History of the Rock
On the Rock of Gibraltar, the past is a living reality. Colourful ceremonial events such as the Changing of the Guard and the Ceremony of the Keys are performed exactly as they have been for centuries. In the Gibraltar Museum – strategically positioned over one of the finest fourteenth century Moorish bathhouses – you can find a series of fascinating exhibits from every period of the Rock’s extraordinary history. It is a story that begins at least as early as the Stone Age, the first Neanderthal skull ever discovered was found here in 1848.
Since men first braved the sea, the Bay of Gibraltar has sheltered ships and sailors. To the ancient Greeks, Gibraltar marked the limit to the known world. To pass beyond it was to sail to certain destruction over the bottomless waterfall at the edge of the world. Thus the many findings of offerings made to the Gods by these and other civilisations such as the Phoenicians and Carthaginians in the many caves on the shorelines.
In 700 AD, the Arab leader Tarik-Ibn-Zeyad conquered the Rock and named it Jebel-Tarik (Tarik’s mountain). An important military and naval base, it changed hands many times during the following eight centuries of Arab occupation in Spain. In the early part of the fourteenth century Spanish forces occupied Gibraltar for twenty-four years; but in 1333 it reverted to Moorish control after a bloody eighteen week siege. The Rock did not finally become Spanish until 1462 when the Duke of Medina Sidonia recaptured it. The eighteenth century saw another change of ownership. In July 1704, as he lay off Tetuan with a large combined fleet of British and Dutch warships, Admiral Sir George Rooke saw an opportunity to capture the Rock. The city fathers initially refused Rooke’s call to surrender but 15,000 rounds of shot and shell and landings by British marines and sailors persuaded them otherwise.
Since that day, the Rock has played a part in some of the most famous episodes of British history. During the American War of Independence, the combined forces of France and Spain besieged Gibraltar for four and a half years. The body of Nelson, preserved in a barrel of rum, was brought to Gibraltar after his magnificent victory at Trafalgar and in the Second World War the Rock was a key factor in British victories in the Mediterranean.