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British in Iberia

British history and stories in Spain and Portugal.

Gibraltar, 1920
13 April 2010 @ 13:52

The most easterly point of the world is Gibraltar, and from there the nations of the Americas took the symbol which is displayed on their coins.  The Spanish coat of arms has two columns which symbolise the columns of Hercules and wrapped around them is a ribbon, originally with the motto “Non Plus Ultra”, then later “Plus Ultra” .

This symbol was adopted in particular by Charles V and became part of his coat of arms and as a symbol of his territories in the Americas.  When the Spanish conquistadors discovered gold and silver in the New World, the symbol of Charles V was stamped onto the coins minted in these metals.  These coins with the columns of Hercules on two worlds were distributed throughout Europe and the Americas and the symbol was adopted by many of the independant nations of the Americas.

The Straits of Gibraltar were the southern gateway to the ocean, later becoming the gateway to the East when Fernando de Lesseps created the Suez canal. 

However, the most peculiar and rigid part of the history of the Rock is not its geography or the various stories and events occurring on or around it (the Straits and Campo), but its people. 

The people of Gibraltar loyally represent all the different nationalities that have at one time been owners of the Rock of Gibraltar.  It is a cosmopolitan population.  The experienced meat trader from Tarso can be seen, with Phoenician blood in his veins depsite his English suit, also the slim, arrogant young Italian whose predecessors aided the colonization of Carteia (in Roman times the Colonia Libertinorum Carteia was the first latin colony established on non-Italian soil), alongside the moslem who supplies provisions in his red cloak, his yellow slippers, bare legs and purple turban, the Spaniard with his pale face and his haughty look and the English solider, the then-owner of the rock with his red cape and neck burnt by the Andalucian sun to which he is not accostomed but which he loves all the same, the sun reflected in his military boots.  There is also the Yanito (native of Gibraltar), as proud and zealous about his country as all of the others put together.  In Gibraltar there is also the Moroccan Jew with his kaftan and skullcap and the Spanish Jew with his air of shrewdness.  Also the tourists – the well-dressed and affected American tourist, the fugitive from Tangiers and the small, ostentatiously dressed, wide awake Japanese.  

Such are the different characters that can be found there every day and such is the movement of life that flows into the Rock of Gibraltar, not just now, but ever since medieval times.   In the early years of the last century not only was it a stopping place for the large steam ships leaving England en route to India and Australia, but also for the ships heading for the various ports of the Mediterranean from the Atlantic.

The first impression on seeing Gibraltar for the first time is that of a totally English city.  Its tall houses with numerous windows which close vertically with a guillotine system, the perfectly paved, clean streets that look like the pathways of a grand house.  Almost all the food is driven in daily in hundreds of trucks from the neighbouring villages (Campo de Gibraltar) and is sold cheaply.  In the city, Spanish is spoken much more than English.  Spanish currency is in circulation in Gibraltar and when given change in a shop, it will be either English or Spanish currency.  The names of the majority of the shops are in Spanish, Spanish newspapers are sold, such as el Imparcial and el Liberal and inside Gibraltar there are other newspapers published, such as el Calpense  and Gibraltar Chronicle which the Yanitos call in Spanish “la crónica”. 

Close by to each other are the synogogue, the Protestant cathedral and the Catholic church, and example of the fantastic tolerance which exists in England.  There is also an Arab mosque and numerous Masonic lodges .  All beliefs and religions are guaranteed freedom of Creed.

Written by Jesús Castro

Translated by Rachael Harrison

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