I was surprised the first time I chanced upon that fact, and while thinking perhaps it wasn’t so surprising given the small space we live in, I promptly forgot about it again.
Until J asked the question yesterday on my ‘Your questions about Gib’ page.
I was curious, given that Gib is one of the most densely populated places in the world, do you feel as though you’re constantly on top of each other there, are shops/supermarkets/govt buildings always packed to the brim, do you have to shove your way around streets etc?
Let’s have a look at the figures first.
Just searching on the internet for densely populated countries won’t give you Gibraltar. You need a list that includes overseas territories. And this actually changes the top ten figures significantly.
Looking at the top five in the list of countries, you get:
- Vatican City
But adding overseas territories to the list, you get:
- Macau (China)
- Hong Kong (China)
- Gibraltar (UK)
Wow! That puts us in the Top Five in world rankings for a crowded place to live. What with that and winning Miss World a few years ago, Gibraltar is really going places.
In fact looking at the top 20 most densely populated places, virtually half are overseas territories, and another three of those are UK ones – Bermuda, Jersey and Guernsey. And obviously Hong Kong was a UK one some years ago.
The population density figures are measured per person per square kilometre or square mile. I’ve given both figures, so choose which is most meaningful for you.
At the top of the list Macao, at 18,534/48,003 and Monaco, at 16,923/43,830 are seriously big hitters. I’ve not been to either, so I can’t compare.
Next in the list is Singapore, with 7,148/18,513, a significant drop – but still a fair amount of people in a small space. I have been there and it did seem rather busy, but nothing overly crowded.
In fact, the next one on the list seemed much more crowded when I visited, especially on those amazing ferries. Hong Kong’s figures are, 6,349/16,444.
And that brings us to Gibraltar, with 4,559 people per square kilometre, or 11,808 per square mile. Those figures are based on a population of 31,000, an area of 6.8 square kilometres, or 2.6 square miles. For some reason, the area of Gibraltar seems to be constantly changing. Ah! that could be land reclamation as well as poor maths.
Our nearest competitor for the Top Five is the Vatican City with a measly 1,877/4,861 people per square kilometre/mile. Pah! They are living in spacious luxury. I don’t think we will lose our top five ranking just yet.
And if you want to compare that with some bigger countries:
World ranking on the left, followed by country and then number of people per square kilometre/mile.
(I’ve tried to include those countries where my main readership is from as well as a few others out of interest).
33 India 368/953
53 UK 255/660
(Note, in 2008, England became the second most densely populated country in the European Union after Malta, no comparative stats for England, but Malta is 1,322/3,424. Less than a third of the Gib population density.)
80 China 140/363
(Exactly the same as the Isle of Man, would you believe? – and what a great trivia question.
Q – What do the Isle of Man and China have in common?
A – Population density!)
112 Spain 91/236
(Our next door neighbour)
133 Morocco 73/189
(Our neighbour across the water)
179 USA 32/83
224 Russia 8.3/21
231 Canada 3.5/9.1
236 Australia 3/7.8
Onto some qualitative stuff now, having entertained you all with the riveting figures.
Gibraltar is a city. Cities tend to be more crowded than the open countryside. You didn’t need me to tell you that. A lot of people in cities tend to live in flats. There isn’t the space for houses where space is at a premium, and none of us could afford them anyway. Apart from millionaires and such like of which Gib has a few.
People who live within the city walls in houses tend to have inherited them, like our neighbours in the street.
But clearly when you get a population which is mainly flat-dwellers the population density increases significantly.
Most of the building in Gib is on the west side facing the Bahia de Algeciras, in the old town, south of the city walls, and outside the city walls (west) on reclaimed land.
Two shots taken from the Moorish Castle/Tower of Homage looking in opposite directions over the city area.
Looking over the town and south towards Morocco
Looking north towards the runway and Spain
A huge amount of building has been carried out not just in the last 20 or so years but particularly in the last five years, with many new blocks built at Rosia, south district, Waterport, Mid Harbour estate and King’s Wharf – some of these are private, and some are government.
It doesn’t make much sense to build up on the side of the Rock, and given that it is a nature reserve and part of the attraction of Gibraltar, covering it with tat housing wouldn’t be the smartest move ever. Not that smart moves were anything to do with the last government who gave permission for the disgusting Clifton Heights jutting out below the Pillars of Hercules (if I can find a pic later I will add it).
So here we are, all 30,000 or so of us, living in a particularly confined part of that already small space.
Some years ago we were living in a small coastal town in the UK, and then moved to a city. I went first, and Partner joined me a few months later. One evening we went into town for late night shopping and something to eat. I thought he was going to pass out. He was horrified at the amount of people milling around all over the place. Cities are busy places with lots of people.
So does Gib feel like that? No.
The only time it is really crowded in the streets is when three cruise liners all discharge their passengers at once for the obligatory walk up Main Street to either a) find a taxi to go up the Rock or b) avoid the hard-sell taxi drivers and take the cable car.
And you can avoid the hordes in Main Street by using Governors Street or Irish Town which run parallel to it.
The (one big) supermarket is like any other. It is busy at peak times. If you want to go when it is quiet, turn up at 8am when it opens. No 24 hour opening here. Yet. If you turn up at lunchtime during the week or Saturday morning, it will be busy. Easy really.
I tend to use the supermarket for things I can’t get elsewhere or that are significantly cheaper. I buy fresh veg from the local shops and the market, all of which have queues that seem perfectly normal to me. Lunchtime, or just before, is never the best time to go shopping as a lot of Gibraltarian families take a long lunch break, similar to Spain, so lunch is a main meal.
Changing money on a Friday when all the construction workers have just been paid isn’t the smartest idea either, but during the week, they are all quiet. And on Friday mornings too.
Government offices, banks, the post office, etc are like others elsewhere. Sometimes they are busy, sometimes they aren’t. Luck of the draw. Based on my queuing experience, I would say that Spain easily beats Gib for queueing (ie you wait much longer in Spain) – but again, if you hit it right even there, you can walk straight in and out. Moreso these days, when people are short of money.
A lot of Gibraltarians have places in Spain too, or their families do. So, on Friday, there is a mad rush for the frontier (not the best time to cross). Not only are cross-border workers going home, Gibbos are going to Spain for a weekend, maybe with more space inside and outside. It’s their chance to ‘escape’ if they choose. When Partner first got a job here, he never left Gib for six months. Lots of people don’t.
If you stay in Gib for the weekend, it is amazingly calm and so quiet. I love the weekends in Gib for that reason. Few vehicles, few people, few shops open. So peaceful.
About ten years ago we were camping in Chullera (near Puerta Duquesa). Great site on the beach with lovely views of Gib. Site has since closed but there is a new one opening up the road just in case anyone is interested. It was also pretty friendly with the exception of the snotty Brit caravanners behind us.
One day we were talking to a young woman next to us, who had lived in Gib for a few years. Yes, it was nice, but she found it too small, and she didn’t like the fact that everyone knew her business.
But don’t people know your own business in a small village? In your street? In your workplace? There is always gossip wherever you live. Sure some people in Gib know a bit about us – but not 30,000 people. Not even a hundred.
Truth is, if you want to find living in a small place with a lot of people oppressive, then you will. If you appreciate the open spaces, the tranquility at weekends, avoid the cruising holidaymakers, and look for the good things, like me you will only remember Gib is in the Top Five when someone asks you what it’s like to live in such a crowded place.