Gibraltar is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom. It is located in southwestern Europe adjoining the southern coast of Spain, a strategic location on the Strait of Gibraltar that links the North Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, also placing it between Europe and Africa.
Main article: History of Gibraltar
Evidence of human inhabitation of the Rock dates back to the Neanderthals. A Neanderthal skull was discovered in Forbes' Quarry in 1848, indeed prior to the "original" discovery in the Neander Valley. In 1926, the skull of a Neanderthal child was found in Devil's Tower.
The Phoenicians are known to have visited the Rock circa 950 BC and named the Rock Calpe. The Carthaginians also visited, however neither group appears to have settled permanently. Plato refers to Gibraltar as one of the Pillars of Hercules along with Jebel Musa or Monte Hacho on the other side of the Strait.
Gibraltar was next visited by the Romans. Again, no permanent settlement was established. Following the fall of the Roman Empire, Gibraltar was visited by the Vandals and later the Goths. The Vandals' stay was temporary; however, the Goths were to remain on the Iberian peninsula from 414 to 711. The Umayyad general Tariq ibn Ziyad, leading a Berber-dominated army, landed at the southern point of the Rock from present-day Morocco in his quest for Spain. The mountain was named Jebel Tariq (Tariq's mountain) (in Arabic جبل طارق). Over time the final syllable was dropped from the name and corrupted to Gibraltar. Today, Gibraltar is also known colloquially as 'Gib' or 'the Rock'.
Little was built during the first four centuries of Moorish control. However in 1160 Abdul Maman ordered that a permanent settlement, including a castle, be built. The main tower of this castle remains standing today. Despite the fortification, the rock was overrun by Spanish forces in 1462. The rock was temporarily owned by the King of Castile, but later taken by the Duke of Medina Sidonia and passed to his son. Queen Isabella of Castile had her army besiege and re-take Gibraltar for the Spanish kingdom in 1501.
An Anglo-Dutch force led by Sir George Rooke seized the Rock in 1704. The territory was ceded to Great Britain by Spain in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht. Despite early attempts by the Spanish to retake it, most notably in the Great Siege of 1783, the Rock has remained British ever since.
During the Second World War the residents of Gibraltar were evacuated and the Rock was turned into a fortress again. Gibraltar gave the Allied Powers control of the entry to the Mediterranean Sea (the other side of the Strait being under neutral Spanish territory). The Rock was a key part of the Allied supply lines to Malta and North Africa, and the racecourse near the border was converted into an airport. After the war, the residents returned.
In 1954, Queen Elizabeth II visited Gibraltar. This prompted Spain (which was then led by the dictator Francisco Franco) to renew its claim to sovereignty, which had lain dormant for over 150 years.
Main article: Politics of Gibraltar, see also Disputed status of Gibraltar.
As an overseas territory of the UK, Gibraltar has had considerable internal self-government since the introduction of its present constitution in 1969. The Governor of Gibraltar, appointed by Queen Elizabeth II, is responsible for defence, foreign relations, internal security and financial stability. All other matters, defined as 'domestic', are the responsibility of the Council of Ministers, with the leader of the majority party in the elected House of Assembly appointed as Chief Minister.
The issue of sovereignty continues to dominate Gibraltar politics. Both main political parties, the Gibraltar Social-Democrats (GSD) and the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party (GSLP) are opposed to any transfer of sovereignty to Spain. Spain continues to claim sovereignty over the terrority, and the British Government, whilst stating that no change would take place without the consent of the people of Gibraltar, in 2002 accepted the principle of joint sovereignty between the United Kingdom and Spain. All local political parties oppose this move, instead supporting self-determination for the Rock, as do the main UK opposition parties.
(For details on Gibraltar's status in the EU, see Special member state territories and their relations with the EU).
Defence is the responsibility of the United Kingdom. The army garrison is provided by the Royal Gibraltar Regiment, originally a part-time reserve force which was placed on the permanent establishment of the British Army in 1990. The regiment includes full-time and part-time soldiers recruited from Gibraltar, as well as British Army regulars posted from other regiments.
The Rock is a listening post for telecommunications throughout North Africa, and because of its location it still remains a key NATO base. British and US ships frequently visit the territory.
The territory covers 6.543 square kilometres (2.53 square miles). It shares a 1.2 kilometre land border with Spain and has 12 kilometres of shoreline. Its climate is Mediterranean with mild winters and warm summers. Its terrain is a narrow coastal lowland bordering the 426-metre-high Rock of Gibraltar. It has negligible natural resources and limited natural freshwater resources, until recently using large concrete or natural rock water catchments to collect rain water. It now has a desalination plant soon to be replaced by a reverse osmosis plant (currently operational) built into the rock itself.
Gibraltar is one of the most densely populated territories in the world, with approximately 4,245 people per km2 (10,979 per sq mile). The growing demand for space is being increasingly met by land reclamation, which comprises approximately one tenth of the territory's total area.
The Rock itself is made of limestone and is 1,396 feet (426 metres) high. It contains many miles of roads, most of which are closed to the public. Most of its area is covered by a nature reserve, which is home to around 250 Barbary Apes, the only semi-wild monkeys in Europe. It is said that if ever the Apes leave so will the British, so they are well looked after by the government (a situation rather analogous to the ravens of the Tower of London).
Gibraltar is divided into 7 residential areas. They are listed below, with population figures from the Census of 2001: