Several of Gibraltar’s iconic sites have undergone major improvements and renovations post-summer as part of the government’s objective to enhance the Rock’s international tourism appeal.
Currently in caretaker mode with elections due on 12 October, the government has announced a series of recent initiatives covering many of its major cultural, heritage and natural attractions.
World Heritage Site Monument Unveiled
Gibraltar has unveiled a monument commemorating the Gorham’s Cave Complex UNESCO World Heritage Site. Forming part of a new observation and resting point along Europa Advance Battery, opposite Dobinson Way, the monument is part of the government’s plan to further highlight Gibraltar’s most important heritage site while, at the same time, taking another step towards its cliff walk project.
The monument was designed by the Gorham’s Cave Complex UNESCO World Heritage office and executed by Cano Monumental Masons. It is designed to be a landmark, “inviting visitors and passers-by to the World Heritage Site while showing off some of the natural wonders of Gibraltar’s sea cliffs”. Interpretation panels present evidence of the natural history of these sea cliffs and also of the Neanderthals who once lived here.
The monument is located within an area that serves as an observation platform where bird and marine mammal migration can be observed against the backdrop of Gibraltar’s cliffs and the coast of northern Africa.
New Discoveries in “Neanderthal City”
Excavations by Gibraltar National Museum over the past four months have uncovered “exciting” new evidence of Neanderthal occupation on the Rock.
The museum’s latest results came from an “unsuspected area” by the beach to the north of Vanguard Cave – an area of a remnant sea cave which has now been named “Neanderthals’ Grotto”.
According to the government, it is the first cave in Gibraltar that carries the name of the Neanderthals and is “a testimony to these people who, on present evidence, were the first to have lived on the Rock and made it their home”.
It is believed that Neanderthal occupation in Gibraltar could predate the oldest published evidence so far of 127,000 years ago. Samples have been taken for dating.
Gibraltar Celebrates 60th Anniversary of United Nations Milestone
Gibraltar National Archives has been hosting an exhibition to mark the 60th anniversary of the appearance of petitioners from Gibraltar before the United Nations.
Then chief minister Sir Joshua Hassan and opposition leader Peter Isola first addressed the UN on 19 September 1963, which was the first time any elected representative of the people of Gibraltar had stated their case before the international organisation.
The exhibition consists of a selection of 210 curated images including photos, documents and press clippings. In a foreword to the exhibition booklet, deputy chief minister Joseph Garcia, who is the caretaker minister with responsibility for the archives, wrote, “This exhibition is about the collective journey of a small people seeking the recognition and the exercise of their democratic right to choose… There will always be a faint glimmer of hope that the United Nations may eventually engage with Gibraltar in order to take forward our eventual decolonisation and delisting. In the meantime, it is our sacred duty to continue knocking on their door.”
Improved Access to Upper Rock
The government is continuing its work to improve facilities in the Upper Rock area to enhance the experience for visitors. There are plans to restore the final stretch of Charles V Wall steps, connecting the Devil’s Gap “Footpath to Town” to the town centre.
The works will further expand the existing paths and trails in and around the Upper Rock, and the new route will be incorporated into Gibraltar National Trails. As part of the project, Devil’s Gap Battery will be restored and the area converted into an interpretation centre and cafetería.
Launch of New Cultural Projects at Moorish Castle
Studio Spaces for artists are being designed at one of Gibraltar’s most iconic heritage sites, the Moorish Castle. Planned works will include the refurbishment of old prison cells and buildings, improvements to the external areas, landscaping, green roofs, new skylights, a new access bridge and accessibility for all.
According to the government, the new Studio Spaces will provide “a modern, fit-for-purpose facility for our artists. Central Hall Gardens will be an extension to the amazing work that has already been produced at the hall, which included the refurbishment of its ballroom and the installation of a stained-glass window. The main purpose of these works is to ensure that the hall is modernised and upgraded.”
Beautification for Chatham Counterguard
Caretaker minister for business Vijay Daryanani has announced plans for the beautification of Chatham Counterguard, including more greenery, standardised awnings, tables with matching chairs, paving repairs and improved lighting.
“Chatham Counterguard has become the go-to place for people of all ages and we would like to improve the location,” said Daryanani. “The businesses themselves feel that we could see more improvement in the area and this is something the government is keen on delivering.
“I will work with all concerned to produce something impressive that we can all be proud of. We want Chatham to be visited by locals and tourists alike and this will only happen if we give it the facelift it deserves.”
Landmark Wildlife Conservation Event
Environmental authorities in Gibraltar are re-introducing a species that once thrived on the Rock, in tune with the growth of global re-wilding initiatives around the world.
Gibraltar hosted a re-wilding Calpe Conference in 2017, when key speakers attended and gave case studies of their work worldwide. Hermann’s Tortoise was a species that was considered to have potential for reintroduction in Gibraltar.
This species is in significant decline due to widespread habitat loss across much of its range, particularly in the western regions. As a result, notes the government, its conservation status has been listed as “Near Threatened” by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, although it is close to meeting the criteria for “Vulnerable” status.
“Hermann’s tortoise was a natural species on the Rock, as evidenced by numerous finds of their remains in Pleistocene deposits at Gorham’s and Vanguard Caves and in the recently named Neanderthals’ Grotto. It is extinct on the Rock.”
Six adult individuals, three males and three females, were released at Parson’s Lodge, part of the Gibraltar National Park, as a re-wilding project that attempts to restore this species to Gibraltar. Wild rabbits and Iberian water frogs were also released.
“This is a really exciting occasion and part of the journey towards restoring as much of Gibraltar’s original wildlife as is possible,” said caretaker minister for the environment John Cortes, himself a wildlife specialist with a particular interest in reptiles. “It’s a great initiative and so fitting in Parson’s Lodge, soon to be opened as a Museum of Natural History.”
Anniversary Celebrations at Newly-Digitalised Garrison Library
The Gibraltar Garrison Library commemorated its 230th anniversary with the launch of an exhibition titled “1793-2023: From the Analogue to the Digital Age”.
Established in 1793, it is the oldest library at Gibraltar and, according to the government, “as we have now come to believe, the first of garrison libraries to have been established, with those that followed adopting the Gibraltar model.
“This 230th anniversary is also institutionally significant as 2023 has seen the library cross the threshold into the digital age, through the establishment of a digitisation studio and a climatised repository, the equipment for which has been possible through a grant from the Kusuma Trust.”
The digitisation project will first concentrate on the various print media archives held at the library, including the Gibraltar Chronicle. The digital output will be fully searchable and available online, thus offering local and global access to Gibraltar’s history.
“Importantly, digitisation goes hand-in-hand with conservation, as digital access will offer greater protection to the original paper archive while ensuring the history and information contained within will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come.”
Restoration of Southport Gates Restored
Gibraltar’s heritage ministry has undertaken a complete restoration of Southport Gates. Conservation and restoration work was carried out following the guidelines and recommendations contained in the various “International Restoration Charters” on the protection, conservation and safeguarding of works of art.
The ministry noted that these include “a respect for the integrity of the monument, both in its material sense and in its historical and aesthetic importance. The use of reversible materials which are compatible with the original fabric, as well as the distinction of the treated areas in relation to this original fabric, is of fundamental importance in any restoration work.
“Beyond this highly specialised and complex undertaken, the immediate area has also been enhanced with further repairs, and four new interpretation panels have been placed highlighting the history of the monument.”
In August, another popular historical attraction in Gibraltar, the World War II tunnels, re-opened after an extensive refurbishment, and earlier in the year the government also announced that the historical landmark O’Hara’s Battery had undergone major restoration and maintenance work.