Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula. It has an area of 2.6 square miles (6.7 km²) and shares its northern border with Spain. The Rock of Gibraltar is the major landmark of the region. At its foot is a densely populated city area, home to over 30,000 Gibraltarians and other nationalities. An Anglo-Dutch force captured Gibraltar from Spain in 1704 during the War of the Spanish Succession on behalf of the Habsburg claim to the Spanish throne. The territory was subsequently ceded to Britain “in perpetuity” under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. During World War II, it was an important base for the Royal Navy as it controlled the entrance and exit to the Mediterranean Sea, which is only eight miles (13 km) wide at this point. Today Gibraltar’s economy is based largely on tourism, online gambling, financial services, and shipping.
The sovereignty of Gibraltar is a major point of contention in Anglo-Spanish relations as Spain asserts a claim to the territory. Gibraltarians overwhelmingly rejected proposals for Spanish sovereignty in a 1967 referendum and again in 2002. Under the Gibraltar constitution of 2006, Gibraltar governs its own affairs, though some powers, such as defense and foreign relations, remain the responsibility of the Government of the United Kingdom.
The name Gibraltar is the Spanish derivation of the Arabic name Jabal Ṭāriq (جبل طارق), meaning “Mountain of Tariq”. It refers to the Rock of Gibraltar, which was named after the Umayyad general Tariq ibn-Ziyad who led the initial incursion into Iberia in advance of the main Umayyad force in 711 under the command of Umayyad Caliph Al-Walid I. Earlier, it was known as Mons Calpe, a name of Phoenician origin and one of the Pillars of Hercules.
Evidence of Neanderthal habitation in Gibraltar between 28,000 and 24,000 BP has been discovered at Gorham’s Cave, making Gibraltar possibly the last known holdout of the Neanderthals. Within recorded history, the first inhabitants were the Phoenicians, around 950 BC. Subsequently, Gibraltar became known as one of the Pillars of Hercules, after the Greek legend of the creation of the Strait of Gibraltar by Heracles. The Carthaginians and Romans also established semi-permanent settlements. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Gibraltar came briefly under the control of the Vandals.
The area later formed part of the Visigothic Kingdom of Hispania from 414 AD until the Islamic conquest of Iberia in 711 AD.
In 1160, the Almohad Sultan Abd al-Mu’min ordered that a permanent settlement, including a castle, be built. It received the name of Medinat al-Fath (City of the Victory). On completion of the works in the town, the Sultan crossed the Strait to look at the works and stayed in Gibraltar for two months. The Tower of Homage of the Moorish Castle remains standing today. From 1274 onwards, the town was fought over and captured by the Nasrids of Granada (in 1237 and 1374), the Marinids of Morocco (in 1274 and 1333) and the kings of Castile (in 1309). In 1462, Gibraltar was finally captured by Juan Alonso de Guzmán, 1st Duke of Medina Sidonia.
After the conquest, King Henry IV of Castile assumed the additional title of King of Gibraltar, establishing it as part of the comarca of the Campo Llano de Gibraltar. Six years later, Gibraltar was restored to the Duke of Medina Sidonia, who sold it in 1474 to a group of 4350 conversos (Christian converts from Judaism) from Cordova and Seville and in exchange for maintaining the garrison of the town for two years, after which time they were expelled, returning to their home towns or moving on to other parts of Spain. In 1501, Gibraltar passed back to the Spanish Crown, and Isabella I of Castile issued a Royal Warrant granting Gibraltar the coat of arms that it still uses today.
In 1704, during the War of the Spanish Succession, a combined Anglo-Dutch fleet, representing the Grand Alliance, captured the town of Gibraltar on behalf of the Archduke Charles of Austria in his campaign to become King of Spain. The occupation of the town by Alliance forces caused the exodus of the population to the surrounding area of the Campo de Gibraltar. As the Alliance’s campaign faltered, the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht was negotiated and ceded control of Gibraltar to Britain to secure Britain’s withdrawal from the war. Unsuccessful attempts by Spanish monarchs to regain Gibraltar were made with the siege of 1727 and again with the Great Siege of Gibraltar (1779 to 1783), during the American War of Independence.
Gibraltar became a key base for the Royal Navy and played an important role prior to the Battle of Trafalgar (October 21, 1805) and during the Crimean War of 1854–56, because of its strategic location. Its strategic value increased with the opening of the Suez Canal, as it lay on the sea route between the UK and the British Empire east of Suez. In the later nineteenth century, there were major investments in improving the fortifications and the port.
Until 1886, Gibraltar used the stamps of Great Britain post-marked with the numbered cancelleation A26 although it would appear that at various times prior to that date Spanish stamps had been used irregularly in Gibraltar. The use of these stamps was discontinued on December 31, 1875. The first stamps specifically marked Gibraltar were stamps of Bermuda overprinted as such and issued in January 1886. From November 1886, Gibraltar had its own stamps including the word Gibraltar in the design with seven values from ½ penny to 1 shilling. Starting in 1889, these stamps were overprinted in centimos until British currency began to be used again in 1898.
During World War II, Gibraltar’s civilian population was evacuated (mainly to London, England, but also to parts of Morocco, Madeira and Jamaica) and the Rock was strengthened as a fortress. The naval base and the ships based there played a key role in the provisioning and supply of the island of Malta during its long siege. As well as frequent short runs (known as ‘Club Runs’) towards Malta to fly off aircraft reinforcements (initially Hurricanes but later, notably from the United States Navy aircraft carrier USS Wasp, Spitfires), the critical Operation Pedestal convoy was run from Gibraltar in August 1942. This resupplied the island at a critical time in the face of concentrated air attacks from German and Italian forces.
