Gibraltar

Gibraltar


A lady in the oceans, Barbara Athanassiadis
A dive in the Great Age of exploration is certainly a dive in the oceans which in the 15th century were unknown and cartography incomplete. Part 5

Ι was sleeping when at 2.00 p.m. HARMONY V silently left the port of Cádiz to continue her voyage towards east. Surely, the seagulls would have surrounded us and, most surely, the large waves of the ocean made us rhythmically swing up and down. It is said that when sleep is sweet, it makes you feel like being in a fairy tale, but unfortunately, I lost my fairy tale when I abruptly woke up and looked at the clock. Captain Andreas had told us at dinner the previous night that we would cross the Strait of Gibraltar at 7.00 in the morning. Ιt was 7.30. I quickly got dressed, wearing an extra sweater because it was still dark and chilly. Ι climbed to the upper deck and, grabbing a cup of coffee always waiting for us at the lounge bar, I went to the bridge where Captain Andreas had kindly allowed me to enter knowing the purpose of my journey: Not only to visit gorgeous places for the delight of the eyes, but also to catch out the secrets of seafaring like Christopher Columbus.

“I fell asleep and I didn’t see the Strait of Gibraltar. I don’t forgive myself”, I said with a deep disappointment in my eyes. “We are in the Strait, we are still crossing it”, he replied, pointing to the far left the coast of Spain, where the lights of the small towns were sparkling like yellow diamonds. Οn the other side, it should have been Morocco, sunk in the dark; somewhere far away some light was reflected. I was surprised! I don’t know why maps mislead me. The Strait seemed like a dot when I was looking at it sitting comfortably in the armchair of my library at home. It seemed to be as straight as the Dardanelles on the other end of the Mediterranean Sea, so straight that I could touch the rocks and push them to open as Hercules did. And worst of all, on the maps the facing shores looked like two tips to be crossed in five minutes, while we were sailing and sailing and the night would become day and we would be still crossing the Strait. “What’s the distance between them?” I asked with a weak smile. “About 14 kilometres” he replied calmly, without realizing that there was a very disappointed lady next to him. “It takes two hours to cross the Strait. Around 8.00 o’clock we will enter the Mediterranean Sea.” I listened to him with mixed feelings. Of course, it wasn’t what I imagined, but the Earth is what it is, and won’t do me the favour to keep up with my fantasies. What I realized, however, was that we stopped swinging up and down, leaving behind the large waves of the ocean. “Are the waters always calm here?” I asked. “Usually they are,” he said. “We left behind the big tides of the Atlantic which often delay or accelerate our journey. The crossing of the Strait was scheduled for the daylight, but the ocean obliged us to cross it before the sun rose. It doesn’t matter, though, because you’ll soon see the Rock of Gibraltar at sunrise, and I am sure you’ll be enchanted”. Our good Captain had realized that I was a sensitive traveller and he found words to ease my disappointment for the 14 kilometres; but it wasn’t needed, because the Rock became visible and my thrill was great. A huge, steep promontory emerging from the sea while across the way the sun was rising over the coast of Africa.

Our good Captain had realized that I was a sensitive traveller and he found words to ease my disappointment for the 14 kilometres; but it wasn’t needed, because the Rock became visible and my thrill was great. A huge, steep promontory emerging from the sea while across the way the sun was rising over the coast of Africa.

The Mediterranean Sea was extended before us with its calm waters, in shades of early morning grey. The most fascinating sea in the world with its amalgam of civilizations since ancient times. Galleons crossed it, and nowadays modern cargo ships were scattered en route to the ocean or coming from it. The white, elegant HARMONY V, would look like a Lilliputian yacht in the eyes of their crews, but we were not alone, because the yacht of an Arab Emir was also heading to the Rock, the majestic beauty of which we all gazed from the upper deck.

But Isabella, who cared more for our safety, landed us from the heights of our enchantment, saying: “Watch out for the monkeys; don’t have bananas in your bag; don’t give them anything to eat because they will grab your hand and cut your finger.”

