Gibraltar - A Country Overview

Information on Gibraltar; its place geographically, history, government, climate, security, tourism and foreigners living in Gibraltar...

Gibraltar is a small territory located close to the far southern tip of the Iberian Peninsular at the entrance to the Mediterranean. It borders Spain to the north and is separated from Morocco and the Spanish territory of Ceuta in northern Africa by just over 20 Km of water across the Strait of Gibraltar.

It has a comparatively lengthy coastline of 12 Km. The Alboran Sea lies to the east, the Strait of Gibraltar to the south, with the Bay of Gibraltar/Bay of Algeciras to the west.

Its land area is 6.8 square kilometres, dominated by the 426m high Rock of Gibraltar. There are seven residential areas in the surrounding lowlands known as East Side, North District, Reclamation Areas, Sandpits Area, South District, Town Area and Upper Town. Due to the density of population, a policy of land reclamation is being followed in the territory. Currently land reclaimed from the sea accounts for 10 percent of Gibraltar's total area.

The Rock itself is a single slab of Jurassic limestone. The upper rock was once covered in woodland, but these trees were felled and cleared for fuel during the Great Siege of 1779. It is now a nature reserve which covers about 40 percent of Gibraltar's land area.


Evidence has been found in Gorham's Cave, which some archaeologists believe makes Gibraltar one of the last known places inhabited by Neanderthals. The first recorded inhabitants of the Rock and the area surrounding it were the Phoenicians, from about 950 BC. Later the Romans, Carthaginians, Vandals and Visigoths made the area their home until the Islamic conquest of Iberia.

Early inhabitants believed that the Rock was the remains of one of the Pillars of Hercules, which marked the mouth of the Mediterranean.

In 711 AD the Muslim governor of Tangier, Tariq ibn Ziyad, landed in the area and launched the Islamic invasion of Iberia. The Rock took his name, and while it was initially named Jebel Tariq (Mount of Tariq), it eventually became known as Gibraltar.

The Moorish Castle, part of which still stands today, was constructed in 1160 alongside a permanent settlement on the orders of Sultan Adh al-Mu'min. Over the ensuing centuries the territory was disputed until it was finally captured in 1462 by Juan Alonso de Guzmán on behalf of King Henry IV of Castile. In 1501 Queen Isabella I of Castile granted Gibraltar a Royal Warrant and the coat of arms that it still uses today.

In 1704 Gibraltar was captured by the Grand Alliance of an Anglo-Dutch force in the Spanish War of Succession. In 1713 it was ceded to Britain in the Treaty of Utrecht as part of negotiations for peace.

In 1727 the Siege of Gibraltar lasted five months as Spanish forces tried unsuccessfully to recapture the British garrison during the ineffectual Anglo-Spanish War of 1728–29. Later in the century came The Great Siege of Gibraltar by France and Spain, which lasted three years and seven months from 1779. Blockaded by sea, the garrison staved off repeated assaults from land, diseases, weather and starvation before its ultimate triumph.

From 1830 Gibraltar was formally known as “Crown Colony of Gibraltar”, and became a vital base for the Royal Navy. It played a key strategic role in many conflicts such as the Crimean War and The War of the Third Coalition, as well as later becoming an important stop on the route to the newly constructed Suez Canal.

During World War II Gibraltar was a key strategic position for the Allied forces. The 32 miles of man-made tunnels perforating the rock date from that time.

The sovereignty of Gibraltar has been the cause of vigorous argument since the 1950s. After 98% of the population rejected shared sovereignty in the referendum of 2002, the 2006 Gibraltar Constitution Order allowed for a greater degree of autonomy for the territory. It removed unelected members from Parliament and decreased the Governors' powers, while increasing the powers of the elected officials. A bill of 'fundamental rights and freedoms' was also added to the Gibraltar constitution.

In recent times disputes have continued between Spain, Gibraltar and Britain. Various political issues such as royal visits and the reparation of a nuclear submarine have resulted in border delays and threats of financial restrictions. One such recent dispute was over territorial waters in 2013, when concrete blocks were placed in the sea at the end of the runway by Gibraltar in order to form an artificial reef. The Spanish authorities objected to the act claiming that it would affect fishing in the area and access to Spanish fishing vessels.

