Geography of Gibraltar

Satellite image showing the strait of Gibraltar and the Mediterranean Sea.

 InterNetwork Media/ Photodisc/ Getty Images

Gibraltar is a British overseas territory that is located to the south of Spain on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula. Gibraltar is a peninsula in the Mediterranean Sea with an area of just 2.6 square miles (6.8 sq km) and throughout its history, the Strait of Gibraltar (the narrow strip of water between it and Morocco) has been an important "chokepoint." This is because the narrow channel is easy to cut off from other areas thereby having the ability to "choke" off transit in times of conflict. Because of this, there have often been disagreements about who controls Gibraltar. The United Kingdom has controlled the area since 1713 but Spain also claims sovereignty over the area.

10 Geographic Facts You Should Know About Gibraltar

  1. Archaeological evidence shows that Neanderthal humans may have inhabited Gibraltar as early as 128,000 and 24,000 B.C.E. In terms of its modern recorded history, Gibraltar was first inhabited by the Phoenicians around 950 B.C.E. The Carthaginians and Romans also established settlements in the area and after the fall of the Roman Empire, it was controlled by the Vandals. In 711 C.E. the Islamic conquest of the Iberian Peninsula began and Gibraltar became controlled by the Moors.
  2. Gibraltar was controlled by the Moors until 1462 when the Duke of Medina Sidonia took over the region during the Spanish "Reconquista." Shortly after this time, King Henry IV became King of Gibraltar and made it a city within the Campo Llano de Gibraltar. In 1474 it was sold to a Jewish group that built a fort in the town and stayed until 1476. At that time they were forced out of the region during the Spanish Inquisition and in 1501 it fell under Spain's control.
  3. In 1704, Gibraltar was taken over by a British-Dutch force during the War of Spanish Succession and in 1713 it was ceded to Great Britain with the Treaty of Utrecht. From 1779 to 1783 attempted to take Gibraltar back during the Great Siege of Gibraltar. It failed and Gibraltar eventually became an important base for the British Royal Navy in conflicts like the Battle of Trafalgar, the Crimean War, and World War II.
  4. In the 1950s Spain again began trying to claim Gibraltar and movement between that region and Spain was restricted. In 1967 the citizens of Gibraltar passed a referendum to remain a part of the United Kingdom and as a result, Spain closed off its border with the region and ended all foreign relationships with Gibraltar. In 1985, however, Spain reopened its borders to Gibraltar. In 2002 a referendum was held to establish shared control of Gibraltar between Spain and the UK but Gibraltar's citizens rejected it and the area remains a British overseas territory to this day.
  5. Today Gibraltar is a self-governing territory of the United Kingdom and as such its citizens are considered British citizens. Gibraltar's government, however, is democratic and separate from that of the UK. Queen Elizabeth II is the chief of state of Gibraltar, but it has its own chief minister as head of government, as well as its own unicameral Parliament and Supreme Court and Court of Appeal.
  6. Gibraltar has a total population of 28,750 people and with an area of 2.25 square miles (5.8 sq km) it is one of the most densely populated territories in the world. The population density of Gibraltar is 12,777 people per square mile or 4,957 people per square kilometer.
  7. Despite its small size, Gibraltar has a strong, independent economy that is based mainly on finance, shipping, and trading, offshore banking and tourism. Ship repair and tobacco are also major industries in Gibraltar but there is no agriculture.
  8. Gibraltar is located in southwestern Europe along the Strait of Gibraltar (a narrow strip of water connecting the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea), the Bay of Gibraltar and the Alboran Sea. It is made up of a limestone outcropping on the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula. The Rock of Gibraltar takes up the majority of the area's land and Gibraltar's settlements are built along the narrow coastal lowland bordering it.
  9. Gibraltar's main settlements are on either the east or west side of the Rock of Gibraltar. The East Side is home to Sandy Bay and Catalan Bay, while the western area is home to Westside, where most of the population lives. In addition, Gibraltar has many military areas and tunneled roads to make getting around the Rock of Gibraltar easier. Gibraltar has very few natural resources and little freshwater. As such, seawater desalination is one way its citizens get their water.
  10. Gibraltar has a Mediterranean climate with mild winters and warm summers. The average July high temperature for the area is 81 F (27 C) and the average January low temperature is 50 F (10 C). Most of Gibraltar's precipitation falls during its winter months and the average yearly precipitation is 30.2 inches (767 mm).


  • British Broadcasting Company. (17 June 2011). BBC News - Gibraltar Profile. Retrieved from:
  • Central Intelligence Agency. (25 May 2011). CIA - The World Factbook - Gibraltar. Retrieved from:
  • (21 June 2011). Gibraltar - Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from:
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Briney, Amanda. "Geography of Gibraltar." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Briney, Amanda. (2020, August 27). Geography of Gibraltar. Retrieved from Briney, Amanda. "Geography of Gibraltar." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 31, 2023).