gibraltar Pound is the territories currency.

As well as various Fish & Chip Shops, a truly British dish, there are other British icons located throughout the city, in the form of the iconic red Phone Boxes and Pillar post Boxes.  Various examples of old version of the Phone Boxes are resident here in Gibraltar, including an old K2 shown above (and also to be found in the Botanic Gardens) 1 of the older versions designed in 1924.

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Casemates Square leads Southwards directly onto “Main Street”, one long pedestrianised street that runs all the way through the city centre towards the Cable Car up to the Rock, and the Botanic Gardens. It contains most of the main shops, gift shops and restaurants in the city centre, as well as notable buildings including City Hall, the Parliament Building, Holy Trinity Cathedral and the Governors House.

The street is full of beautiful old buildings, and whilst the architecture has been influenced greatly by Spanish towns and cities, it still has a lovely Britishness about it, with the presence of British shops including WHSmiths and Marks & Spencers. Aside from Main Street there are a number of other roads leading up to the upper levels of the city, which rise up from the base of the Rock to a point where you walk straight up to some areas of it, to the various defensive installations.

Further up Main Street, you will come across another square, which is the administrative centre of the whole territory. At the East end of the square sits the former City Hall (1st picture), originally built as a private mansion in 1819 for Aaron Cardozo (1762 – 1834, British Businessman, who helped to supply the fleet of Admiral Horatio Nelson). After Aaron’s death the building became a Hotel, and then became a private residence once more. It became the property of the local authorities in 1922 when it was sold to the territory governing officials, who turned it into the new City Hall, to house Gibraltar City Council, created in 1921. The Council still operates, and is headed by a Mayor, whose office and official residence is located in the building.

City Hall sits looking directly across at the Parliament Building at the West end of the square, backing onto Main Street. The building was built in 1817, and was used as a Local Library, before the new Legislative Council for Gibraltar moved in in 1951. This was in turn replaced by the new “House of Assembly”, which eventually became the Parliament of Gibraltar in 2006.

Gibraltar is officially a British Overseas Territory, meaning the United Kingdom holds sovereignty over the whole territory. The Spanish King Charles II (1661 – 1700) had died with no son in 1700, creating a succession crisis for Spain. The heir stipulated in Charles II’s will was Philip of France, the French King Louis’s grandson. This was seen as a move that would secure more power for the French King, as the family would rule 2 large empires. To try and prevent it a joint English & Dutch force (prior to the act of Union in 1707 that created the Kingdom of Great Britain) took Gibraltar, assisting Charles of Austria (1685 – 1740), a pretender to the Spanish Throne who was intent on becoming the Spanish King. The motion eventually failed, and led to the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. This granted the new Kingdom of Great Britain sovereignty of Gibraltar in perpetuity, to remove Britain from the wars of succession in Spain. Britain has retained Gibraltar even since, despite various attempts by Spain to have sovereignty transferred back to them.

Gibraltar 9

There are a number of charming squares in Gibraltar, particular in the city centre. Continuing along Main Street we encountered our 3rd, outside St Mary’s Cathedral, 1 of 2 Cathedrals in the City. This particular 1 serves the Roman Catholic population of the territory, whilst the other, Holy Trinity, is a Church of England (C of E) Church.

The Cathedral Tower can be seen from various places up Main Street and is 1 of the standout landmarks on the street. Due to the Moorish (Muslim) history of the town, followed by Spanish Rule, the Roman Catholic congregation emerged much earlier than the Christian Congregation, hence why this Cathedral was built around 550 years before the other.

The Spanish originally took Gibraltar from the Moors in the 15th century, and the main mosque in the city was knocked down and replaced by the present Roman Catholic building. The city has been besieged many times, and it was inevitable that this historic building would suffer some battle damage. In the 1780’s the building was badly damaged, and had to be rebuilt, complete with a brand new Clock Tower which was added in 1820. It’s overall a beautiful building, and both Cathedrals are open to the public to explore and take in the lovely decorations inside.

