Gorham's Cave Complex
Gorham’s Cave Complex covers a landscape of cliffs and caves that show extensive evidence of the Neanderthal way of life. The site is located on the Mediterranean side of the Rock of Gibraltar.
The caves that are not submerged by the sea contain archaeological deposits. In Gorham’s Cave, Vanguard Cave, Hyaena Cave and Bennett’s Cave traces of Neanderthal occupation have been found. Some others have Early Modern Human deposits. The sites have been excavated since the 19th century, but only since 1989 the importance of the Gibraltar cave sites has been confirmed.
Map of Gorham's Cave Complex
- ●● Cultural
Visit September 2017
Gorham’s Cave Complex is Gibraltar’s only WHS to date, and it was the main venue of this year’s World Heritage Travellers meeting. This Complex comprises four caves where tangible remains of the Neanderthaler way of life have been found. No skulls or other bones have been discovered in these particular caves (yet), but the archaeologists have been lucky earlier this year to find a Neanderthaler milk tooth!
The Cave Complex is located at the southeastern tip of Gibraltar and its Rock. After casually strolling across the Spanish-British border and crossing the empty air strip, we took bus number 2 from the town center to Europa Point. Europa Point is a collection of monuments and memorials such as a 19th century lighthouse. The main landmark nowadays is the Saudi sponsored Mosque of The Custodian of the The Holy Mosques.
We all gathered a bit further up the road at the Europa Advance Viewing Platform. I had unsuccessfully tried to find it on a map beforehand: this is a piece of tourist infrastructure still in the making. Essentially the 1st and 2nd Europa Advance Battery are being turned into viewing platforms and small scale interpretation centres. The Gibraltar Museum still has to clean up the 2nd Battery which has been used for firing practice by the army until recently. The 1st Battery is almost ready now: there are toilets and the structures to hold information panels have been placed. The information itself is still missing though, and entrance to the Battery is closed to unannounced visitors unlike ourselves.
The site of the future viewing platform has been chosen well. From there the entrances to the caves can be seen clearly. The inscribed area also covers their natural surroundings, which essentially cover the southeastern flank of the Rock of Gibraltar. Our WH Travellers group was treated to an introduction talk about the area by Sue Davies of the Gibraltar Museum and two staff. It actually is quite hard to imagine what the landscape would have looked like, as the sea level was much lower when the Neanderthaler lived here and the cave dwellers looked out over a coastal plain.
After the talk our group was split into two: 10 lucky ones were to go into the military zone, down the stairs and all up to the entrance of Gorham’s Cave. For conservation reasons the cave itself is closed to visitors. I’ll leave it to one of them to write a review of that experience. The others returned to the town center of Gibraltar, for a more in-depth presentation of the site at the Gibraltar Museum. Sue gave an interesting behind-the-scenes look at how the inscription came about and what the future plans are. I found out why the name of the WHS was changed from “Gibraltar Neanderthal Caves and Environments” to “Gorham’s Cave Complex” at the final stages of its inscription – apparently the Spanish objected to the use of the Spanish translation of the word “Environments”.
The Gibraltar Museum does offer all tidbits of local history that can be expected from a regional museum of this size. Findings from the caves mainly include animal bones and stone tools. A difficult task lies ahead of the Gibraltar Museum team to find a way to further promote Gorham’s Cave despite its inaccessibility and conservation issues. Our WH Travellers group (rebranded during the meeting into the "World Heritage Appreciation Society") received a very warm welcome and good introduction to the site by them.
Nearly five years ago on what I nowadays call my first true world heritage trip I ventured to Andalucia. Out of curiosity I decided to also go to Gibraltar and look across the straights to Africa. Having been at Europa Point at the very tip of the island I must have been within 500m of the site, but didn’t know. As such this was a tragic near miss for me.
Thanks to our World Heritage Community Meetup 2017 and Ian’s and Els’ efforts I was able to correct this. Ian had arranged the tour with the Gibraltar Museum. They gave us a nice presentation providing the context you need to make sense of a prehistoric sites such as this.
Half of our group were allowed to the entrance of the caves to get a closer look. The caves are still active excavation sites with yearly campaigns being carried out each summer. The caves are also in an active military installation. And if this wasn’t challenge enough, the caves are located in a hard to access part of the peninsula at the bottom of huge cliffs directly at sea level. As noted by Els the sea level was way lower when the Neanderthals lived here. So the caves overlooked a 5km long coastal plain.
