ArticleHonouring the Past, Embracing the Future
The Great Siege might have been the most important watershed in the history of Gibraltar. Before 1783, the territory had essentially been a medieval fortress and a military base steeped in history as far back as antiquity. Thereafter, while retaining its military significance, it began its transformation into a modern town-state with a unique identity. First, its population grew to 17,000; then its appearance underwent a major facelift masterminded by one Giovanni Maria Boschetti, a 25-year-old Milanese Jack-of-all-(construction)-trades - and a master of several of them. By the end of the 18th century, the town of Gibraltar was known for its distinct look combining “military-ordnance-style arched doorways, Italianate stucco relief, Genoese shutters, English regency ironwork balconies, Spanish stained glass and Georgian sash and casement windows”.
As time went by, advancing modernity, combined with inherent variety, kept adding to Gibraltar's quaintness. Mountain-shaped serpentine roads leading to newer neighbourhoods, necessitated smaller, personable-looking buses;
English countryside at a stone's throw from typical continental quarters resulted in pleasing, reassuring sights for sore eyes and nostalgic souls.
Then, there is Gibraltar's unique geography. However modern the Rock was becoming, its location has never ceased to shape and define its identity, including toponymy. The small territory is acutely aware of its significance as the beginning/end of a whole continent. It's not for nothing that its southernmost tip is called Europa Point - and hardly any other country in the world can claim being home for the Lady of the Continent!
It's to geography, as well, that the Rock owes its cutest wonder yet. The so-called “apes of Gibraltar”'s original habitat is in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco - and they are likely to have first crossed the water as early as the 8th century AD, together with Tarig ibn Ziyad. Whatever prompted them to do so back then, now those “apes” (also known as “Barbary monkeys”) are the only wild monkeys on the whole European continent - that alone would be enough reason to present them with royal quarters occupying a significant part of the Upper Rock. However, there is an even better reason to do so: legend has it, as long as there are monkeys in Gibraltar, so will be the British. The legend was important enough for Winston Churchill to remember it in the darkest hours of the WWII - and to order extra monkeys from Morocco lest their numbers become dangerously low.
While from a human point of view, the monkeys are a must-see major attraction, the feeling is anything but mutual. In other words, the apes are utterly indifferent to the never-ending procession of humans, while being touching fond of and invested in each other