Outside the Cathedral in the square, there are a number of items of interest. 1st up is a statue commemorating the fine service given by the “Corps of Royal Engineers” here since the British took Gibraltar in 1704, as well as the formation of the “1st Body of Soldiers of the Corps” later in 1772. Atop the monument stands a finely crafted figuring of an English Soldier complete with gun.

Just behind him and to the right sits the Gibraltar Savings Bank, founded in 1882, which was also presumably the year the building itself was constructed as well. Its 1 of a number of fine buildings along Main Street, which includes the Post Office back towards Casemates Square, as shown in the 3rd picture. This stunning sandstone building was completed in 1858, built by Lieutenant General Sir James Fergusson (1787 – 1865) who was the Governor of Gibraltar between 1855 and 1859.

Continuing up Main Street you will eventually reach the rather striking “Governors House”, known as the Convent, a fantastic brick building dating back to 1531, when it was built for a group of Franciscan Friars. They lived here in the Convent until 1728 when the Governor for the Kingdom of Great Britain who represented the British Monarch here in the Territory took over the building for their personal use, and it remains the official residence of the Governor of Gibraltar to this day. The building itself was altered during the 18th/19th centuries, with Victorian architectural influences obvious in the design. The incumbent Governor is Sir James Dutton (Born 1954) a former Royal Marines Officer who assumed office in 2013.

Just to the left of the main building is one of the original sections of the Friary, now a Chapel for the British Armed Forces, Army, Navy and Air Force. It’s a tall, striking white building which adjoins the Covent directly.

Directly opposite the Convent/Chapel sits “6 Convent Place”, which is currently home to the office of the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, the head of Government independent of the Governor himself. The current Chief Minister is Fabian Picardo (Born 1972, head of the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party since 2011).

Main Street finally terminates not far from the Gibraltar Cable Car, completed in 1966 by a Swiss Cable Car company. The Car runs up from the City Centre station, past a mid station where the Barbary Apes have their den, and finally up to an observation platform 1,352 ft above the City, on the 2nd highest peak of the Rock. The platform has the best views out across Gibraltar, Southern Spain and towards Morocco in Africa, as well as a cafe, gift shop and access to the Nature Reserve where you can get up close and personal with the Apes. We travelled up the Cable Car later in our trip, which you can read about in Part 2 of Gibraltar & The Med.

Adjacent to the Cable Car lies the “La Alameda Gardens”, also known as the Botanic Gardens. The Gardens were laid out in 1816 when the then Governor, George Don (1756 – 1832) decided that British Soldiers stationed here should have a pleasant place to relax during their tour. There are many different species of plants and trees, as well as a number of animals resident in the small Wildlife Conservation Park located in the Gardens.  You can also visit the Eliott Memorial, a Bronze bust atop a plinth, dedicated to George Augustus Eliott (1717 – 1790, Scotsman who successfully defended Gibraltar during the Great Siege from 1779 – 1783). The bust was completed in 1858, replacing the earlier version from 1815 which was carved from a ship called the San Juan Nepomuceno, out of the Bow which was captured during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. This version can now be found in the Governors House.

Thanks to Gibraltars position at the entrance to the Mediterranean, it is very important strategically and defensively. The territory has been besieged many times throughout history, and because of this it has built up an impressive array of defences. There are numerous old cannons mounted all over the city, including this 1 not far from the airport, which was created in 1782 by Lieutenant George Koehler (1758 – 1800) to fire downhill. It was in use during the Great Siege of 1779 – 1783, when a joint Spanish/French force tried to retake Gibraltar from the British, failing miserably. It’s quite interesting mechanically as the mount that holds the cannon aloft can recoil without blasting the rest of the assembly into the air due to the angle the Cannon is pointed at, and it is known as a “Depressing Carriage”.

