The Rock of Gibraltar is the major landmark of the region. At its foot is a densely populated city area, home to over 30,000 Gibraltarians and other nationalities.
An Anglo-Dutch force captured Gibraltar from Spain in 1704 during the War of the Spanish Succession on behalf of the Habsburg pretender to the Spanish throne. The territory was subsequently ceded to Britain “in perpetuity” under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.
During World War II it was an important base for the Royal Navy as it controlled the entrance and exit to the Mediterranean Sea. Today Gibraltar’s economy is based largely on tourism, online gambling, financial services, and shipping.
The sovereignty of Gibraltar is a major point of contention as Spain asserts a claim to the territory.Gibraltarians’ overwhelmingly rejected proposals for Spanish sovereignty in a 1967 referendum and again in 2002.
Gibraltar continues to govern its own affairs, though some powers, such as defence and foreign relations, remain the responsibility of the Government of the United Kingdom.
Gibraltar became a key base for the Royal Navy and played an important role prior to the Battle of Trafalgar (21 October 1805) and during the Crimean War (1854 – 56), due to its strategic location. Its strategic value increased with the opening of the Suez Canal, as it lay on the sea route between the UK and the British Empire east of Suez. In the later 19th century, there were major investments in improving the fortifications and the port.
During World War II, Gibraltar’s civilian population was evacuated (mainly to London, but also to parts of Morocco, Madeira and Jamaica) and the Rock was strengthened as a fortress.
Spanish dictator Francisco Franco’s reluctance to allow the German Army onto Spanish soil frustrated a German plan to capture the Rock, code-named Operation Felix. In the 1950s, Franco renewed Spain’s claim to sovereignty over Gibraltar and restricted movement between Gibraltar and Spain.
In response, Spain completely closed the border with Gibraltar and severed all communication links. The border with Spain was partially reopened in 1982 and fully reopened in 1985 before Spain’s accession to the European Community.
Gibraltarian cuisine is the result of a long relationship between the Andalusian Spaniards and the British, as well as the many foreigners who made Gibraltar their home over the past three centuries. The culinary influences include those from Malta, Genoa, Portugal, Andalusia and Britain. This marriage of tastes has given Gibraltar an eclectic mix of Mediterranean and British cuisine.
Rosto is a popular local pasta dish consisting of penne in a tomato sauce with beef or occasionally pork, mushrooms and carrots (among other vegetables depending on family tradition) and topped with grated “queso bola“. The origin of its name is unknown, however, one theory is that it comes from the Italian arrosto (English: roasting) as similar dishes are eaten in Italy using roast pork instead.
Fideos al horno is a baked pasta dish very similar to Greek pastitsio which consists of macaroni, bolognese sauce, and various other ingredients including egg and bacon that vary according to family tradition. The macaroni is usually topped with a layer of grated cheese or béchamel that melts during the baking process and aids in binding. Even though the dish’s main ingredient is macaroni, the name fideos al horno is actually Spanish for ‘baked noodles’.
Calentita is a baked pancake-like dish, the Italian farinata, also known in Genoa as fainâ and in some Spanish-speaking countries as fainá. It is made with chickpea flour, water, olive oil, salt and pepper. The word calentita is the informal diminutive of the Spanish word caliente, and means “nice and warm (or hot)”.
Panissa is a bread-like dish similar to the calentita. Sharing its Italian origins, it is a descendant of the Genoese dish with the same name. Unlike calentita the ingredients are first simmered in a saucepan for over an hour, stirring constantly, to form a paste which is then left to set. When the polenta-like dough is set, it is cut into small strips and fried in olive oil.
Bollo de hornasso is a sweet and dry bread similar to the Spanish hornazo. It is made with self-raising flour, sugar, eggs, butter or margarine and aniseed. Bollos de hornasso are eaten around Easter just as in Spain, but in Gibraltar they are also popular during Christmas. Gibraltarian hornassos can normally be distinguished from the original Spanish hornazo as they do not tend to be decorated with hard-boiled eggs. It usually glazed with beaten egg and sometimes decorated with hundreds and thousands.
Pan dulce is a sweet fruit and nut Christmas bread. The term pan dulce means “sweet bread” in Spanish, but its origins may lie in Italy with the Genoese pandolce or Portuguese sweet bread. Its main ingredients can include lard, margarine, sugar, self-raising flour, blanched almonds, raisins, sultanas, pine nuts, candied peel, eggs, aniseed and anisette among others. It is sometimes decorated with hundreds and thousands just like the bollo de hornasso.
Rolitos are thin slices of beef wrapped around a mixture of bread-crumbs, bacon, eggs, olives, vegetables and herbs. These can be baked, fried or cooked in wine. Rolitos is another dish of Maltese origin, similar to braġjoli. It is also known as beef olives in English, even though some families prefer making them with pork or even chicken.
Profiteroles are filled choux pastry balls with a typically sweet filling of whipped cream, custard or pastry cream. They are usually garnished with chocolate sauce. The initial meaning of the name profiterole is unknown, but it later came to mean a kind of roll ‘baked under the ashes’. Profiteroles are the national dish of Gibraltar, meaning they are often served during festivals and celebrations.
Japonesa (English: Japanese lady) is a sweet fried doughnut filled with a custard-like cream. Japonesas are usually enjoyed at teatime or as a snack. They are traditionally coated in syrup or granulated sugar. The name is a reference to Japanese Dorayaki cakes which are similarly shaped and also have a sweet filling.