Gibraltar is a piece of the world that exists in its form purely because of its history, a slice of land that is defined by what led to the current day and what might happen in the future. This history is masterly explained in the museums of the town, with a few classy independent galleries on hand to offer an insight into contemporary Gibraltarian art.
If we haven’t stressed it enough, Gibraltar is a very unusual place. This is a British territory at the very tip of Europe, so of course the history and development of the land is going to be interesting. The Gibraltar National Museum is the place to go to get the bigger story, with a variety of displays and exhibitions telling this most unique of stories. The room dedicated to the Great Siege is particularly engaging.
Arguably the most important of Gibraltar’s tunnels, the Great Siege Tunnels (also known as the Upper Galleries) came about during the siege that took place between 1779 and 1783. The Gibraltarians needed to get their guns up high in order to repel the Spanish, so one clever local came up with the idea of boring a tunnel through the Rock, allowing artillery to be moved. The tunnels were thus dug by hand (by which we mean without machinery), although the slow and laborious work meant the siege was done before the tunnels were completed. The tunnels are a major historical tourist attraction in Gibraltar today, and we’re unashamedly fond of the wax figures and statues that give an insight into the hard work of the siege.
The Great Siege Tunnels came first, but the World War II Tunnels are the real main event of Gibraltar’s tunnels. The introduction of machinery obviously helped, but the urgency of fascism’s onslaught added an extra layer of chaos to the construction of this network. Work took place day and night and day again, creating a quite incredible underground city that contained power stations to keep soldiers going, barracks, hospitals and all the rest. These tunnels allowed trucks and ambulances to drive straight into the Rock, which blows our mind every single time. North Africa and Rommel were invaded by here, and the tunnels went from a strategic necessity to an eventual tourist attraction, 24 miles of magic that feels like a different world to that on the other side of the Rock.
Established in 1793 by Captain John Drinkwater Bethune, the Gibraltar Garrison Library served as the HQ for the world’s second oldest English language newspaper and the paper that broke the news of the Battle of Trafalgar, the Gibraltar Chronicle. Today the Garrison contains well over 45,000 books, with many unique volumes covering culture and travel found within. Many say this is the finest English library outside of England, and we aren’t about to disagree. The whole thing is delightfully vintage too, in a most authentic way.