Saturday 10 September 2022
Celebrating our Heritage
On this National day, I think of our Rock, of our heritage, of our people. I think of how much history is ingrained in our little piece of limestone that we call home. Yet, I am reminded of how limited my knowledge about Gibraltar history prior to my summer placement for the Gibraltar Heritage Trust and the Friends of Gibraltar Heritage Society. Sadly, this is the truth for much of Gibraltar’s population. As a student of history at the University of Manchester, I am devoted to sharing hidden narratives of history which otherwise may not have been explored, and that is exactly what my summer placement has done for me – opened Gibraltarian narratives that were unknown to me.
As a statutory body charged with the preservation of the Rock’s Heritage, the Gibraltar Heritage Trust works to preserve and restore Gibraltar’s history for future generations. Based at the Main Guard in the historic John Mackintosh Square, they host a regular podcast, publish yearly journals featuring local authors and history, have a gift-shop at the premises filled with Gibraltarian narratives, and work closely with the Government to ensure that their aims are maintained. They also offer membership access to anyone, which provides a variety of benefits, including free access to all sites in Gibraltar within the Gibraltar Nature Reserve! By becoming a member, you not only contribute towards the preservation, but are able to immerse yourself first-hand in this history.
The Friends of Gibraltar are a UK based society for people who are interested in Gibraltar’s heritage and support the aims and work done by the Gibraltar Heritage Trust. Many of their members are Gibraltarian, but membership is open for anyone who is interested in our heritage. For example, many members have family who live here and are intrigued by our unique history or have links here through the army. The Friends are based in London, and throughout the year they throw many events to engage support; they run a programme of meetings in London with Gibraltarian VIP speakers, host annual dinners, social events, visits to places connected to Gibraltar, and annual visit to the Rock. The work that the Friends do is very admirable, because as a charity, most of their work consists of supporting the Gibraltar Heritage Trust to restore and preserve buildings and sites.
My work this summer has consisted of a plethora of interesting tasks. For the Friends, I have mainly assisted in content creation for social media in order to grow our engagement and reach. Through this content creation, I do weekly facts and trivia about Gibraltar (of which the research has also taught me a lot), along with weekly activities for children. Our aim is to increase engagement with the youth, and to get them thinking more about their heritage early on. This is because the youth population now, including me, have not been privy to lessons about history, or are made to be interested in their heritage. However, by using social media content, we make this heritage more accessible. For the Trust, I have done a variety of research for different projects and was able to visit the Gibraltar National Archives for the first time. It is sad to think that, as a history student, this was my first time visiting the Archives. I think that more needs to be done to teach the youth that learning about our history is imperative, and that there are resources, like the Friends and the Trust, that can help them do this.
Many of you readers might know of Trafalgar cemetery, of which its maintenance is kept by the Gibraltar Heritage Trust. However, have you heard of Witham’s cemetery? This cemetery has been a long forgotten and neglected site in Gibraltar, but it holds immense historical importance. Again, I did not know about this cemetery until my placement, where I was able to visit and take part first-hand in the preservation and maintenance of it. Witham’s owes its name to Captain Witham, a British officer of the 18th century who was involved in the sieges of Gibraltar. Through the information gathered by the cemetery, historians of Gibraltar can find out what sort of people lived in Gibraltar throughout the late 18th to the early 20th century, and get an insight into why and how they died. For example, many casualties of the yellow fever epidemic are buried in Witham’s. Interestingly, Joaquim de Menezes e Ataide – Archbishop of Madeira and Bishop of Elvas, who was ordained a Priest of Order of Hermits of St. Augustine in 1788, is buried here. In a famous trial in 1827, he was accused of conspiring to establish a republic and for being too liberal. He fled the scene, and passed away in Gibraltar, but was denied a Christian burial due to his liberal nature. Through this, we learn that Gibraltar is not only a place rich of local history, but also contains many other narratives, such as Joaquim’s, which need to be maintained for our cultural heritage.
