September 10, 2010

Gibraltar National Day

Gibraltar is a British overseas territory located at the northern side of the “gateway” to the Mediterranean Sea. The southern side of the gateway is Morocco, Africa—and the two sides are separated by a narrow neck of water called the Strait of Gibraltar.

The strait is almost 9 miles (more than 14 kilometers) wide.

Gibraltar-as-British-territory is a peninsula of land that juts out from Spain. Spain ceded the territory to Britain in 1713, after a war—but of course now Spain wants it back. However, the people who live in the area—about a quarter of whom are ethnic Britons and a quarter of whom are ethnic Spaniards—want to remain associated with the UK rather than change to Spanish rule (at least, 99% of them want that, according to the latest referendum).

Can you imagine how important this bit of land is (and was when sea travel dominated because there was no such thing yet as air travel)? For military and trade, it was important to control access to the Mediterranean and to Africa—and so it was a huge boon to England that it could have a Royal Navy base there.

Did you know...?

  • The only wild monkeys in Europe are the Barbary macaques of Gibraltar.
  • The most famous landmark in Gibraltar is the Rock of Gibraltar (also known simply as The Rock), which is a monolithic chunk of limestone that towers over the land and sea.
  • The Rock of Gibraltar is one of the two Pillars of Hercules. Hercules was an ancient Greek hero who supposedly connected the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean by smashing through a mountain that separated these two bodies of water. In other words, the story claims that Hercules formed the strait with his mighty whackings and crackings.   
The story goes on to say that two promontories on either side of the strait were all that was left of the original mountain—the Rock of Gibraltar, on one side, and either Monte Hacho or Jebel Musa, on the other. (A promontory is a large mass of land that overlooks flatter land or a body of water.)

One version of the story says that the pillars were marked with a message warning sailors to go no further. In other words, stay in the safer, warmer Mediterranean rather than sailing into the stormy, colder Atlantic.

Learn more...

  • Here is a glossary of geographic terms such as peninsula and strait, meant for fairly young children. 

  • And here is a cool graphic labeled with many of the same terms. 

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