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.
Tom Livesey - February 2017
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 - October 2016
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
2016 - InscribedReasons for inscription
The site has 11 connections. Show all
- Late Pleistocene Neanderthal life + deposits covering the past 125,000 years (nom file)
- Disputed territories The sovereignty of Gibraltar is a major point of contention in Anglo-Spanish relations as Spain asserts a claim to the territory (wiki)
- Named after individual people "The cave is named after Captain A. Gorham of the 2nd Battalion Royal Munster Fusiliers who discovered it in 1907, when opening a fissure at the rear of a sea cavern. Gorham inscribed his name and the date of his discovery in lamp-black on the wall of the cave, which has borne his name ever since." (wiki)
WHS on Other Lists
- UN list of Non-Self-Governing Territories Gibraltar - UK