Gibraltar has long been a dramatic landmark at the western end of the Mediterranean. There is archaeological evidence of Neanderthal habitation, and in ancient times the Rock of Gibraltar became a place of worship where sailors would offer sacrifices to the gods before venturing into the Atlantic.
However, the modern history of Gibraltar begins in 711 AD when an Islamic force led by the Berber general, Tariq ibn Ziyad, landed at the foot of the Rock and then proceeded to conquer most of the Iberian Peninsula. The Rock was then named Gibel Tariq, the mountain of Tariq, from which the modern“Gibraltar is derived.
The Moors remained in Iberia for more than seven centuries and Gibraltar did not fall into Spanish hands until 1462. Spain controlled Gibraltar until 1704 when, during the War of the Spanish Succession, it was captured by a combined Anglo-Dutch force. Gibraltar was formally ceded to Britain, in perpetuity, at the end of that war by Article X of the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713. Britain’s title was reaffirmed in 1783 by the Treaty of Versailles.
During the subsequent three centuries (2004 marked the tercentenary of British Gibraltar), the Rock has been, and continues to be, an important British defence asset. It has played a key role in conflicts such as the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the First and Second World Wars, and more recently, the Falklands and Gulf Wars. At the start of the 21st century, the importance of Gibraltar in the defence of one of the world’s most important strategic locations remainsunchanged.
In the years following the British capture of Gibraltar, Spain repeatedly sought to recover the territory. During the 18th century, these attempts were of a military nature, but more recently the Spanish Government has sought to further its claim by applying economic and diplomatic pressure, culminating in the closure of the frontier from 1969 to 1985.
The Spanish claim over Gibraltar has been impeded by the refusal of the people to countenance any change of sovereignty, and by the British Government's refusal to impose any such change against local wishes. The people of Gibraltar overwhelmingly manifested their desire to preserve their links with the UK in the referenda held in 1967 and 2002. Despite these political differences, cross-border business and social relations are friendly and extensive, with more than 4,000 Spanish nationals working in Gibraltar and many Gibraltarians owning holiday homes in Spain.
On 14 December 2006, after a long process of negotiation between the Gibraltar and the UK Governments, a new constitution was granted to Gibraltar. This new constitution provides Gibraltar with a much higher degree of self-government while preserving Britishsovereignty. The UK remains fully responsible for Gibraltar's external relations.