There is also a network of tunnels, both inside the Great Rock, and through other areas of the territory, including “Landport Tunnel”, accessed by the Landport Gate, which, at the time of the British attack of 1704, was the only way into Gibraltar, making it the most heavily defended part of the city. The territory has expanded much over the years, making the Gate now redundant as a city entrance.

Originally the area of land between Casemates Square and Spain wasn’t built on, but Gibraltar has gradually expanded onto it, however the only access from the rest of the European Mainland is along this isthmus, on which the Airport was later built.

From the area around the Tunnel we got a great view of the “Moorish Castle”, built high on the side of the Rock, formed of a large complex including a tall square tower at it’s centre, called the “Tower of Homage”, which was largely rebuilt in the 14th century. Incredibly the Castle itself dates back to 711 AD, possibly making it the oldest building in the whole of Gibraltar. It saw regular use throughout history, and until 2010 it also contained the local Prison. The complex is now mainly a ruin, however you can get very close to it as you climb the Rock at the North end, and it is visible from most areas of Gibraltar. It’s a stunning site, and we would get much closer later on as we explored the Rock.

Earlier I mentioned Casemates Square, the central square in the city, and how Grand Casemates Gate leads into the square through the city walls. This is that gate, directly in front of which is the central bus terminus where the different routes appear to intersect. As I said the Gate was completed in 1817, and it is complemented on either side by different sections of the Bastion, the historic wall around the City. The Bastion is split into various parts, including the North Bastion, South Bastion and Montagu Bastion.

Outside part of the South Bastion you will find a statue of Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758 – 1805, British Naval Officer), erected here in 2005 to designs by John Doubleday (Born 1947, British Sculptor). It commemorated 200 years since Nelson beat the French & Spanish Fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar. It stands outside the Trafalgar Cemetery, which was also named in honour of the battle, although apparently only 2 fatalities from the battle itself are buried there, whilst the rest died in other naval conflicts.

Exploring the Bastions/City Walls, you will come across 2 notable War Memorials. The 1st is locally known as the “British War Memorial” created by Jose Piquet Catoli from neighbouring Spain in 1923. Gibraltar has been involved in various wars throughout history, most notably in World War II when the entire civilian population was evacuated to other allied countries or colonies. Gibraltar was never invaded by the Axis Powers, mainly due to the Spanish Dictator Franco’s decision not to allow the Germans to cut through Spain, but it was heavily bombed by the Italians. Many miles of tunnels were dug inside the great rock itself to protect the armed forces from attack, and included everything needed to sustain a garrison, including a fully working hospital.

It was also here in Gibraltar that “Operation Torch” was planned and executed, involving in the invasion of North Africa by the British/Americans to liberate the former French Territories of Morocco and Algeria from the Axis Powers. At the end of the War the local population slowly returned, and Gibraltar once again became a thriving community.

The 2nd major War Memorial you will see is the “American War Memorial”, designed by Paul Philippe Cret (1876 – 1945), and completed in 1933 as a new part of the main city wall, in the form of a large gate. The Americans were a great ally to the British during WWII and the 2 coordinated their efforts in and around Gibraltar, including the planning of Operation Torch.

Def 4

Perhaps Gibraltars most famous defensive weapon is the “100 Tonne Gun” which lies towards the South End of the territory. Overall 12 of these Guns were made by a company called Armstrong Whitworth (Founded in 1847 in Newcastle, England) and 2 were brought to Gibraltar. Both Guns were in place by the end of 1883, however the barrel on the 2nd Gun cracked due to overuse during trials, leaving only this 1 for use.

The only other surviving Gun of this type left in the world is at Fort Rinella on the island of Malta, which also employed them as a defensive weapon. The Gibraltar Gun was powerful enough to hit the Spanish City of Algeciras on the other side of the bay, an incredible range.

The Gibraltar Gun is located at Magdala Battery, and is open to the public to visit. You can see one of the actual shells that the Gun would fire, and climb up into the reloading areas on either side of the Gun.

