September 10 is National Day in Gibraltar. Banks are closed and everyone wears red to signify their spirit of national pride. On the main square of town the crowd forms early to hear the music, fly the Union Jack, and sing. Families are out in full.
I knew my cruise ship would arrive in port on a bank holiday. I was unprepared for the massive outpouring of national spirit. Fortunately a lovely woman, in a burka, handed me a ball cap in red and white. She, and others, were handing them out for free, not wanting anyone to feel left out. Oh glorious day!
It was a great feeling to be in the midst of people celebrating their existence. I come from the United States where national and civic pride is not in fashion at this time. If this were a public party given in the U.S. today no doubt there would be a group of picketers telling the Spanish folks to abstain from attending such an unabashed anniversary of a British Overseas Territory. The British have controlled this two and a half square mile bit of turf in Iberia since 1704. No matter, those wearing red were heard speaking Spanish as well as English. They came to party together.
For the ancient Greeks, Gibraltar was the pillar at the end of the world. The Rock has no place to farm and contains no precious metals. It was appreciated by the caliphs of North Africa for its strategic position to control trade in the straits.
The history of Gibraltar is riddled with times of siege. Yet no controlling ruler has ever been removed by force. British King George I tried to give Gibraltar to Spain in exchange for Florida. He then offered to give it unconditionally to the Spanish, in a cost-cutting attempt, and Parliament refused to ratify his decision. The British were fond of the Rock then, as they are now.
Before joining the party on the main square, within the walls of the historic casements, I wandered through the cemetery consecrated in 1756. This was the British cemetery during the Great Siege of 1779 to 1783, when France joined Spain in a grand attempt to oust the British, while they were distracted by that war in the colonies of America. It is not far from the Battle of Trafalgar Cemetery, when in 1805, Great Britain lost its naval hero Admiral Nelson and established naval supremacy in the world for the next century. Buried here, under the cannons high in the Rock tunnels of World War II, are the military war dead of World War I. In this cemetery there are Spanish and English burials. Jews and Muslims are buried here in proximity. This place of death reflects the living population of Gibraltar over time and today. Gibraltar is a world community.
Days like today remind us of why we travel. No virtual experience could replace the sounds of people singing and the sights of their united celebration of life, of unity, of national pride. In this place they stand to sing God Save the Queen.