To get to the caves we needed to pass a control post at the entry of the military installation. They also made us sign some mighty tense waiver form and gave us a nice looking helmet. I was considering keeping it as souvenir ... From the military post you descend via a metal staircase down to sea level. The Vanguard Cave is just at the end of the stair case. For Gorham's Cave you need to hike across the rocks at the coast.
Both caves are still heavily covered by sand. During the yearly excavation campaigns each year only a few centimeters are removed to get as much information as possible. Recent finds include a rock drawing, a hand print and a milk tooth. There were also Phoenician artefacts finds, but the OUV is tied exclusively to the Neanderthal finds. For the Neanderthals Gibraltar is the last documented site before extinction.
Humans had not yet appeared in the area when the Neanderthals disappeared, so for once we are not to blame. Our guide, a resident researcher, argued that the weather turning hotter and wetter may have been the Neanderthals demise and our success. And in a way the Neanderthals are still with us as around 2% of the DNA of a European is Neanderthal DNA. So you could say they were less out-competed and more in-married.
Many thanks to Ian and Els for setting this up.
Getting There And Away
Gibraltar has one of the most iconic airports of the world. After crossing the border you walk right across the landing strip situated below the Rock. It’s quite fun to see a plane land with the traffic lights switching to red and the bar going down. Unfortunately, flight options are very limited and prices high.
The other airport of the area is in Malaga. Be advised that public transport connections to Gibralter (La Linea) are limited and you are better served staying in Algeciras, the principal Spanish town across the bay from Gibraltar. From Algeciras frequent buses run to La Linea, the Spanish border town and from there you can walk across the border and catch a local bus.
Algeciras also provides ferry connections to Ceuta and Tangiers. From Ceuta you can reach Tetouan by cab and it’s well feasible as a day trip from Algeciras.
The closest train station is San Roca/La Linea. The name is a bit misleading as the station is neither in San Roca nor La Linea. You should be able to get a bus to La Linea. The train line itself is rather helpful as it connects you to Antequera and Granada. Another stop (not a WHS) along the line is Ronda, a picturesque Andalusian town. I skipped on this as Philipp was so kind to offer me a ride to Antequera. In addition, the trains run only a few times a day and I wouldn’t have been able to make the schedule work anyhow.
Getting In and Around
As mentioned by Els, the best connection is to take Bus 2 from Market Square station to the end of the peninsula at Europa Point. It doesn’t run directly from the border, so you can either take Bus 5 (any bus saying city center) from the border to Market Square or just walk. The peninsula is surprisingly long and not really friendly for pedestrians as the little road space there is is used for the cars. Hard to imagine that it used to be even worse than it’s now, but supposedly they cut down on traffic. I would not encourage you to cross by car as you will spend some time at the border, parking spaces are limited and Gibraltans intent on towing your car if you violate the rules.
Right now, you will have a hard time getting a good view of the site. The viewing platform is not yet ready. When this is the case (soon, but check with the tourist office) you get good views of the caves. Possibly, bring a binocular. If you are a group, you can also try to contact the museum and get a custom tour. We were not the only group this year, so this should be possible. Descending to the caves and the views we got were special.
For the time being the best option is probably to join the Sunday cruise. Finally, the site includes more than the caves themselves and it is my understanding that hiking along the Mediterranean Steps should take you into the core zones with plenty of spectacular views of the cliffs that house the caves.
While You Are There
The fortifications of Gibraltar are impressive and well worth a visit, even if they are a former tentative site. Climbing the rock, either on foot or by cable car, is the other tourist option and you will see plenty of monkeys along the way.
Tom Livesey United Kingdom 10.02.17
I travelled to the UK's newest WHS at Gibraltar in October 2016, particularly enjoying walking across the airport's runway after having landed on it 30 minutes before! I have for some time wanted to visit one of those few former outposts of empire that remain under the sovereignty of the UK, so was glad when this site was inscribed to have a good reason for travelling to one.
Unfortunately my experience of Gorham's Cave Complex was a fairly tangential. The visitors' centre is not yet open and I was unable to secure either a museum-facilitated tour or a boat ride to peer in from the sea. Given these constraints the best I could do was to walk down the Mediterranean Steps and have a look inside Goat’s Hair Twin Caves.
