Gibraltar Has Been Getting International Media Attention: Do You Know the History Behind It?

Since the triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty (2009) and the BREXIT negotiations between the EU and the UK, the issue of Gibraltar’s sovereignty has reared its head once more. Over the last 1300 hundred years, Gibraltar has seen over 14 conflicts regarding its control. While back in this century in 2016 the people of the rock voted 96% stay within the European Union, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo has made it very clear that, come what may, Gibraltar’s loyalties clearly remain with the United Kingdom.

While the debate regarding Gibraltar’s sovereignty continues, and how very British this peninsular is, very little is mentioned about its Moorish heritage. Gibraltar is a small peninsula the southern tip of Spain, which is currently a British overseas territory. The rock was initially part of the Visigothic kingdom of Hispania and formally under the control of the Roman empire. The Moors first settled on the peninsula in the Middle Ages; it was  April 27, 711 when Tariq ibn-Ziyad, the Berber general from North Africa, landed on the shores of Gibraltar. This monumental and historical event marked the beginning of over 700 years of Moorish rule on the Spanish peninsula. Gibraltar was to remain in Muslim hands for 751 years. The rock was named after General Tariq: ‘mountain of Tariq’ (Arabic for Jabal Tariq) and then in subsequent years renamed El Peñón de Gibraltar.

Castilian Spain gained control of Gibraltar in the late 1400s when the Moorish rule of Spain was dwindling and on its last legs. Gibraltar then finally fell into the hands of the British in 1713. Even to this day, the question of Gibraltar’s sovereignty has caused contention between Spain and Britain.

This picture is taken by Paul Johnson

From 711, Gibraltar formed part of the Umayyad Caliphate. For centuries the strategically placed rock links Africa to Europe has seen power after power battle over its sovereignty. While Gibraltar initially formed part of the Umayyad Caliphate it later, the passed on to a Spanish branch of the Umayyad Caliphate of Córdoba. The Caliphate of Córdoba broke into smaller independent Taifa kingdoms resulting in Gibraltar becoming part of the Taifa of Seville. By the year 1060, an African dynasty called the Almoravids threatened to seize power over Gibraltar however in 1086 the Taifa kings invited the Almoravids to support them against an invasion from the encroaching Spanish Christian kings Alfonso VII of León and Castile and Alfonso I of Aragon.

The Castilians captured Gibraltar in 1309.  At the time one 1125 Moors were living on the rock. After the conquest, the town’s Moorish and Jewish population were expelled. The new ruling King of Castile ordered that the defenses on the rock be strengthened to avoid any future attacks from the Moors. Gibraltar remained Castilian for over 20 years until the Sultan of Granada and Morocco in 1353 launched a joint attack on Gibraltar leaving the rock back under Moorish control. Abu al-Hassan ordered the re-fortification of Gibraltar as the Castilians continued to carry out attacks on Gibraltar to gain control.

The Fortifications and some other Moorish architecture are still visible in Gibraltar today. Examples include Moorish baths, a mosque, which later converted into a Christian church, the Kasbah –  an area later called Villa Vieja old Englishtown. Bab el-Granada became known as the Granada Gate, and the port area port which was built by the Moors was known by the Spanish as La Barca, but is believed to have derived from the Arabic word Sinha-Dar El. When the Spanish Castilians finally captured Gibraltar in 1462 the cities Muslim and Jewish cities population surrendered and was finally expelled and replaced by Spanish Christians. The Rock of Gibraltar had remained in Moorish control for over 751 years.

Gibraltar is tiny, measuring 6.7 km², however it has an extremely wealthy economy. It is self-governed with his parliament however Britain maintains responsibility for its foreign policy and defense.

After several decades and attempts by the Christians to capture Gibraltar, Juan Alonso de Guzmán, first Duke of Medina Sidonia finally succeeded in capturing the rock in August 1462. Gibraltar was to remain within Castilian Christian realm until 1703. It briefly came under the rule of Charles VI of Austria, but during the war of Spanish succession it came under the Habsburg ownership. Gibraltar passed to British ownership in 1713, under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht. For centuries Spain has tried to regain control of Gibraltar from the British who claimed the rock to be a Crown colony.

Spain and Britain have seen three wars for sovereignty, with the final war ending in the 18th century. For over 500 years Gibraltar has faced 14 wars for its control. In the 19th and 20th century, at the height of the British Empire, Gibraltar was seen as one of Britain’s most strategic and important colonies in the Mediterranean. One of the key reasons for this was that it deemed a critical stopover and was used as a route to India via the Suez Canal. Gibraltar was home to a large British naval base which in the past was key to Gibraltar’s growth and economy.

During the Second World War, it was attacked by the Germans and Italians. This was because Gibraltar was key in allowing allies to control the entrance to the Mediterranean. On several occasions, the border between Gibraltar and Spain has been closed due to Anglo-Spanish disputes. Britain’s naval presence on Gibraltar has now declined, and the peninsula’s economy is now based mostly on tourism, shipping, gambling and financial services. Gibraltar is tiny, measuring 6.7 km², however it has an extremely wealthy economy. It is self-governed with his parliament however Britain maintains responsibility for its foreign policy and defense.

Some interesting facts you may not know about Gibraltar

The Famous Monkey Population of Gibraltar
  •  The Moors introduced one of the only wild monkey populations in the whole of Europe there are around 300 of North African descent currently occupy the peninsula.
  • John Lennon and Yoko Ono were married on the Rock of Gibraltar.
  • Llanito is a language spoken on Gibraltar. It consists of an interesting mix of in Spanish and English with Portuguese and Maltese. People are known to switch between the languages mid-sentence.
  • It is home to more than 300 species of birds who pass Gibraltar while traveling between Africa and Europe.
  • Costing 5 million pounds and built by the Saudi King, Gibraltar has one of the largest and most southerly mosques in a non-European country.
  • Gibraltar has a population of about 33,000 people and has the fifth-highest density of any country in the world.

Written by Sabera Ahsan

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Sabera Ahsan is a former Primary school teacher, police equality advisor and government policy officer. She currently dedicates her time to writing and reading about Moorish Spain.