Sunday, April 1, 2012


A stop on Traveler Al’s “Almost a Last Hurrah” Voyages

Gibraltar, "Bobbie's" hat badge. The Coat of Arms design was given to Gibraltar by Queen Isabella and continues to be used today.

Unless noted otherwise, all photos on this page were taken on my 2009 visit.


Shortly after leaving Malaga, Spain, Constellation’s passengers were notified by a letter slipped under the stateroom doors that the ship would not be stopping at Funchal in the Madiera Islands (Portuguese province) due to labor troubles in all parts of Portugal.  The ship’s itinerary was changed to making a port call at Gibraltar, at the entry / exit from the Mediterranean Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. 

I was happy for this as I had already visited the city of Funchal on three previous Transatlantic Crossings.  However, I had visited Gibraltar in the Fall of 2009 and taken 2 of the available tours of the small, self governing, commonwealth of the United Kingdom.  I decided that my sore legs needed a rest before my next tour which would be taken in 3 more days – so I did not go ashore in Gibraltar.  However, I will use many of the photos I took in late Fall of 2009 in this blog entry.

Gibraltar is quite small (only 2.6 square miles / 6.8 square km.) and that area is mostly taken up by the airstrip and the Rock of Gibraltar.


A model of the Rock of Gibraltar in the Arrivals Hall at the port in Gibraltar

The Rock of Gibraltar is one of the so called Pillars of Hercules, named after Hercules who was said to have dug out the entry to the Atlantic Ocean there. Gibraltar has one of the highest population densities in the world – about 11,100 people per square mile.  It has a total population of about 30,000 residents – and most of them drive their cars on the few miles of road in the territory. 

Parking and traffic congestion is a major issue for this small place! Due to it’s land connection with the Spanish Peninsula, the cars drive on the right side of the road unlike most British Commonwealth countries and territory where the driving is on the left. 

On Wednesday morning of November 23rd, we arrived in Gibraltar; the weather was brisk but sunny and bright.

One surprise for visitors from North America is that the Rock of Gibraltar’s most familiar face, which we are familiar with from the logo of the Prudential Insurance Company's advertisements - faces Spain!  For us, the Rock looks quite different when arriving or departing by ship!

That was then…

On my first visit to Gibraltar I took a morning tour that covered most of the non-historic points of interest of Gibraltar;  through the congestion of the city, up the rock to see several historic gun emplacements, the various neighborhoods and government buildings and dockyards, the old British Naval Hospital that now housed the population of the Barbary Apes, a visit to the cavern inside the great chunk of limestone comprising the Rock, and to the Great Europe Point to see across the Straights of Gibraltar to Morocco and North Africa.  

We stopped to view the lighthouse at that southernmost point of Europe and looked back to see the highest point on the Rock and the Mosque of Ibrahim al Ibrahim gifted to the Islamic residents of Gibraltar by King Fahd of Saudi Arabia.

In the early days, massive cannons (see below) were hauled up the steep sides of the Rock using block and tackle anchored to rings anchored like these

Traveler Al on The Rock of Gibraltar - 2009

The shadow of the Rock of Gibraltar gives a good idea of the shape of The Rock

The Gibraltar Barbary Apes are actually Europe's only species of macaque monkeys.  Nothing is safe from their grasping hands. They love to grab cameras, glasses and things from your pockets.

Momma and Papa


A large auditorium has been added in a natural cavern inside The Rock

Auditorium inside a natural cavern inside the Rock of Gibraltar

Looking upwards to the high point of The Rock from The Great Point of Europe

The Mosque of Ibrihim al Ibrahim, a gift to the Moslems of Gibraltar by King Fahd of Saudi Arabia

The Great Point of Europe lighthouse at the most southern point of Europe.  This view faces the Mediterranean Ocean

View to the West out the Strait of Gibraltar towards the Atlantic Ocean.  North Africa on the left and Europe on the right.  The Strait is 36 miles long and 8 miles wide at its narrowest place.

Information and photos from space of the Strait of Gibraltar - Click here and scroll down to the middle of the page.

A Moorish fort, one of the last places captured by Ferdinand & Isabella when the Moors were driven out of Europe.

A Gibraltar "Bobby" policeman.  He told me that there was not much to do when you live in Gibraltar.

That afternoon I took the tour into the World War II tunnels inside the Rock of Gibraltar.  There are more than 30 miles of acknowledged tunnels inside the Rock. 

