The Rock of Gibraltar has been part of Britain for over three hundred years. The British captured it in 1704 during the War of the Spanish Succession and it was ceded to Britain in perpetuity by Spain in the Treaty of Utecht in 1713.

In the years after that, it became a very important strategic base for the British and was vital in the Allied efforts to contest and control the Mediterranean in World War Two. Today tiny Gibraltar is worth visiting if only for the tunnels and the resident monkeys.

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History and Significance of Gibraltar

Gibraltar is tiny, it is only around 2 kilometers wide (around a mile) and 5 kilometers long (around 3 miles). It has a dense population with 32,000 resident Gibraltarians - space is a luxury there. It is also home to Europe's only population of wild monkeys and is the site of an important Neanderthal archeological site.

  • Length: 5 Kilometers or 3 Miles long
  • Width: 2 Kilometers or 1 Mile Wide
  • Population: 32,000 Gibraltarians

Gibraltar has long been important as it sits on the Strait of Gibraltar - a choke point only 14.3 kilometers or 8.9 miles wild and commands control of the access to the Mediterranean Sea.

  • Defends: Gibraltar Defends the Straits of Gibraltar
  • Nomenclature: Gibraltains Call The Peninsula An "Island"

Before WW2, Gibraltar was heavily defended by the British with guns and tunnels. During the war, defense of the Rock went into overdrive.

Operation Felix was the name of the German plan to take Gibraltar that would greatly have weakened Britain's ability to counter the Germans and Italians. Spain was neutral but fascist and the government there had come to power with the aid of the Germans and Italians.

  • Operation Felix: The German Plan To Take Gibraltar

By helping the Germans the Spanish would have been able to reclaim Gibraltar, but they were still weak from a long and bloody civil war and depended on Britain and America for most of their trade. They were also unsure that Germany would win the war. In the end, without Spanish help, the Germans were unable to invade it.

Related: What You Need To Know About Staying At Britain's Artificial Island Fort Turned Luxury Hotel

Building Of Gibraltar's Tunnels

After the fall of France in WW2 and the entry of Italy into the war, the importance of Gibraltar grew. In order to defend this important location and to garrison a surge of troops, a massive tunnel system was built. They were designed to protect from air attacks as well as sea and land bombardment. Tunneling was done by specialized companies of the Royal Engineers and the Canadian Army.

  • Civilians: At The Start of The War, The Civilian Population Was Evacuated

The tunnels grew and became especially an underground city. The tunnels were enough to store the food and supplies for its entire 16,000 strong garrisons for 16 months of siege. the entire tunnel network in the Rock grew to an astonishing 34 miles or 55 kilometers. That is near twice the length of its whole road network!

  • Length of Tunnels: 34 Miles or 55 Kilometers
  • Garrison: 16,000 Troops Were Garrisoned There
  • Seige: The Garrison Was Designed To Survive A 16 Month Siege

In the tunnels were also a hospital, a distillation plant, a power generating station, a bakery, workshops, and more.

In their entirety, the tunnels of Gibraltar were constructed over the course of almost 200 years. The first tunnels were excavated in the lake 18th century and were used as communication passages between artillery positions. Tunneling only stopped in 1968 when the British Army's last specialist tunneling unit was disbanded and there is only a token military presence there today.

  • Tunnels: Built Over Almost 200 Years
  • End Of Tunneling: Tunneling Ceased in 1968

Related: An Entire 'Escape' Tunnel System Still Exists Under Berlin, With Decades Of History Behind Its Creation

Visiting The Tunnels

Today it has lost its military significance and the tunnels are open to the public (or at least a few of them). Many of the tunnels have been turned over to the civilian government but some still remain in military control. Many have been sealed off completely as they are too dangerous to enter.

According to Visit Gibraltar, to go into the tunnels, take a licensed tour guide. The tour lasts around 30 to 40 minutes and includes static exhibitions and photographic displays.

  • Opening Hours: Monday To Sunday 9 am to 6:15 pm
  • First Tour: Starts at 9:30 am
  • Last Tour: Leaves at 5:30 pm
  • Duration: 30 to 40 Minutes

Gibraltar Miltary History Tour - Victory Tour: This tour is exclusive to Victory Tour Gibraltar and offers a tour to visit the main site surrounding the Great Siege of Gibraltar and its history in WW2 with a tour guide.

Sites Visited:

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  • Great Siege Tunnels
  • WWII Tunnels
  • Princess Caroline Battery
  • Military Heritage Centre
  • City Under Siege Exhibition

Included: Ticket to the Nature Reserve and A Private Guide

Cost: £45 Per Person ($60)

Duration: 4 Hours

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