Politics and Government

Gibraltar is a British overseas territory, although it has its own elected parliament to govern its affairs. The Gibraltar Parliament comprises 17 elected members and one speaker appointed by the Parliament. The Government is formed by ten elected members, and Government is led by the Chief Minister.

The head of State is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who is represented in Gibraltar by the Governor of Gibraltar. The Governor's job is to enact policies of the Gibraltan government as well as oversee defence, foreign policy and security on behalf of the United Kingdom.

The Judiciary of Gibraltar applies a mix of common and statute law based on English Law through the territory's four Supreme Courts, two Magistrates’ Courts and a Coroner’s Court.

The British Nationality Act of 1981 granted Gibraltarians full British citizenship and since 2004, they have been able to vote in European Elections as part of the South West England constituency.


Gibraltar’s currency is the Gibraltar Pound. It is pegged to the value of the British Pound Sterling and issued by the Government of Gibraltar.

Gibraltar's economy is primarily dominated by tourism, financial services, online gambling and shipping activities.

Traditionally the economy was dominated by British military activity, so shipping and the naval dockyard were prominent in the territory's economic activity. Even today Gibraltar remains one of the largest bunkering (ship refuelling) ports in the Mediterranean.

The financial services sector has been boosted in recent years by favourable tax rates laid down by the Gibraltar Financial Services Commission. Offshore banking and the online gaming industry have been attracted to the territory by low taxation rates.

Tourism is also a major part of the economy, accounting for some 30 percent of GDP.

Gibraltar's own GSX stock exchange opened at the end of 2014 and officially began trading in January 2015.


Gibraltar has a sub-tropical Mediterranean climate characterised by mild winters and warm summers. Average summer highs in the hottest month of August are 27ºC, while average highs in the coldest winter months of January and February stand at 10º or 11ºC.

Summer lasts from May to September and is largely dry. Rains occur mainly during the winter months, particularly in November and December.

The two prevailing winds in the area bring differing conditions. Warm easterly winds known as Levante come from the Sahara and bring warmer waters and humid weather, while cooler westerly winds called Poniente bring fresh air and cooler seas.


Gibraltar is a very safe territory with very low crime rates. The majority of crime is associated with smuggling cigarettes and drugs across into Spain. Sea patrols monitor the area for traffickers.

Control of immigration is provided by the Borders and Coastguard Agency. There are often lengthy delays due to customs and security measures at the Gibraltarian/Spanish border. This affects vehicles more than it affects people crossing the border on foot. Further information on delays can be obtained at the Land Frontier: Tel: +350 200 46729.

The Royal Gibraltar Police force is responsible for law and order in the territory. It was formed in 1830, nine months after Robert Peel founded the first force in London. Departments include CID, Drug Squad, Firearms, Marine Section, Operations Division, Scene of Crime Examiners and Special Branch.

As Gibraltar is a European territory, there is an underlying threat of terrorism. As a precaution it is advisable to consult the travel advice given by your government.


Over the centuries Gibraltar has seen successive waves of immigration including British, Genoese, Portuguese and Jewish, which have all contributed to Gibraltar's heterogeneous community today.

As a member of the European Union Gibraltar benefits from the free movement of labour. Non-Gibraltarian citizens wishing to reside in Gibraltar for more than six months require a residence and/or work permit.

Because of the high house prices in Gibraltar, many workers do not actually reside there, and instead commute from Spain on a daily basis. Gibraltar is not a member of the Schengen Agreement, and so there are border controls and a passport or ID card is required when entering.

Gibraltar itself has a net migration rate of just over -3 people per 1000.


Gibraltar is a unique place for tourists to visit and it is a popular stop for cruise ships in the Mediterranean. Despite its relative small size, it has a surprising number of activities and attractions including the Barbary Macaques, Moorish Castle, the Great Siege Tunnels and Europa Point, which is the most southern point of Gibraltar.