Gibraltar

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Rockin' Gibraltar

Hercules is said to have moved the two mountains flanking the western entrance to the Mediterranean Sea as part of his Twelve Labors of Greek mythology. Gibraltar is conclusively the northern pillar, though there's some dispute of the location of the southern half in Africa. There's also some disagreement over the years as to whether Hercules was narrowing or widening the strait between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean.

In any case, the Rock of Gibraltar got its name not from Greek mythology, but the 711 AD Muslim invasion by Tangier governor Tariq ibn Ziyad. Say "Jebel Tariq" (Tariq's mountain) with an exhausted slur, and you'll get Gibraltar, the name of the rock and the tiny country surrounding it.

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The Rock
This 426-meter limestone ridge is so strategically important that it's been passed around for centuries. Castilla (Spain) got it back from the Muslims in 1462. In 1704 it was captured by an Anglo-Dutch fleet, and Spain ceded it to Britain in 1713. In the twentieth century, Spain's Franco wasn't the least bit pleased about the situation and closed the border from 1967 to 1985. Gibraltarians always decisively recommit to British sovereignty under an arrangement of self-government.
Queensway Quay
Queensway Quay, where we stayed, is the base for local and visiting yachts, in a harbor that's enormous and busy. In a place that's only an area of 6.5 kilometers, it's close to everything else in town. Fuel is cheap, so Gibraltar is a great place to stop, if only to top off the tanks. Special tax status has helped Gibraltar gain economic strength through tourism and financial services.
Barbary Apes
These adorable macaques wander freely around the Rock. They're known as the Barbary Apes, though they're technically monkeys. Legend has it that Gibraltar will remain British for as long as the Barbary apes are there. The British take this very seriously. Until recently, their care was overseen by the British military, and Churchill took a personal interest in their well-being during World War II.
World War II tunnels
Gibraltar has always been a strategic location, and the British took no chances during World War II. A team of 5000 men and 300 women embarked on a three-year project to build a web of tunnels inside the Rock. Planes arrived unassembled inside of crates, and were assembled out of sight, ready for departure from the runway that is still Gibraltar's airport. The people working inside had no sense of day or month in the cool darkness inside the mountain.
Airport
Gibraltar's airport is currently under renovation, and it's about time. The runway crosses the road into the country (that's Spain, just beyond the airport). Thus, like a train crossing, traffic has to stop whenever a flight comes in. The access road is currently being rerouted. That doesn't fix the fact that the short runway crosses a thin peninsula with ocean on either side of it. Myself, I'd fly into Spain and drive in.