Gibraltar has always been an important Port, thanks to its strategic location at the entrance to the Mediterranean from the Atlantic. Thousands of ships every year pass through the Strait of Gibraltar, bound for Italy, the Middle East and the rest of Africa/Europe. The British have been in control of the Strait for over 300 years, and keeping the area free from piracy and terrorism is very important to the world economy.

Its importance was reaffirmed in 1904 when Sir John Fisher (1841 – 1920, British Admiral from British Ceylon, now Sri Lanka) who stated that Gibraltar was 1 of the 5 keys that lock up the world, with the others being:

1) Dover – England

2) Alexandria – Egypt

3) Singapore – City State

4) Capetown – South Africa

At the time the statement was made, the United Kingdom was in possession of all 5 keys, of which all except Dover and Gibraltar are now part of independent sovereign nations.

Many of the harbour areas have been modernised with new apartments, restaurants and marina’s having been constructed. Gibraltar also has a number of working docks as well as a Naval Base. Aside from this, a lot of the harbour area is tourism based, although a lot of large tankers and container ships regularly visit the territory.

1 of the major landmarks down by the waterfront is the $200 Million yacht called the “Sunborn Gibraltar” permanently moored here as a hotel. It is 1 of the largest yachts in the world, and the most exclusive hotel in Gibraltar, which only opened in early 2014, just a few months before we arrived. You can just see it in the back of the 1st picture, and it cuts a rather striking pose amongst the other, much smaller boats.

You also get a great view of the Cable Car from the City, and you can see how steeply it rises up the side of the Rock, to it’s summit.

Gibraltar 16

The architecture brought by the British, particularly during Victorian times, can be found in various places around the City, but most noticeable in the old Police Office, built by a former Governor called Sir William Codrington (1804 – 1884, Governor between 1859 – 1865) in 1864. Its an absolutely stunning building, and I think it fits in really well with the rest of the much older buildings in the city.

Gibraltar is an absolutely stunning city, with some incredible views out to sea, historic landmarks and various museums. It is has been a joy to explore the city itself, but there is so much more to see in the territory as a whole.

Watch this space for my next post, as we explore the absolutely incredible Rock of Gibraltar and the Nature Reserve after a trip on the Cable Car, meet the Apes, and get some truly stunning views out across Gibraltar itself, along with Spain and Morocco across the Strait…

Hadrians Wall Country: Pt 5 – Banks, Cumbria

Moving on from the impressive Lanercost Priory just outside Brampton, we arrived in Banks, 1 of only 2 places in England to hold the name, with the other being my own home village…

Banks:

Status: City of Carlisle District, Cumbria (historically Cumberland), Village, England

Date: 28/12/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Hadrians Wall, Banks East Turret etc

Banks C 1

Banks is only a small village, however it packs a lot into a small space. From the summit of a hill just outside the main portion of the village you can see towards both the Lake District and the Northumbrian Hills as well as an incredible sunset.

As I said in the introduction to this post, the Cumbrian village of Banks is 1 of only 2 in the whole country to hold this title, with the other being a pleasant Victorian village which I call home back in Lancashire, which you can read about here. Whereas the Lancashire version is a large village that acts as a dormitory town for Southport/Preston, the Cumbrian Banks is much smaller, mainly geared around farming and the countryside. They are both unique, and there is plenty to see here in Cumbria.

Banks C 2

The most obvious landmark here is “Banks East Turret”, a ruinous defensive turret that is part of the famous Hadrian’s Wall, which runs from Bowness-on-Solway on the West coast in Cumbria through Banks, Haltwhistle and then on to its terminus in Wallsend, Newcastle-upon-Tyne on the East coast.

Construction of Hadrian’s Wall was started by the Roman Emperor of the same name in 122 AD, and was mostly completed by 128 AD. As building work started at the Newcastle end, it is likely that the Banks section wasn’t completed until around 125/126 AD. This area of the wall, including the turret, was in regular use for the following century, and were only discovered in 1933 during local excavation work.

