My Photo
Location: BC, Canada

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Gibraltar - Part 2

This is Part 2 of Gibraltar. To read it in sequence please scroll down to Part 1 and then return to this.

The Barbary Apes, actually tail-less monkeys, are perhaps the most famous of the tourist attractions on the Rock. There are several theories of how these natives of North Africa bottomless cave. A more likely explanation is that they were imported as pets during the era of the British occupation, perhaps in ships of the Royal Navy. For that matter they could have arrived by ship at an earlier date. But today one has to wonder - which is the ape? Where is Darwin when we need him?

The guide seems to be looking a bit askance at our camera since feeding the “apes”, which he is doing to entice them on to the shoulders of his tourists, merits a fine of 500 Pounds Sterling ($1000 CDN). They are known to bite – the apes that is, not the guides.

Gibraltar is also famous for its system of tunnels with 52 km created during WW 2 to add to the hand-dug tunnels of the Great Siege of 1779-1783, the 14th siege by Spain to retake the Rock.

The much more extensive WW II tunnels and caverns included barracks, offices, munitions dumps and a fully equipped hospital with operating theatre and x-ray equipment. These tunnels were opened by the military for public tours in 2005; they require special arrangements which were not possible during our time there.

The Great Siege Tunnels began as an attempt to get large cannons to a place on the precipitous northern face of the Rock known as the Notch. Sergeant Major Ince of the Military Artificers (forerunners to the Royal Engineers) suggested a tunnel and he began work on 25 May 1782.

This was hard manual work, based on sledgehammers, crowbars and gunpowder for blasting. In 5 weeks a team of 18 men had driven an 8’ by 8’ (2.40 m) tunnel 82 feet (25 m) into the rock.

The blasting fumes almost asphyxiated the men so an air tunnel was sunk to draw off the fumes. The effectiveness of this caused a change of plans as it was realized that if the fumes could be adequately controlled, the cannon could be placed in the tunnel and embrasures could be cut through the side of the tunnel allowing the cannon to fire on nearby Spain and thus control the landward access to the Rock.

The guns in the Great Siege tunnel today date from the 1850’s, about 70 years after the digging of the tunnel. But they share many similarities.

To reduce flashback of ignited wadding and to reduce gunpowder fume blowback these rails held wet leather or rope. Although these rails date from the 1830’s, this system was used during the 1780’s siege.

On the north-wester

n side of the Rock the remnants of the Moorish Castle can be viewed from a distance. Fortifications at this location were first built in 1160 and subsequently destroyed during the recapture and occupation of the Rock by Spain from 1309-1333. This Tower of Homage dominates the hillside and the lanfward approach and was constructed about 1333 when Abu’l Hassan in turn recaptured Gibraltar. This fortress was under siege many times and shows the scars.

The extensive Royal Navy dockyards here are now under the control of a private company. The RN presence here is reduced to an operational front line squadron currently consisting of two 16 metre Patrol launches and 3 Arctic 6.5 metre Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIBs), manned by a team of 19 personnel.

Gibraltar offers shopping with the dreaded European Value Added Tax of 17-21% so for some it is a shopping haven. By the time we arrived on Main Street the weather had turned cloudy and without the sun, cold. Boxing Day meant that most of the stores were closed but looking through the windows suggested that if you really knew your prices and the Spanish Customs restrictions you would probably find some bargains.

Following a nice lunch we strolled back to our motor home for a coffee and then parted as Lee and Monique headed back to Málaga and we returned to Conil. What a great Boxing Day!