I hope my experiences have inspired you to learn about our history. You can start by some simple online research or venturing out to our impressive sites and make it into a family or friends day trip. Becoming a member of the Friends and the Trust will also help us preserve our heritage, as volunteer-based organisations they are always in need of support. I am endlessly grateful for my summer placement as it has opened me up to our history, to our traditions, to our culture. If we don’t continue our historical narratives, then who will?
Gibraltar Insight is proud to celebrate its 30th Anniversary alongside Gibraltar National Day.
It’s thirty years since the first issue of Insight Magazine hit the press in June 1992 and thirty years since the first National Day was held at the Piazza (John Mackintosh Square) a few months later on the 10th September 1992.
National Day is the most powerful symbol of Gibraltar’s identity, the date having been chosen to commemorate Gibraltar’s first Sovereignty referendum of 1967. There is no doubt that it is the most important day on the Gibraltarian calendar, when local people reassert their right to self-determination.
In a display of national pride, Gibraltar becomes a sea of red and white, not just on the flags festooned along Main Street, or hanging from balconies and displayed in shop windows but on the people who throng the streets and gather in Casemates Square dressed in the national colours and taking part in what can only be described as a ‘mighty big party’!
The Flag of Gibraltar, with its horizontal bands of white and red, featuring a triple-towered castle and golden key, is a symbol of pride, justice, strength and courage. The gold key refers to the British Overseas Territory’s important position at the gateway to the Mediterranean and the strategic military importance of Gibraltar is represented by its castle.
Historically Casemates Square has been filled with crowds who have gathered to witness the political rally with UK and Gibraltarian politicians making speeches, listening and watching the spectacular music and dance performances, eating and drinking and rounding off the evening with a display of fireworks. However, in 2021 and 22, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Government had to cancel the physical celebrations in favour of an online format with a pre-recorded political rally and no live performances. The good news is that after a two year absence, the organisers, the Self Determination for Gibraltar Group and Gibraltar Cultural Services, have confirmed that National Day will return in its traditional format, although it has been decided that in the present cultural climate it is prudent not to hold the fireworks display that has previously brought the day long festivities to a close, something that was felt inappropriate in the current post COVID and worldwide economic climate. The tradition of releasing red and white helium balloons as a symbolic representation of the freedom of Gibraltarians was stopped back in 2016 as it was deemed to be harmful to the environment and animals.
As usual, self-determination will take centre stage at the political rally, where the Chief Minister normally asserts that the future of Gibraltar can only be freely and democratically determined by the people of Gibraltar.
The programme this year will include a Children’s Fancy Dress Competition at Casemates Square at 10 am followed by live performances until 12.25 pm when the Political Rally will commence. A DJ will entertain those at Casemates from 1:30, with a Rock Concert at 8pm. There will also be fun day attractions at the Piazza during the day and live band The Chipis will be performing at Governor’s Parade from 2:30 to 7:30pm.
Due to the fact that National Day this year falls on a Saturday, a public holiday will take place on Monday 12th September, so there will be plenty of time during the long weekend to continue the party all over the Rock, with families and friends taking the opportunity to gather together in the town and on the beaches.
Gibraltarians are always keen to affirm their identity, and this is evident when they sing the Gibraltar Anthem on National Day, with lyrics and music by Peter Emberley the song was the winner of a competition to find a new anthem and was adopted in October 1994.
The Rock on which I stand,
Oh, may you be forever free,
Gibraltar, my own land.”
You’re also more than likely to hear renditions of Gibraltar’s unofficial anthem ‘Llévame Donde Nací’ (Take Me Back to Where I Was Born) often sung on the main stage accompanied by chants from the assembled crowds. Written by Pepe Roman in the 1930s during the Second World War, this song became an anthem for those civilians who were evacuated from The Rock.
For over 30 years, Insight has been the number one magazine in Gibraltar, packed with interesting and informative articles on news, business, entertainment, lifestyle and culture whilst featuring fascinating interviews with the people that matter and bringing the community together through shared knowledge and information.