The Caves Of Gibraltar, The Hollow Mountain

St Michael's Cave, Gibraltar

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Gibraltar is full of caves. They are a part of the long history of the Rock, known since the earliest times as The Hollow Mountain. One of the most famous of the caves of Gibraltar – and the one most easily accessible to visitors – is the spectacular St Michael’s Cave, close to the top of the Rock of Gibraltar. One of many places to visit during your trip to Gibraltar.

Inside The Hollow Mountain

The Phoenecians called Gibraltar Calpe (meaning “hollow”), and the Romans expanded this to Mons Calpe, or Hollow Mountain. The name was appropriate. Gibraltar has more than 200 caves, both sea and inland caverns, a result of erosion of the limestone rock.

The caves have always been important to Gibraltar, often playing a military or defensive role. But the discovery of the skull of a Neanderthal woman in Gorham’s Cave, a sea cave on the eastern side of the peninsula, suggests that they may also once have been used as homes. This find was so important that the Gorham’s Cave Complex is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can get a glimpse of the caves from a nearby viewing platform (Monday-Friday, 10am to 2pm), or take a guided tour into the caves themselves.

Caves opening out from the sea
Gibraltar has many sea caves, including the Gorham’s Cave Complex

St Michael’s Cave

For many visitors the caves of Gibraltar are synonymous with St Michael’s Cave. This is a massive cavern in the Upper Rock Nature Reserve. More than 700 feet deep, it is full of stalagtites, stalagmites and other limestone formations.

Pinnable image of St Michael's Cave, one of the many caves of Gibraltar
Pinnable image of St Michael’s Cave

St Michael’s Cave was well known in classical times, but the discovery of Neanderthal artefacts and remains shows that it was in use much earlier. It was used for military purposes since the Moors occupied the Rock in the Middle Ages, and during the Second World War it became an emergency hospital and an ammunition store. The Upper Cavern, known as the “Cathedral Cave”, forms a large natural auditorium and hosts concerts and private events.

Inside of St Michael's Cave, with seats and blue lighting
The Upper Cavern of St Michael’s Cave forms a natural auditorium

Visiting St Michael’s Cave

Visiting St Michael’s Cave is quite an experience. A light show of ever-changing colours fills the whole of the Upper Cavern, and soft music follows you as you walk through the vast empty space and down the steep steps to the chambers below.

Cross section of a stalagmite, showing patterns in the rock
Cross section of a stalagmite in St Michael’s Cave

Lower St Michael’s Cave was discovered by accident during the military operations of WWII. This is where you’ll find the most spectacular rock formations and an underground lake, but the surfaces are uneven and you need to be reasonably fit to explore it. You can visit the Lower Cavern with a guide, but be prepared to wear sturdy shoes and a hard hat.

Rock formations resembling long white and gold needles
St Michael’s Cave is full of spectacular rock formations

Myths And Legends Of The Caves Of Gibraltar

The caves of Gibraltar have attracted all sorts of myths and legends. At one time people thought that St Michael’s Cave was bottomless, and that it was connected to North Africa by a long tunnel beneath the Strait of Gibraltar (the Rock’s colony of Barbary apes was supposed to have arrived that way).

And the Ancient Greeks named Gibraltar as one of the twin Pillars of Hercules, with St Michael’s Cave as the entrance to the underworld. The name of the cave is said to derive from its similarity to the grotto in Monte Sant’Angelo in Italy where the archangel Michael once appeared.

Macaque monkey sitting on the ground
Legend has it that Gibraltar’s Barbary macaques arrived via a tunnel beneath the sea

Then there is the story of the 18th century shepherd who is said to have tried to guide Spanish troops through the Rock and into the British garrison. And there are more recent accounts of mysterious disappearances in the caves and passages that riddle the Rock. But for me the greatest mystery is the one revealed by the discovery of Neanderthal remains. Who exactly were the earliest inhabitants of Gibraltar?


7 thoughts on “The Caves Of Gibraltar, The Hollow Mountain”

  1. Gibraltar is not that faraway from us, but l hesitate to visit. I have heard so much about the monkeys and l am scared of animals so not sure how l would react :-). The caves look awesome and reminds me of the Nerja caves in Malaga which was so much fun to discover. This might just turn the tide on the visit and l might brave it :-).

  2. Gibraltar is definitely on our must-visit list. Your photos really make me want to visit as soon as possible. The monkeys would make the adventure even more fun.

  3. Carolina Colborn

    Didn’t realize that the Rock of Gibraltar is a Mons Calpe! St. Michael’s Cave is indeed a must-see, both the Upper and Lower Caverns..

  4. travelwithmarilyn

    I had no idea there were caves in the Rock ofGibraltar. Very interesting and your photos are amazing!

  5. Wow, I had no idea. Of course I’ve never done any serious research into Gibraltar. I’ve been to Spain more than 10 times and never made it to the rock. That has to change on the next trip. Lovely photos, too, btw.

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WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), and I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…


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