The Rock

Recognize the profile of the Rock just behind the wind turbines? The mountains behind it are in Morocco.

Recognize the profile of the Rock just behind the wind turbines? The mountains behind it are in Morocco.

I missed Gibraltar. We originally planned to make it a day trip from Casares, but the weather eliminated a couple of travel days and we were having such a great time exploring the pueblos blancos (white villages) in the mountains that we elected not to drive down to the coast. But I was still hopeful that we could get at least close enough for photos on our way to our next destination, Jeréz. Not so.

We were anxious to get down the mountain from Finca Mosca before the forecasted thunderstorms hit the area. As we drove along the coast, we reached a point where we had to make the decision: Gibraltar to the south or Jeréz to the northwest? The clouds grew increasingly dense and dark as they roiled in from the Atlantic. We have some pretty intense storms in Florida, but nothing like the one brewing to our south. They say this type of weather comes into the Mediterranean from the Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa. I can believe it. This is the type of wild weather I’d expect from the open Atlantic. We chose to bypass Gibraltar. I know it was the right decision. The rain hit Jeréz about the time we arrived, and hovered over the city the entire week we were there.

So I didn’t get to touch the Rock, and I didn’t even get to see it up close. This is difficult for someone who loves geographical extremes and historical oddities. The Rock of Gibraltar, that crazy profile we know from the Prudential Insurance Company logo, is one of the mythical Pillars of Hercules. The other is Monte Hacho in Ceuta, across the Strait of Gibraltar in northern Africa. (Ceuta is actually a territory of Spain.) The “pillars” are only nine miles apart but stand on two different continents. Together they form the gateway from the Atlantic Ocean into the Mediterranean Sea, or, from the perspective of ancient Mediterranean civilizations, they define the end of the earth as they knew it.

Gibraltar is only 2.6 square miles in area, but due to its unique location it is prized politically. Whoever owns Gibraltar controls the passage of shipping traffic through the portal. It is a major vantage point, strategically and financially. It’s been conquered by many countries over the centuries; it’s been a British territory since 1713. Some say Britain’s possession of Gibraltar kept Spain from joining the Axis forces at the beginning of World War II. Having just emerged from a devastating civil war, Spain was not about to antagonize the British and jeopardize shipments of much need supplies through the strait.

The Spanish want Gibraltar back, badly. And why not? If they acquire Gibraltar, they’ll have both pillars – a matched set. But we know the desire to reclaim it is more than esthetic. And Britain is somewhat attached to her rock. As recently as 2002, the British residents of Gibraltar voted to reject Spanish sovereignty.

So sorry to miss this intriguing corner of the world, but so fortunate we had these views from the hilltop of Casares. It wasn’t the same as being there, but even from a distance I could sense the power of this majestic rock.