What Is Gibraltar? Where is Gibraltar? And Is Gibraltar Part of the UK or Spain? We’ve got answers to these questions and more.
What Is Gibraltar? Is Gibraltar a Country?
Gibraltar is a confusing place to understand. It is officially a British Overseas Territory. This means that while it is not actually a part of the United Kingdom, it still falls within its legal jurisdiction. Therefore, Gibraltar technically falls under British control. Gibraltar is one of 14 other British Overseas Territories, much like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, that have their own power of self-government, but that cannot be considered countries since they are not independent of British rule.
Even though this tiny piece of land takes up only 4.2 square miles, there are an impressive 30,000 residents who live here, making Gibraltar one of the world’s most densely populated territories. The people of Gibraltar speak English, which is the official language, as well as Spanish and a local language called Llanito. The currency is the UK pound. Interestingly enough, while pounds printed in the UK can be used in Gibraltar, pounds printed in Gibraltar can’t be used in the UK.
Gibraltar is found at the end of a narrow peninsula just off of the southeastern tip of Spain, and is connected to the county by a narrow isthmus. The road into Gibraltar from Spain actually crosses the airport’s runway, so traffic has to be shut down every time an airplane lands. The entire territory has no natural springs or rivers and exists on a limestone rock bed that is notably the home to a giant limestone protrusion known as the “Rock of Gibraltar.” The rock forms one of two “Pillars of Hercules” that mark the entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar, the other being Jebel Musa on the North African side.
Gibraltar is located at the tip of the geographical region of Spain, and yet it is not Spanish. So if Gibraltar is so close to Spain, why do the British maintain control over this tiny autonomous region?
How Did the British Come to Control Gibraltar?
Essentially, Gibraltar fell under British rule because of the strategic importance of its location. The tiny peninsula and the Strait of Gibraltar that flanks it not only marks the gateway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, but also an important transit point between Europe and Africa, thus occurring at the confluence of numerous vital sea passages.
The British first seized the opportunity to snag this valuable piece of land during the War of Spanish Succession that lasted from 1702 to 1715. Britain had banded together with Holland and Austria to prevent a potential merger between Spain and France from forming an unstoppable world superpower. The resulting Treaties of Utrecht and Rastatt would result in the ceding of Gibraltar to British rule, since the British had won a decisive victory in Gibraltar in 1704. They’ve managed to maintain the territory ever since.
The Rock provided an ideal defense for the British who were able to hold Gibraltar when the Spanish tried to reclaim it in 1720 and 1724. When Britain went to war with America, Spain saw an opportunity to finally get Gibraltar back and declared war on the British in 1779. The French navy blocked the island by sea while the Spanish blocked the isthmus by land. Against the odds, the British would endure the Siege of Gibraltar until 1783 when they would once again claim a decisive victory, and British rule would be once again officially established under the Treaty of Paris and later again under the Treaty of Versaille in 1783.
Gibraltar’s unique geographical position would prove to be incredibly useful to the British during World War II.
The Spanish Claim to Gibraltar
Spain continues to dispute the UK over its right to maintain an irredentist claim to sovereignty over Gibraltar to this day, which is essentially a claim based on the fact that Gibraltar had been a part of Spain in the past.
However, the people of Gibraltar don’t seem to agree since in two separate referendums they voted overwhelming in favor of remaining a part of the British Empire. That said, Brexit has left the status of Gibraltar in political limbo and once again has opened the door for Spain to potentially claim sovereignty over this hotly disputed territory.
Did you like this post? If so, you might be interested in these other geography articles from the Sporcle Blog.
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