Spanish dictator Francisco Franco’s reluctance to allow the German Army onto Spanish soil frustrated a German plan to capture the Rock, codenamed Operation Felix. In the 1950s, Franco renewed Spain’s claim to sovereignty over Gibraltar and restricted movement between Gibraltar and Spain. Gibraltarians voted overwhelmingly to remain under British sovereignty in the Gibraltar sovereignty referendum, 1967, which led to the passing of the Gibraltar Constitution Order in 1969. In response, Spain completely closed the border with Gibraltar and severed all communication links. The border with Spain was partially reopened in 1982 and fully reopened in 1985 before Spain’s accession to the European Community.
In a referendum held in 2002, Gibraltarians rejected by an overwhelming majority (98%) a proposal of shared sovereignty on which Spain and Britain were said to have reached “broad agreement”. The British government has committed itself to respecting the Gibraltarians’ wishes. A new Constitution Order was approved in referendum in 2006. A process of tripartite negotiations started in 2006 between Spain, Gibraltar and the UK, ending some restrictions and dealing with disputes in some specific areas such as air movements, customs procedures, telecommunications, pensions and cultural exchange.
During the campaign leading up to the United Kingdom’s national referendum on whether to leave the European Union (known as “Brexit”) the Spanish government warned that if the UK chose to leave, Spain would push to reclaim control over Gibraltar “the very next day”. The Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo warned the UK that if Brexit went ahead Spain could “pounce on us” also stating that “it is safer and more secure for Gibraltar to remain in the EU”.
On June 23, 2016, Gibraltar voted along with the United Kingdom on whether the UK should remain in, or leave, the European Union. Although the final decision saw the UK decide to leave, Gibraltar overwhelmingly voted to remain in the Union. There was a strong voter turnout of 82% resulting in 19,322 votes to remain and only 823 to leave. The day after the result of the Brexit vote, Spain’s acting Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo, as promised, renewed calls for joint Spanish–British control of the peninsula. He labeled the British people’s decision to leave the EU as “a complete change of outlook that opens up new possibilities on Gibraltar not seen for a very long time” speculating “the Spanish flag on the Rock is much closer than before”.
The post in Gibraltar is currently run by the Royal Gibraltar Post Office which in 2005 was granted the title of “Royal” by Her Majesty the Queen. Gibraltar is now the only Commonwealth or British Overseas Territory outside the United Kingdom that bears this distinction.
Scott #91 was released on July 1, 1931, one of a set of four engraved stamps featuring the Rock of Gibraltar designed by Captain H. St. C. Garrod and printed by De la Rue & Company Ltd. The 1½ pence stamp is red brown in color and perforated 14. It is watermarked with a multi-script CA.
The Rock of Gibraltar (El Peñón de Gibraltar in Spanish, sometimes called by its original Latin name, Calpe) is a monolithic limestone promontory. It is 1,398 feet (426 meters) high. Most of the Rock’s upper area is covered by a nature reserve, which is home to around 300 Barbary macaques. These macaques, as well as a labyrinthine network of tunnels, attract a large number of tourists each year. The Rock of Gibraltar was one of the Pillars of Hercules and was known to the Romans as Mons Calpe, the other pillar being Mons Abyla or Jebel Musa on the African side of the Strait. In ancient times, the two points marked the limit to the known world, a myth originally fostered by the Greeks and the Phoenicians.
A unique feature of the Rock is its system of underground passages, known as the Galleries or the Great Siege Tunnels. The first of these was dug towards the end of the Great Siege of Gibraltar, which lasted from 1779 to 1783. General Elliot, afterwards Lord Heathfield, who commanded the garrison throughout the siege, was anxious to bring flanking fire on the Spanish batteries in the plain below the North face of the Rock. On the suggestion of Sergeant-Major Henry Ince of the Royal Engineers, he had a tunnel bored from a point above Willis’s Battery to communicate with the Notch, a natural projection from the North face. The plan was to mount a battery there. There was no intention at first of making embrasures in this tunnel, but an opening was found necessary for ventilation; as soon as it had been made a gun was mounted in it. By the end of the siege, the British had constructed six such embrasures, and mounted four guns.
The Galleries, which tourists may visit, were a later development of the same idea and were finished in 1797. They consist of a whole system of halls, embrasures, and passages, of a total length of nearly 997 feet (304 meters). From them, one may see a series of unique views of the Bay of Gibraltar, the isthmus, and Spain.
When World War II broke out in 1939, the authorities evacuated the civilian population to Morocco, the United Kingdom, Jamaica, and Madeira so that the military could fortify Gibraltar against a possible German attack. By 1942 there were over 30,000 British soldiers, sailors, and airmen on the Rock. They expanded the tunnel system and made the Rock a keystone in the defense of shipping routes to the Mediterranean. In February 1997, it was revealed the British had a secret plan called Operation Tracer to conceal service men in tunnels beneath the Rock in case the Germans captured it. The team in the rock would have radio equipment with which to report enemy movements. A six-man team waited under cover at Gibraltar for two and half years. The Germans never got close to capturing the rock and so the men were never sealed inside. The team was disbanded to resume civilian life when the war ended.