In the worlds of military strategy, diplomacy and trade, treaties often hinge on one small point or another and agreements and accommodations are made which do not necessarily take into account the future. Often little slips of land, especially those that seem to fall off the edge of a continent, are conceded. Some citizens of those little slips of land are proud and devoted to their unique homeland, some are there to be “away”, others are there for their peninsula’s strategic value.
Point Roberts comes to mind, next door to Tsawwassan, B.C., created when the U.K. and the U.S. settled a border dispute in the mid-19th century with the Oregon Treaty. They agreed the 49th parallel would delineate both countries’ territories, but they overlooked the small peninsula, Point Roberts (south of the 49th parallel). The only way to get there by land is through Canada.
The land of California existed as a myth among European explorers before it was discovered. In 1510, the idea of California was described as being “very close to the side of the Terrestrial Paradise; and it is peopled by black women, without any man among them, for they live in the manner of Amazons”. In 1804, the Spanish colonial Viceroyalty of New Spain divided the Baja peninsula into Alta (upper) and Baja (lower) California. After 1848, the Baja California Peninsula again became a Mexican territory when Alta California was ceded to the U.S. The only way to get to the Mexican Baja by land is through the U.S.
Mons Calpe, now Gibralter, or “Gib” as our tour guide called it, was considered by the ancient Greeks and Romans as one of the Pillars of Hercules. When Hercules had to perform twelve labours; one of them (the tenth) was to fetch the Cattle of Geryon of the far West and bring them to Eurystheus; this marked the westward extent of his travels. It was thought that beyond this was the land of Unknown, the underworld.
A moorish castle was constructed in 1333. The flag of Gibralter now flies above it.
In 1462, Gibraltar became part of Spain and remained so until 1704. It was captured during the War of the Spanish Succession by an Anglo-Dutch fleet. At war’s end, Spain ceded the territory to Britain under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713 and the peninsula became a key British possession in the Mediterranean. The only way to get to Gibralter by land is through Spain.
In an attempt to recapture Gibralter by Spain and France during the American Revolutionary War, a number of sieges were attempted. It was the fourteenth and final siege of Gibraltar, which lasted from July 1779 to February 1783, when the siege tunnels were constructed through the limestone rock by the British. During the siege, British and Spanish forces faced each other only 1 km apart, but the British held their ground.
Gibralter’s strategic value increased with the opening of the Suez Canal. A large British naval base was constructed there at great expense at the end of the 19th century and became the backbone of Gibraltar’s economy.
One of the most densely populated territories in the world, Gibralter has a population of over 32,000, two-thirds Roman Catholic. Land is at such a premium that the single runway for landings and takeoffs to and from Britain is shared with motorists, cyclists and foot passengers, with a railway crossing barrier lowering when the runway is needed.
In a 2002 referendum, Gibraltarians rejected by 99% a proposal of shared sovereignty on which Spain and Britain had reached “broad agreement”. The British government has committed itself to respecting the Gibraltarians’ wishes.
After rambling the upper reaches of The Rock, I went in search of Moroccan food, only slightly off the beaten fish ‘n’ chips path.
“Rock Apes. Births: To Phyllis, wife of Tony,
at the Upper Rock, on 30th June 1942— a child. Both doing well.”
– Gibralter Chronicle
Folklore suggests that when the Macaques leave Gibralter, so will Britain. The only monkeys in Europe, their numbers dwindled to just 7 animals before Winston Churchill sent a message in 1944 to the Colonial Secretary requesting that something be done about the situation; the military were put in charge. Today there are 300 Macaques in Gibralter organized in several “troops.” In the Brexit referendum, 96% of Gibraltarians voted to remain in the E.U. on an 82% turnout. It is unknown whether the Macaques were consulted.