“Short but informative this book, published in 1990, covers very much the whole history of Gibraltar, covering every aspect of its life, culture and governance. If you have an interest in Gibraltar, “Gibraltar and Its People” is the book to read.”
New books are still being published since 1990, bringing in updates to Gibraltar’s story as it evolves. The story of Gibraltar has been told many times, in many books over many centuries with every major phase in Gibraltar’s timeline covered by at least one published book.
The most recent book on Gibraltar, and with “The Story of Gibraltar” as its title, was published in 2018 by a publisher specialising in producing books for children.
What on Earth Books publishes “nonfiction books that engage children’s natural curiosity and passion for learning – the real world is far more amazing than anything you can make up!”
Gibraltar’s story is certainly one that couldn’t be made up..and in the parts involving the behaviour of raucous troops is possibly not a tale suitable to be told to children.
Today, although the internet offers access to plentiful information about Gibraltar, wide-ranging in topic, and uptodate, print publications still remain popular judging by the statistics showing numbers of copies being sold.
Whether reading on an e-book reader or in print version the reader can find on Kindle many of the publications covering the Gibraltar story, some of which are included in this stroll by the book that follows.
The main publication on Gibraltar’s early era, during the time of the Neanderthals, was published in 2010.
The Humans who went Extinct
Professor Finlayson is the Director of the University of Gibraltar’s Institute of Life and Earth Sciences, based at the Gibraltar National Museum, where he is Director, Chief Scientist and Curator.
In his 2010 book “The Humans who went Extinct” he covers an early era in the Gibraltar story, explaining why Neanderthals died out and humans, the Moderns, survived.
“The best-known Neanderthals lived between about 130,000 and 40,000 years ago, after which all physical evidence of them vanishes.
Gibraltar’s Gorham Cave and the surrounding area was home to the Neanderthals at a time when many other Neanderthal populations were already extinct and is confirmed as the site of the last Neanderthals on the planet.”
Professor Finlayson’s conclusion is that the destiny of the Neanderthals and the Moderns was sealed by ecological factors and contingencies.
A matter of luck
“The rise and fall of populations is profoundly moulded by the larger scale forces of climate and ecology and it was a matter of luck that we, the Moderns survived and spread while the Neanderthals dwindled and perished.
Had the climate not changed in our favour some 50 million years ago, things would have been very different.”
The finds by archaeologists of remains in several of Gibraltar’s caves as well as Gorham’s have enabled palaeontologists to reconstruct in considerable detail the lifestyles of the occupants and their environment.
The region around Gibraltar enjoyed a much more stable and temperate climate than almost anywhere else in Iberia.
“The entire coastal plain around Gibraltar is now submerged in the Bay of Gibraltar, Strait of Gibraltar and Alboran Sea due to the rise in sea levels over the last 12,000 years.
Its environment can be reconstructed in detail from the evidence of pollen, seeds and animal bones found in the caves of Gibraltar.
The plain would have predominantly been a sandy grassland with patchy trees and shrubs, supporting a wide variety of flora and fauna.
The wildlife included important game species – red deer, wild cattle, rabbits and wild boars – and predators including spotted hyenas, leopards, lynxes, wolves, brown bears, wildcats and possibly lions.
Gibraltar was, then as now, a key waypoint on the avian migration route between Europe and Africa and a very wide variety of birds was present.”
The Rock of the Gibraltarians
The final period of the Stone Age led to the New Stone Age, the Neolithic period from 10,000 BCE, with fixed human settlements, the beginning of agriculture and the widespread use of bronze.
Sir William G.F. Jackson in his 1987 book “The Rock of the Gibraltarians” “paints a wonderfully interesting picture of the Rock stretching from Neolithic times right through to the days of the Brussels agreement.”
It is regarded as “a great work of scholarship, with a strong sense of narrative running through it”, and in its narrative he includes the presence and activities of the Romans.
“History of a Fortress” first published 1971, by Ernle Bradford, is “good on the older history but recent times less well covered..republished in 2016, the text hasn’t been updated since the 70’s to reflect the changes in Spain or Europe which make some of the comments and statements about ‘the future’ seriously flawed”.
The millennia between the disappearance of the Neanderthals and the spread of the Roman Empire to Western Europe and North Africa saw many physical changes in the area.
The Strait of Gibraltar became an important passageway to the outside world for Phoenicians and other seafaring peoples in the Mediterranean.
Neolithic burial grounds show where earlier people made their homes before the Romans but by 2C BC a Roman presence had been established in the area of Baetica, around Gibraltar and southern Iberia.
Roman settlements existed from Baetica to the other side of the Strait, Mauretania, as Northern Africa was known by the Romans. As well as written records of the day, remains of artefacts and Ancient Roman pottery provide indications and signs of their presence.
The physical remains range from the many pots to the city and fortress ruins that can be seen along the coast from Algeciras to Baelo Claudia, Tarifa and up along the coast to the 1,000 year old city of Cadiz.
