In pictures: the story of the Gibraltar/Spanish border

In Part I of this two-part photo essay, local historian Tito Vallejo explores the fraught relations along this 1.7km strip that ultimately led to the 1969 border closure.

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The closure of the Gibraltar/Spanish border between the years 1969 and 1985 was a period which had enormous political and social impact on the small territory I call home. The full story of what led to these extraordinary circumstances, and what unfolded during and after, are perhaps not well known to the casual reader.

Despite the numerous belligerent sieges Gibraltar has undergone, no official border fence existed between Spain and Gibraltar till the year 1910. Before this date there were just two lines of British and Spanish sentries in their boxes looking at each other from a certain distance. Between them lay the neutral ground, a no man’s land.

 (A sentry at the “fenceless” frontier between Spain and Gibraltar, a neutral ground, 1871.)

The smuggling of contraband from Gibraltar into Spain has always been rife, and tobacco was the prized item. Smugglers of the time were persistent and inventive, and tobacco was often carried across the neutral ground strapped to the bodies of specially trained “contraband dogs”. In their attempts at stopping these dogs, sentries from both sides would take shots at the animals and, in so doing, were sometimes in danger of shooting each other.