She so dramatically described them to us, the famous Barbary Apes of Gibraltar, that we were looking at them ecstatically. They jumped wherever, even over us, but following Isabella’s instructions, we stayed still, and they left almost immediately.
Certainly, they are the kings of the Rock, but more certainly, we didn’t come to Gibraltar only for the monkeys. A visit to St. Michael’s Cave which descends to the bottom of the Rock left us dumbfounded by the spectacular shapes taken by the stalactites and stalagmites. The music and the lights, projected in alternating colours, created a dramatic atmosphere as if Earth was conveying to us its message: “Here no human hand had touched me for billions of years.”

The road uphill the Rock was helical and narrow, but before reaching the summit, we went inside the Rock again, this time to discover how Earth let man intervene and create a spectacular project. These were the World War II Tunnels, an astonishing work made by the British soldiers and the locals who dug deep into the Rock to take refuge in the darkest days of the war. Observing all these amazing achievements of nature and human hands, I had the impression that the Rock was empty inside. On the contrary, it stood solid and magnificent. When we reached its peak by cable car, the view was breathtaking!
Across was Africa; behind us was Spain; far away the Strait and the opening to the Atlantic Ocean; deep down the old town of Gibraltar enclosed in the Moorish walls; the modern buildings climbing uphill; the ultra-modern skyscrapers on reclaimed land on the sea; and finally the airport’s runway just next to the sea and cut off by Winston Churchill Avenue, which has to be closed every time a plane lands or departs. In front of this across was Africa; behind us was Spain; far away the Strait and the opening to the Atlantic Ocean; deep down the old town of Gibraltar enclosed in the Moorish walls; the modern buildings climbing uphill; the ultra-modern skyscrapers on reclaimed land on the sea; and finally the airport’s runway just next to the sea and cut off by Winston Churchill Avenue, which has to be closed every time a plane lands or departs. In front of this6extraordinary spectacle, the monkeys comfortable and with disarming nonchalance live in their natural habitat.  After lunch and a light siesta on the yacht, I went to the old town. I was expecting to see a Georgian-period London, in smaller dimensions. Of course, there were traces of British heritage, but mostly there was a mélange of different architectural styles that reflected the diversity of the nationalities that settled on Gibraltar. I looked up above the shops along Main street, and I was amazed to see Genoese-style shutters; Andalusian-style ceramic tile roofs and patios full of charm; Georgian timber sash windows; Portuguese-style tile facades; and other small buildings reminiscent of a town in the English countryside. I was surprised, though, not to hear clear English, but a language mixed with English and Maltese; nor did I meet English people, except for a few; but I saw many Spaniards and Moroccans, Indian and Jewish merchants. There were myriads of duty-free shops selling liquors of all kinds, jewelry for every taste and cosmetics brought from all over the world at tempting prices.7When the sun was setting, I left the old town with a wonderful feeling imagining Christopher Columbus frequenting the bar, where I took my coffee. After, I crossed the Water Port Gate, dating back to the Moorish times. The aspect of the city changed dramatically: Ultra-modern skyscrapers, glass-wall international bank buildings, clean roads with palm trees, impeccable flowering roundabouts, spotless cars, and the Queensway Marina with its luxury apartments, restaurants, shops and bars next to where our yacht was anchored.

That was the trendy side of the town, for which the English lady co-traveller, with whom I was taking an aperitif on the upper deck on board, said: “When I came forty years ago, the Rock was completely different.” “Meaning?” I asked her curiously. “Well, there were no skyscrapers and the sea reached the Moorish walls. It was more romantic. Things are changing, don’t you agree?”

27. Modern buildings in Gibraltar Text 5 Gibraltar

I didn’t know what to answer and I politely shook my head. I understand that nostalgic feelings come into the surface when we travel, especially when we are on a cruise and contemplate such beautiful settings from the upper deck. But personally, when I want to express something solid, I write in the pages of my books: Solid like the Rock of Gibraltar, having in my mind the Rock’s perpetual significance in the history of Europe; its past, its present and most welcomely its future.

47. Trade mark Barbara Athanassiadis
by Barbara Athanassiadis, a travel writer

 

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