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A Rocky History
Plenty of places in Spain are culturally a country apart, but Gibraltar is literally so. A little piece of Britain at the bottom of Spain, Gibraltar has an amusing mix of tea-and-biscuits culture paired with the baking sun of its Mediterranean surroundings. This strategic spot, a quick skip into Africa and a perfect point of departure around the base of Europe, has inspired a number of turf wars, ultimately placing it in the hands of the British. Today the relationship is amicable, but in the beginning it was anything but.
Although the Romans ruled the area from 500 BC to AD 475, it was left to the Moors to establish the first settlement here in 1160. The Duke of Medina Sidonia then recaptured the Rock for Spain in 1462. In 1501 Isabella the Catholic declared Gibraltar a crown property, and the following year it received the Royal Warrant that bestowed on it a coat of arms consisting of a castle and a key. In 1704 an Anglo-Dutch force eventually captured Gibraltar, which led to Spain's ceding it to England in 1713.
In 1779, combined Spanish and French forces totaling more than 50,000 troops laid the final Great Siege against a mere 5,000 defenders. The attack highlighted all the unusual problems involved in defending Gibraltar: the great north face of the Rock guarded the entrance, but it seemed impossible to mount guns on it. The answer: tunnels. Of course, the solution had one major problem: cannons are designed to fire up, not down. This problem was circumvented by digging tunnels that sloped downward. Later, in World War II, tunnels were used again to defend Gibraltar. General Dwight D. Eisenhower conducted the Allied invasion of North Africa from one of the tunnels, and all of them remain under military control today.
From 1963 to 1964, Gibraltar's future was debated at the United Nations, but in a referendum on September 10, 1967, which has now become Gibraltar's National Day, 99.9% of Gibraltarians voted to remain part of England. In 1969 this resulted in a new constitution granting self-government. These events severely provoked General Franco, and he closed the coastal border that same year. It stayed closed until February 5, 1985, and Spain occasionally decided to make the crossing more difficult. In 2002, the UK and Spanish governments reached an agreement in principle on joint sovereignty. Another referendum resulted in 99% of Gibraltar's population voting against the idea. Nevertheless, it led to the creation of a tripartite forum that included the Gibraltar government, which is a positive move toward obtaining greater cooperation and recognition between Spain and Gibraltar.
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