National Geographic : 1996 Nov
One month melts into the next for 19-year-old Gail Busto, who works nine hours a day at a local cosmetics shop. In the evening she prac tices ballet and then if her friends are around - scoots off for a night of drinks and dancing. "Gib is nice and safe, but you see the same thing every day and you get a little bored," says Gail. "Madrid is more exciting." or the Cayman Islands and to tap into the lucrative tourist industry of the neighboring Costa del Sol. Stylish marinas and waterside condominiums were built to accommodate the expected influx of British expatriates drawn by the promise of low taxes and bank ing secrecy, while alongside the old harbor there arose a gleaming 150-million-dollar office complex called Europort, with associ ated apartments, stores, and 16-story hotel. And then the boom died. For a while Euro port had the air of a ghost town. The hotel never opened, and even now most of the apartments and retail units await their first tenants. At the nearby marinas waiters stand idly at open-air cafes and restaurants. "People thought it was simply a matter of throwing up a lot of buildings and every thing else would follow," one official told Britain'sPrecariousStronghold, Gibraltar me. Unfortunately, the new offices and apart ments came on the market just as Europe was sinking into recession. Delays in implement ing the necessary financial legislation and uncertainty over the political future of the colony acted as further disincentives. As another observer put it: "Potential investors came and looked but quickly real ized that Gibraltar is a long way from the main business centers of Europe, that it has no air links to anywhere on the Continent, that it has poor beaches, no golf courses, and little nightlife, and that there is already a glut of tax havens where none of these short comings exist, and they said, 'No thanks.' " Nor did tourism blossom in the way that had been hoped. Although Gibraltar receives at least four million visitors a year, most come for no more than a few hours, generally to tour scenic St. Michael's Cave, photograph the famous (and famously willful) monkeys that inhabit the upper Rock, and perhaps do a little shopping. Few stay the night, and fewer still trouble to experience Gibraltar be yond its two or three best-known attractions. "It's a great shame," says Christopher Terry, an architect who specializes in restora tions, "because there's nowhere else with a history quite like Gibraltar's, and most of it escapes them." We were standing on the lofty terreplein of an 18th-century fortress called Parson's Lodge Battery, one of a string of mighty defenses that once dotted the Rock. A hundred feet below, waves brushed the beach of Rosia Bay, where the British fleet returned with Nelson's body after the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. "For a long time," Terry continued, "Gibraltar was one of the most heavily forti fied places in the world. Unfortunately the military didn't always look after this legacy." THE POINT could hardly be better illustrated than by the imposing sprawl of the battery on its rocky outcrop above the sea. Abandoned by the military in the 1950s, the site became an unofficial dump. When Terry and a crew of volunteers began its restoration, they had to remove 400 tons of accumulated rubbish. Today Parson's Lodge is once more pristine, its battlements rebuilt, its stout walls seam lessly patched-but it is just one small sal vaged fragment of a much more immense military history.