Date: Dec, 2014
Location: Europa Point, Gibraltar, UK
Europa Point is the southernmost point of Gibraltar. On a clear day, views of North Africa can be seen across the Strait of Gibraltar including Ceuta and the Rif Mountains of Morocco, as well as the Bay of Gibraltar and the Spanish towns along its shores.
When the ancient Phoenician and Greek mariners from the east arrived in this region in the 8th century BC, they homed in on the beacon which was the Rock and were attracted to large marine caverns close to these southern platforms. It has also been suggested, based on cave paintings of sailing ships in caves near Gibraltar that perhaps even earlier civilisations, like the Mycaeneans, might have sailed to the Strait as far back as the 16th century BC. According to legend, Hercules passed through here to take the cattle of Geryon, his 10th labor, and opened up the Strait, creating the Pillars of Hercules still clearly identifiable today. The legend matches the scientific reality although the timescales are somewhat different. The last time the Strait opened up was around five million years ago. The Mediterranean had been land-locked for a very long time and had evaporated. Then as a fissure developed where the Strait is today, the Atlantic gushed in filling the basin in just 100 years, with a huge ten thousand foot waterfall at the entrance to the Strait.
Respect for the sea and fear of the unknown must have dominated the lives of the ancient mariners as many perished in their small ships during violent storms as is clear from reading ancient texts such as Homer’s Odyssey. The Strait is a narrow channel which funnels winds and violent storms develop quickly with little notice, especially from the east and south-west.
Euoropa Point Trinity Light House
The Trinity Lighthouse, built between 1838 and 1841, serves as landfall and waypoint for vessels passing through the Strait. Responsibility for the lighthouse was vested in Trinity House by an Act of Parliament of 1838 and under the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 the Corporation became the General Lighthouse Authority for Gibraltar.
When Europa Point was first lit, a fixed light was exhibited by a single wick oil lamp augmented by a fixed lens and mirrors. Although the lamp was upgraded numerous times, it wasn’t until 1956 that electrical lighting along with a revolving lens system of much greater power was installed. Complete Automation of Europa Point Lighthouse was completed in February 1994. The station is now fully automatic with no external control facilities; the monitoring of aids to navigation, power supplies, fire systems and intruder alarm being through a simple reporting station linked by telephone to the Gibraltar Port Office which is manned 24 hours a day.
Europa has been the site of early Spanish and Moorish fortifications as well as those constructed by the British which included walls, scarping and the batteries. Harding’s battery was built on the remains of the 7th Europa Battery in 1859 and named after Sir George Harding, who was Chief Engineer in 1844. At that time Europa Point was known as Harding’s Point.
For a few years the battery had two 18 pounder guns but these were replaced in 1863 with two 32 pounders. A 12.5 inch 38 ton RML gun was commissioned in 1878 although it was feared that the gun may be difficult to defend due to its exposed position. In 1904, a plan was put forward to move a 9.2-inch Mk 1 coastal defence gun from Inchkeith in Scotland to Harding’s Battery, but never implemented. The large RML was eventually removed and from the start of World War II the battery was the location of a Bofors 40 mm anti-aircraft gun.
Harding’s battery had been abandoned and buried under a mound of sand for years but it was unearthed and refurbished as part of the £4.4 million makeover of Europa Point in 2011. The battery was found to be in good condition and the magazine below was converted into a visitor center. In 2013 an original 12.5 inch 38 ton RML gun (actually weighing 50 tons) was found half buried at the southern entrance to Gibdock, dating from the 1870s and identical to the battery’s original gun. It was moved to the battery and installed on a replica carriage along with the memorial to General Wladislaw Sikorski.
Shrine of Our Lady of Europe
Europa Point has also been the site of worship. In 1462, when the Spaniards captured Gibraltar from the Moors, they found a little mosque here and converted it into a Christian shrine in honor of Our Lady as Patroness of Europe. They built a large chapel at right angles to the mosque’s east wall and the whole area became the Shrine of Our Lady of Europe. A statue of the Virgin and Child was installed in the shrine and was quite small, only 2ft in height, carved in wood and polychromed in royal red, blue and gold. The Virgin was seated in a simple chair, with the Child Jesus on her lap. Both were crowned and the Virgin held in her right hand a sceptre with three flowers denoting Love, Truth and Justice. The shrine prospered in fame and popularity for well over two centuries. Ships passing through the Strait saluted Our Lady as they passed Europa Point and mariners often came ashore with gifts to the shrine. In 1979 Pope John Paul II officially approved the title of Our Lady of Europe as Patroness of Gibraltar.
Mosque of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques
In August 1997, the new Mosque of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques (also known as the Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque or the King Fahd bin Abdulaziz al-Saud Mosque) was inaugurated. A gift from King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, it took two years to build at a cost of around £5 million. The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques is the official title of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. The two mosques referred to be the ones in Mecca and Medina, the holiest in Islam.
It is considered to be the most southern mosque in Europe and also the most costly per square meter. The main prayer hall, covering an area of 480 sqre meters, can hold approximately four hundred faithful. The ceiling has nine solid brass chandeliers, which were made in Egypt. Eight surround the hall and a huge one, weighing two tons, hangs below the dome in the middle of the hall. Marble tiles, imported from Carrara in Italy, have been used in all the external cladding and also cover the columns supporting the main prayer hall and its Kabila. The niche (which is oriented towards Mecca) is covered in decorative plaster. A massive carpet covers the entire area of the main prayer hall (it has been woven in one single piece) and the women’s prayer hall was custom made in Saudi Arabia and shipped. The minaret measures 71m in height from the ground floor to the top, crowned by a six meter brass crescent. All the wooden doors are made of teak, decorated with brass ornaments and made in Egypt. On the ground floor, all the panel doors are made of 51mm thick solid timber. The decorative screens on the outside windows are made of glass reinforced concrete, precast in Madrid. The two huge crescents which top the dome (the outside of which is covered with mosaic tiles) and the minaret are made of steel frames covered with brass plates, also from Egypt.
The mosque complex contains a school, library, and lecture hall. It is the only purpose-built mosque in Gibraltar to serve the Muslims in the territory who number over 1000, around 4% of Gibraltar’s total population.
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