Entrance to the WW2 Tunnels inside Gibraltar

I would not be surprised if there were many more secret tunnels.  The Rock still has highly classified areas that no one is allowed to enter. It is still used for signals intelligence work and most likely is a base station for long range communication with submarines and a listening post for submarines transiting in and out of the Mediterranean Ocean. 

On my first visit to the Rock of Gibraltar, one of the gentlemen sitting at my dinner table who was from a Scandinavian country was an enthusiastic hiker.  He did not take any guided Gibraltar tours, preferring to see if he could hike up the roads and then go to the top of the Rock.  He was intercepted and asked to leave the area immediately by military personnel once he was up on the higher points of the Rock.

Exhibits area about the construction of the tunnels.

Tunnel dormitory for 300 men During WW2. This is where the men who assembled airplanes from their shipping crates slept.

Some of the tunnels were walled off as dormitories where units up to 300 strong were billeted during the War.  Other rooms in the tunnels were workshops where aircraft were uncrated and reassembled for use in the war. These aircraft escorted convoys and did anti submarine patrols from Gibraltar as well as protecting Gibraltar itself. 

Sign inside the tunnels.

Inside the WW2 Tunnels in the Rock of Gibraltar

Looking straight up a crack that goes completely through the entire Rock of Gibraltar

Most of the tunnels looks something like this
Gibraltar and Britain were fortunate that during WWII Generalissimo Franco was reluctant to allow the Italian or the German Armies to operate on Spanish soil. This caused the failure of the German plan to invade and conquer Gibraltar under their plans for Operation Felix.

Tunnel entry to a gun emplacement facing Spain that is located high up on The Rock.

Tour group on Jock's Balcony

There is one gun emplacement located high up over the airstrip facing Spain called Jock’s Balcony. When you enter the small tunnel to enter the emplacement you must wiggle past a baffle of 3 foot thick, solid concrete blocks that served as blast protection in case of a direct hit.  Looking up the sheer wall of the Rock from the emplacement that is really just an enlarged ledge on the face of a tall cliff makes you very giddy.  The view of the runway for Gibraltar’s airport is perfect.

Looking straight up from Jock's Balcony on The Rock

Looking north towards Spain from Jock's Balcony gun emplacement  - Notice the road that crosses the airport's runway
One oddity about the airport at Gibraltar is that the runway has barriers on each side where the only road into and out of Spain crosses the runway.  When airplanes are due to take off or land, the road barriers are closed. An underpass and new road surface is being constructed to eliminate this situation at Gibraltar's airport.  Just a few blocks further on towards Spain is the Spanish border control point.  

Gibraltar only has 3/4ths of a mile of border with Spain.  At various times, when there is disagreement about one issue or another, Spain will close the border to all traffic.  Back in the 1960’s Spain closed the border for several years. 

Britain won Gibraltar during the War of the Spanish Succession in 1704. Their possession was finalized in the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 which granted Britain Gibraltar “in perpetuity”.  Spain has had problems with Britain over Gibraltar several times.

This is now…

I went up to the highest deck of the Constellation to watch our departure from Gibraltar and our passage up the Strait of Gibraltar.  

Traveler Al as the Constellation heads away from Gibraltar to the Straits of Gibraltar. Taken November, 2011

Full moon over the Rock of Gibraltar - 2009

We were passing North Africa on the port side (the left side of the ship as you face the bow) and the last bit of Europe to starboard (the right side of the ship as you face the bow of the ship).  We were heading directly into the setting sun as we left the Mediterranean Ocean to enter the Atlantic.

North Africa to the left, the Constellation leaves the Strait of Gibraltar.

It has been an interesting 3 weeks.  

We kept following the footsteps of the Apostle Paul. We followed the various retreats of the Knights Hospitaller of St. John as they left Jerusalem, to Acre (Acco), to Rhodes and to Malta.  

We were constantly reminded of the tremendous influence that the rise of Islam had on the development of world history as it blocked access to the Eastern Mediterranean ocean and to the important trade routes with Asia.  

We kept running into places that Napoleon invaded and influenced during these past weeks.  

Now we are heading out into the open Atlantic on our way to Florida with a planned stop at Tenerife’ in the Canary Islands.

Next – Tenerife in the Canary Islands, a week of sea days  and a photo tour of the Constellation

Please click the colored link to view my other blog about living in Hawaii "Life in the 50th State"

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