The fight (sort of) for the Pillars of Hercules
Territorial disputes amongst nations are the perennial causes of wars or, at best, catalysts for an interest in geography, history and travel. For now, never mind Israel and Palestine, Kashmir, Sakhalin Island or the South China Sea. Let us journey to the two fabled Pillars of Hercules: Gibraltar and Ogigia. The relative obscurity of the latter shall be explained shortly.
As a formality ending the War of Spanish Succession in 1713, Spain signed a treaty with Britain in Utrecht, agreeing that the British could keep the Rock of Gibraltar they captured while they were there, but once they would leave it was to be returned to Spain at once. The Brits, knowing a good deal when they saw it, have stayed put ever since. With a naval base checking maritime traffic between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, the Rock's strategic worth proved itself many times, notably during the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century, and World War II of 1939-1945.
Today, Gibraltar still has its naval base and fortress, but its main function now is that of a holiday venue: a scenic peninsula of mythic allure, hosted by a Latinized community of 35,000 Britons speaking in a distinct accent at the nexus of Europe and Africa. London wants to "share sovereignty" over everything except the military installations, Madrid concurs but still wants everything back eventually, and the British Gibraltarians themselves want to determine their own fate over a referendum vote, if only to keep things exactly as they have been since 1713.
Isla Perejil / Leila, seen from Bel Younech, Morocco. AP photo by Santiago Lyon
Across the Strait of Gibraltar, about fifty goats kept by the Moroccan coastal village of Bel Younech are the only permanent residents of the other Pillar, which Homer called Ogigia. Known to the Moroccans as Leila, the Isle of Night, the 13-hectare (30 acre) islet is named Perejil by the Spaniards for its wild parsley, much already devoured by the goats. Separated from Bel Younech by a 200-yard swim, it is a short boat ride from there to Ceuta, one of the two North African enclaves retained by Spain after ruling much of northern Morocco as a protectorate from 1668 to 1956. (The other, Melilla, is 200 miles away to the east. Morocco has long insisted upon the return of these prosperous ports, which thrive on fishing, the ferry traffic across the Mediterranean, and the black market of consumer goods, tobacco and narcotics.)
Charles Weng, 17 July 2002, information and graphics courtesy of the Associated Press, Reuters and the BBC