Another nearby Turret was never found, but there are records to indicate that it did exist at some point.

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I can see why the Romans chose this location as a vantage point, as you get some incredible views, starting with the local countryside, where we spotted a train bound for Newcastle from Carlisle on the Tyne Valley Line illuminated in the evening sun.

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I took this panoramic from the far end of the turret, with the local hills in the centre, twisting round to look towards the Lake District National Park where the borders of the historic English counties of Lancashire, Westmorland and Cumberland meet around the great lakes of Windermere and Ullswater.

Banks C 5

We soon got our final view of the day, at the end of another epic road trip which had taken us from the town at the Centre of Great Britain, Haltwhistle, round Featherstone & Blenkinsopp Castles to Lanercost Priory, and finally Banks. We gazed at the disappearing sun, slowly dipping its head behind the peaks of the Lake District, and our road trip was complete…

Hadrians Wall Country: Pt 4 – Lanercost, Cumbria

Our next stop after the ruins of Blenkinsopp Castle was the old priory in the village of Lanercost, just outside Brampton in Cumbria…

Lanercost:

Status: City of Carlisle District, Cumbria (historically Cumberland), Village, England

Date: 28/12/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Lanercost Priory etc

Laner 1

It is generally accepted that the Priory was founded by Robert de Vaux (1145 – 1190) in 1169. It is one of a number of priories in the area, including an impressive structure in the Northumbrian town of Hexham.

The main Church building is visible in the centre of the picture, a stunning building visible from miles around. To the right is the Vicarage, completed in the 13th century out of red sandstone, and part of the original Priory buildings. The building now in use as the Vicarage also has the Guest House of the old courtyard, and sits alongside a much newer building housing a cafe and visitor centre, and a Bed & Breakfast.

We had already visited a number of Castles prior to arriving in Lanercost, and they all had an important role to play in the defense of their occupants due to the volatile situation that existed between England and Scotland for centuries, from the Scottish Wars of Independence, through to the Union of the Crowns in the 16th Century.

Lanercost Priory was no exception, and its official website notes that it was damaged in 1296 by a Scottish Army who had marched South of the border, also attacking Hexham. This was followed by another attack in 1311 by none other than Robert the Bruce (1274 – 1329, the famous Scottish King who fought for independence).

The area was home to a number friars for many centuries, until Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) instigated the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536, and the surrounding buildings were closed, and stripped of the lead on the roofs. The main Priory Church itself was left untouched as it was also being used as a Parish Church at the time.

Since then the building has passed through various hands, and the Church was almost out of use. A lot of the building was in a bad condition, and the congregation moved out of the main area of the Church into the North Aisle. It wasn’t until 1747 that the main Nave was reroofed and usable again, although it was separated from the far end of the building. This sadly only lasted until 1847 when the roof collapsed in again. It was eventually restored in the latter half of the 19th century and the Church was completely remodelled. The rest of the building was restored in the 20th century, and today the building has been secured. The rear of the building is still a ruin after it was segregated in 1747, however the central Nave is still in use…

Laner

Walking into the Nave, which is still used as the local Church, is absolutely stunning. You can see out of the far window, through the 1747 divide into the ruins of the rear transept crossing. You could be forgiven for thinking that nothing had ever touched this area of the Priory, as it has been brilliantly restored.

The stonework is immaculate, and the pews were altered in the 1870’s by Charles Ferguson, an architect from Carlisle.

Laner 5

There are a few outer buildings located next to the main Priory building, some of which still survive reasonably intact, including this area which I assume was some sort of parlour, as its partially below ground, which would be the ideal place to keep food cool.

Lanercost is an incredible place to visit, and if you are in the area exploring Hadrians Wall then it should certainly be on your list as you pass through. It was only our penultimate stop of the day, and we moved on to the small village of Banks just outside Lanercost, to join Hadrians Wall…