Ancient Roman pottery
Tangible artefacts such as Roman terra sigillata, a general term for some of the fine red Ancient Roman pottery items made in specific areas of the Roman Empire, have been unearthed at the excavation works for Gibraltar’s Frontier tunnel under the airport.
They include items which are thought to have come from wrecked ships.
“The pottery remains were found six metres down, in the sand, some 200 fragments of Roman ceramics of varying sizes, thought to be from different periods and origins.
Some of the fragments of amphorae can be placed between the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD. These are common in the south of the Iberian Peninsula, and in the area of the Strait of Gibraltar as they were usually used to transport products derived from the salting of fish, including the garum sauce, which was highly valued in Roman kitchens”.
As Gibraltar’s Heritage Minister Dr John Cortes explains, “these latest finds reflect Gibraltar’s diverse history. One day you are looking at WWII structures, the next, artefacts dating to the Great Siege and the following day to Roman times”.
The aftermath of the fall of Rome’s empire in the west in 476 saw the development of a major period in Gibraltar’s story.
“In Hispania, Roderick and his Visigoth hordes have burnt the land and violently seized power” Visigoth tribes controlled the south of Iberia from the Early Middle Ages until the Moors entered from Africa and took over.
“Gibraltar, the Conquest of Iberia” by Shariq Ali Khan, published 2014, covers the period of the establishment by the Moors in North Africa of the Islamic Al-Andalus and the story of the Moorish conquest of Spain from 711 AD.
Gibraltar was frequently at the centre of the many battles between the warring factions fighting to take and keep control of it because of its location and was the reason why fortification of the Rock began with the building of the Moorish Castle.
In “The Gibraltar Crusade: Castile and the Battle for the Strait” by Joseph O’Callaghan 2014 explains the period after Tarifa was captured in 1292 until after the Reconquista in the 15c.
Seven books at least pick up the story from the 18c, the century in which Gibraltar sustained a further period of being the centre of power rivalry, during which its fortifications were built up to make it the fortress it needed to be to respond to having become “one of the most fought-over places in Europe.”
“Of the fourteen recorded sieges of Gibraltar only five of them resulted in a change of rule. Seven were fought between Muslims and Catholics during Muslim rule, four between Spain and Britain from after the Anglo-Dutch capture in 1704 to the end of the Great Siege in 1783, two between rival Catholic factions, and one between rival Muslim powers.
Four of Gibraltar’s changes in rule, including three sieges, took place over a matter of days or hours, whereas several other sieges had durations of months or years and claimed the lives of thousands without resulting in any change in rule”.
There are fourteen recorded sieges of Gibraltar. In “The Fortifications of Gibraltar 1068-1945”, 2006, Prof C Finlayson and Darren Fa include “a wider view covering a rich testament to human conflict spanning 900 years”.
Some two centuries earlier before the 2006 book, in 1795, John Drinkwater published his “History of the Late Siege of Gibraltar, the first published account of the Great Siege of 1779-1783”.
Original 18th C manuscripts are available as digital copies in Renee Chartrand’s 2006 “Gibraltar 1779-1783: The Great Siege” which recounts the detail of the “strategies and forces and plans which would assure British victory”.
James Faulkner’s 2009 “Fire Over the Rock: The Great Siege of Gibraltar, 1779–1783” also “draws on contemporary sources to tell the story of the Rock.”
More recently, in 2017, Roy and Lesley Adkins recount in “Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History” how “the obsession with saving Gibraltar is blamed for losing the American colonies”.
Taking the longer view over the centuries Marc Alexander’s “Gibraltar: Conquered by No Enemy”, published 2011, tells of “siege, starvation, plague, and battles interspersed with periods of peace”.
The life led by the civilian population during and after the era of continuous warfare is covered by Gibraltarian historian Tito Benady in “The Streets of Gibraltar: A Short History” but, published in 1996, is no longer easily available.
Also providing insights into civilian life on the Rock during the long period of battles and sieges, Stephen Constantine’s 2009 “Community and Identity: Making of Modern Gibraltar since 1704”, draws on “previously unexplored archival material”.
In their 2012 publication Chris Grocott and Gareth Stockey provide further information in “Gibraltar: A Modern History”, “a leading study of the civilian history of Gibraltar from 1704”.
For fascinatingly raw details of day to day 18th and 19th life in the streets and homes of Gibraltar M G Sanchez provides a number of books including in 2012 his well-reviewed Georgian and Victorian Gibraltar: “Incredible Eyewitness Accounts of drunken sailors, dandified officers”.
Following “Writing the Rock of Gibraltar: Anthology of Literary Texts, 1720-1890” Sanchez addresses why Gibraltar was described in that period as “the dirtiest and most detestable spot”.
His further insights were published in 2012 in “The Prostitutes of Serruya’s Lane, a collection of essays on smuggling, prostitution, racism”.
