The Alameda Botanic Gardens are one of the must-see places on Gibraltar. There is much to recommend them: a beautiful setting, with a wide variety of plants, and an intriguing blend of the everyday and the exotic. And, for those of a literary bent, there is the curious association between Gibraltar and Molly Bloom…
A Place for Recreation
The Alameda Botanic Gardens have an enviable position on the lower slope of the Rock of Gibraltar, with glimpses of the Mediterranean far below. They were created in 1816 as a recreation area for soldiers and as a shady place for local inhabitants to escape the fierce summer sun. But their origins are even earlier: some of the oldest trees in the garden were already there in 1816.
The Botanic Gardens fell into decline but were renovated in 1991. Today they are a popular place for weddings, and there is a theatre for open air performances. There is also a small zoo, a sanctuary for confiscated animals and unwanted exotic pets.
Exploring the Alameda Botanic Gardens
Even in February the gardens were bursting with colour. There were cacti, ripe oranges and dragon trees. The air was filled with squawks and shreiks, from the birds in the trees and the animals in the zoo. And water plays a part, with an ornate Moorish fountain by the entrance, and a waterfall and fishpond inside the garden.
This may be a Mediterranean garden with plants from around the world, but it is also unmistakeably British. There are reminders of the military presence everywhere, from the old cannons to the monuments to General Elliot and the Duke of Wellington. As if to underline the contrast you turn a corner and spot a red telephone box!
But Who Was Molly Bloom?
At the centre of the garden is a statue of Molly Bloom. She was the fictional wife of Leopold Bloom, the central character in James Joyce’s 1922 novel Ulysses. It might seem surprising that this essentially Irish novel should be associated with the Alameda Gardens but it transpires that much of Molly’s famous soliliquy (the last 60 or so pages of the book) refers back to her childhood in Gibraltar.
Joyce based his novel on the Greek hero Odysseus (Roman Ulysses), and Gibraltar is one of the classical Pillars of Hercules towards which Odysseus sailed. But it’s likely that Joyce also used Gibraltar as a setting to make Molly Bloom seem foreign and flamboyant. With her breathless commentary she would have brought a splash of colour to the novel’s portrayal of a grey post-war Dublin. Who could resist “the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens… and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses…”?
Afternoon Tea at the Rock Hotel
If you leave the gardens by the upper gate you will find yourself by the Rock Hotel. This is a grand 1930s Art Deco style hotel with a lounge that looks over the botanic gardens and the sea below. If it had existed in Molly Bloom’s time, it is the sort of place you could imagine her going with one of her many admirers.
We stopped there for afternoon tea and I chose the Moorish version, with peppermint tea and Moroccan pastries, an interesting twist on a classic English meal. It seemed to sum up Gibraltar, a comfortable fusion of different cultures.
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