Nevertheless, the experience of reaching the summit of the Rock and beginning the descent of the Mediterranean Steps was one of the most memorable I have experienced in my 4 years of seeking out World Heritage Sites. With a pair of macaques eyeing us suspiciously and the wind blowing at several dozen knots the steep windy path down the edge of the Rock was both mysterious and daunting.
The twin caves felt very much like 'cave-man caves' - by which I mean I could have imagined Neanderthals living inside them as they in fact did. It was a shame I wasn't able to see the main complex, but I'll be glad to return to this British Overseas Territory when it becomes more accessible.
Read more from Tom Livesey here.
Hubert Austria 04.10.16
When we planned our trip to Andalusia, the question was whether it would be worthwhile to include Gorham’s Cave in our itinerary. The caves are not accessible for individual visitors and at that time there was no information on guided tours to the cave on the websites of Visit Gibraltar or the Gibraltar museum. In early June, I wrote an email to the Gibraltar Museum, but never got a response. But now there seems to be guided tours into Gorham’s Cave for a limited number of visitors (see forum post).
So the best alternative for us was a "visit by sea". Dolphin Adventures offers such a trip, once a week on Sunday morning at 9:30, the price is 25 Pounds. The tour does not seem to be very popular, we were only 15 people on a boat for a maximum of 48 persons. The boat starts at the marina and goes around the peninsula to the eastern face of the Gibraltar Rock. After about 40 minutes we reached the caves. The boat stopped about 25 metres in front of Gorham's Cave (photo) and sailed slowly along the four caves: Bennet's, Gorham's, Vangard and Hyena Cave. This took about 15 minutes. It is not allowed to moor the boat and to go ashore. The caves are located next to each other right on the shore. Fifty thousand years ago, when Neanderthals settled there, the Mediterranean Sea was several kilometres away, since then, the coastline has significantly changed.
The Gorham’ Cave Tour is offered only recently, for the fist time one week after inscription of the site, the company mainly offers whale and dolphin watching tours. The boat crew does not explain much to the caves, a commentary comes from tape, spoken by Clive Finlayson, director of the Gibraltar Museum. So there is some room for improvement.
In the second part of the trip, we went away from the shore and watched some dolphins. Quite nice, but for me the views of the steep cliffs were more enjoyable. The eastern face of the Gibraltar Rock is by far more spectacular than the western, so it makes sense to do such a boat tour in the morning. We were back at the marina after a little more than two hours.
Most WHS travellers will agree that you have to enter the core zone to properly tick off a site. We did so by walking the Mediterranean Steps, the last 1.5 kilometres up to the highest point, the O'Hara's Battery (at 420 metres), is within the core zone. The Steps start at the Jew’s Gate, the entrance to the Gibraltar Nature Reserve. The trail passes the Goat's Hair Twin Caves which are also mentioned in the nomination files because they were occupied by modern humans during the Upper Palaeolithic, but they are not related to the Neandethals. A seventh cave that is mentioned, Martin's Cave, should be near to the Mediterenean Steps, but we could not find where the trail branches off, maybe it is not accessible. The hike from the city center to the upper rock via Jew's Gate and down to the city via the Ape's Den takes about 3 to 4 hours, depends how fit you are, there are some steep sections. But you can shorten the hike by taking the bus to Jew's Gate and/or the cable car for the descent.
The Gibraltar Museum is probably an interesting addition, though I do not know how many finds from the Neanderthal era are shown. However, we could not visit the museum, the opening times are quite unusual: on Saturdays it is open only from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and it is closed on Sundays and public holidays.
Apart from the WHS Gibraltar doesn't offer much of interest, except a bit of British flair in southern Spain. Quite strange is the location of the airport directly on the border to Spain. The road to Gibraltar crosses the airfield and if an airplane takes off or lands, you have to wait at the traffic lights.
So I have entered the core zone and I saw the caves entrances from a boat, sufficient for me to tick off this WHS, though it is also unsatisfying. I would be happy to have the opportunity to enter Gorham's Cave on a re-visit, maybe at an upcoming WH travellers meeting.
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Full name: Gorham's Cave Complex
Unesco ID: 1500
- 2016 - Inscribed
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