With insight into the politics of the day in “Rock Black : Ten Stories” Sanchez looks at how “Madrid had responded in the only way it knew”.
To provide information about Gibraltar’s historical sites and buildings, the Gibraltar Heritage Trust has produced and supported the production of a number of publications.
The Trust manages conservation of the historical sites, not only those from earlier centuries but also those of this last century, including constructions during WW2 such as the World War II Tunnels.
Sites and buildings from earlier centuries include the Moorish Castle, the O’Hara’s Battery, the 100 Ton Gun at Napier of Magdala Battery, the Heritage Centre at Princess Caroline’s Battery and the Parson’s Lodge Battery, Devil’s Gap Battery, Princess Anne’s Battery, the Great Siege Tunnels and Charles V Wall.
World War II
Most recent of the books published on the part that Gibraltar played in WW2 is “Defending the Rock: Gibraltar and WW2” by Nicholas Rankin in 2019. He discusses how “by failing to seize Gibraltar in the summer of 1940, Hitler had lost the war”.
A Gibraltar Heritage Trust publication, Edward G. Archer’s “In Defence of the Rock” covers “aspects of security and intelligence in Gibraltar from 1939”.
After World War II
Following many millennia in the Gibraltar story timeline, in 1946 “The Story of Gibraltar” was published by H W Howes. Although now not uptodate because in the time since its publication the eight decades have provided plenty of further incidents and events, Howes provides insights into viewpoints held at the time of writing.
In his 1999 book “Fatal Encounter, The Story of the Gibraltar Killings” Nicholas Eckert “takes to pieces the entire fabrication” about the shooting in Gibraltar of three suspected IRA activists.
David Scherr in his 2005 article, published on the internet, “The Battle for Gibraltar, National Archives MI5” covers “The history of the Defence Security Office (DSO) in Gibraltar”.
Building ships, ships’ sinkings
Tito Benady in his 1992 “The Royal Navy at Gibraltar” Maritime Book takes us on a photographic journey through time in a single place, the Gibraltar shipyard.
Ned Middleton in his “Shipwrecks from the Egyptian Red Sea” describes the “superb wreck-diving to be found telling us the offshore history of Gibraltar’s local area shipwrecks”.
Although in its very early days the Upper Rock was tree-covered most of the trees were felled for fuel during the Great Siege of Gibraltar between 1779 and 1783.
Flowers remain in abundance, with more than six hundred species of flowering plants, including Gibraltar’s ’s national flower candytuft, thriving on the Rock.
The Gibraltar campion, “silene tomentosa”, thought for a while to be extinct, has been found again, but only on Gibraltar, and continues to be a very rare species.
The British Library, working with Microsoft, has embarked on an ambitious programme to digitise its collection of 19th century books among which is “Reminiscences of Gibraltar. By Flora Calpensis”.
It was released in paperback in 2010 as “Flora calpensis; contributions to the botany and topography of Gibraltar, and its neighbourhood”.
Charles Perez and Keith Bensusan produced in 2005 “A Guide to The Upper Rock Nature Reserve” as an online pdf with the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society.
An earlier publication, 1988, “The Flowers and Wildlife of Gibraltar” by John Cortes and Clive Finlayson is still available in print.
The apes – The apes that live on the Rock, Barbary macaques, may well be the most widely known of the fauna on Gibraltar. The macaque population was present on the Rock of Gibraltar long before Gibraltar was captured by the British in 1704 and, according to records, since prior to the reconquest of Gibraltar from the Muslims.
“The species had decreased with the arrival of the Ice Age, to extinction in the Iberian Peninsula 30,000 years ago. It was during the Islamic period when it is thought that their introduction from North Africa to Gibraltar may have taken place”.
The birds – Gibraltar is well-known to bird-watchers. “There is no better place in western Europe to see numbers of soaring birds on migration than the Strait of Gibraltar, one of the top five places in the world for its numbers of raptors in passage.
The narrow 14 km gap between Spain and Morocco acts as a crucial landmark that conditions the flyway of thousands of birds of prey and storks twice every year”.
The Marine Reserve – Gibraltar’s local waters are richly populated with marine life from whales and dolphins to large grouper, amberjack, swordfish, marlin and tuna. The Marine Reserve works to keep strict control of the environmental integrity of the British Gibraltar Territorial Waters (BGTW).
The Nautilus Project based in Gibraltar works “to raise marine environmental issues with the local public to help craft the changes required for a better future”.
The Helping Hand Trust continues to expand Europe’s first artificial reef, constructed by the Trust’s founder Dr Eric Shaw, and also “engages in a diverse array of terrestrial and marine conservation projects”.
Although print publications are not available the Trust has “decades of experience helping film crews, journalists and media outlets” and is happy to respond to all enquiries about the waters that for so many millennia have been a part of Gibraltar’s story.
Jon Lewes @Thinker_Jon