Sunday, May 17, 2015

Visiting Gibraltar--At the End of the Mediterranean

GibraltarGibraltar! A name of adventure. I had read of it in many novels; now I was eager to see it for myself.  Not only was there The Rock, but I also found monkeys, coastal plants and caves.

Gibraltar is, in the words of Wikipedia a "monolithic limestone promontory."  On the southern edge of Europe, it protrudes south into the Mediterranean, creating the spot where the passage from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic is the narrrowest. 

The ancients explained the strait as the work of the hero Hercules. A mountain blocked Hercules’ path to the Garden of the Hesperides. Too impatient to climb a mountain, Hercules destroyed it. That let the Atlantic connect with the Mediterranean, through the Strait of Gibraltar. 

The ancient Greeks further believed that the sky was supported by pillars. Their Pillars of Hercules may not have been at Gibraltar, but for more than a millennium now, people have called Gibraltar one of the Pillars of Hercules. 

You can see Africa across the strait.
An important military location, the rock was ruled by the Romans, Visigoths, Moors and then Christian Spain. Since the 1700s, however, it has belonged to England. The British control only 2.6 square miles, a tiny area. With some 30,000 inhabitants, Gibraltar is densely populated. At the same time, because of the steep, high (1398 feet above the sea) Rock, there are nevertheless wild (inaccesible) areas.

A view from the heights
Looking at the ships in port
I always notice the plants, and of course there were some very interesting ones on Gibraltar.  Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima), for example, is native to this area, so I was delighted to see it in waste places.

wild sweet alyssum
The edge of the sea had spiny, drought-tolerant plants. Like most of the Mediterranean coast, Gibraltar gets less than 30" of rain a year, almost none of it during the summer. I was there in October when the rains of winter had only just begun. There had, however, been some rain, so while the plants looked dry and battered, there were flowers and new leaves.

rock samphire, Crithmum maritimum

Here is one of the wild areas: the photo is taken from the top of a very steep hillside, looking down.  

hillside, Gibraltar

The visit to Gibraltar will continue next week. 

Question and comments welcome.

Kathy Keeler

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