Gibraltar Caves makes UNESCO World Heritage List

Gibraltar Caves has been inscribed into UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The decision was taken by the World Heritage Committee at its 40th session, currently being held in Istanbul, in Turkey. This is Gibraltar’s first site on the list, and with it the United Kingdom’s list of World Heritage Sites reaches 30. The Gorham’s Cave complex, which includes its sister caves and surrounding cliffs, joins UK sites which include the Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey, Stonehenge and the Tower of London.

The Chief Minister’s acceptance speech was read to the Committee after the announcement. In it, Fabian Picardo said the Neanderthals had drawn the short straw when it came to being recognised as a part of humanity. It was therefore a humbling privilege, he said, to be participating actively in redressing the situation. 

Museum Director, Professor Clive Finlayson, who has worked towards this aim, has described the news as a fairy tale come true.


Thank you Chair,

The small peninsula of Gibraltar, just 6 kilometres long, situated at the south-westernmost extreme of the European continent where it faces North Africa, has been one of the unofficial Wonders of the World since the days when the first Phoenician mariners arrived there from the eastern Mediterranean in the 8th Century BCE. To the ancient mariners of the Mediterranean Gibraltar became one of the two Pillars of Hercules, universal markers of the boundary of the known world.

Not surprisingly, these mariners consistently stopped here and made offerings to the gods before attempting to go beyond. For those of us familiar with Gorham’s Cave, particularly those who have seen this majestic natural cathedral and the rising cliffs towering above it from the sea, it comes as no surprise that anyone and everyone passing by felt compelled to stop and offer tribute precisely in this cave.

We don’t have written evidence that allows us to know what earlier peoples felt when they saw Gorham’s, its sister caves and the imposing cliffs but we know that it must have been a very special place indeed. The Neanderthals lived here for at least 100,000 years and generously left for us the rich evidence of their presence, how they lived and tantalising clues of how they saw their world. It is this universal legacy that Gibraltar has been safeguarding on behalf of humanity for decades and we are proud and very happy that the World Heritage Committee, on behalf of humanity, has wisely chosen to recognise its universal importance. Rest assured that we will take this honour and responsibility very seriously indeed.

The Neanderthals have for a very long time drawn the short straw among the peoples who have lived on this planet at one time or another. They have been seen as backward creatures, bordering on the edge of our definition of humanity. Recent scientific research, importantly including major discoveries in Gorham’s and Vanguard Caves, has shown that we got this image wrong. The Neanderthals, different from us in some ways, do not delimit some obscure barrier to the boundaries of humanity; instead they add to its cultural and biological diversity and richness. This has been the message that our Gibraltarian scientists working at Gorham’s Cave have been advocating for decades and we are proud that we are contributing towards recognising the rightful place of peoples who are no longer around to be able to speak on behalf of themselves. This is the forgotten dimension of humanity’s universality and it is a humbling privilege to be participating actively in redressing the situation.
Many people, from diverse cultural and political backgrounds have lived in Gibraltar. Today, I am the democratically-elected leader of the Gibraltarians, a cosmopolitan, warm and friendly people. The Gorham’s Cave project reflects this openness. It has involved, and continues to involve, researchers from many different countries and disciplines; it has been an exemplar of how people can come together, leaving politics aside, and work towards a common goal to the benefit of humanity.

Today, this approach that brings humanity together has taken another step forward. It is therefore with great pride that I accept, on behalf of the people of Gibraltar and of the State Party, the honour granted to us with the inscription of the Gorham’s Cave Complex onto the World Heritage List.
Thank you. 

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