Why is the Strait of Gibraltar also called Pillars of Hercules?

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Answered by: Ambreen, An Expert in the Myths and Legends Category
Greek mythology is full of tales about gods and goddesses, heroes and villains. Among them lived one of the greatest, strongest, most popular hero who has ever lived. His name in Greek mythology was Heracles, but he is better known as Hercules. Hercules was half god, half human; a demigod, born to the king of gods Zeus and a mortal woman named Alcmene. He was a hero who had super human strength but who had to suffer on a scale no human had ever known before. Tormented by a horrible guilt, he was driven to take on twelve impossible challenges in a quest for redemption, later known as "The Twelve Labors of Hercules".

The Strait of Gibraltar is a narrow opening between the continent of Africa and Europe. It is located between Spain and Morocco and connects the Atlantic to the Mediterranean Sea. The mountains on either side of the strait are called the Pillars of Hercules because according to the legend of Hercules, it was created by Hercules in order to complete his tenth labor. The first nine labors of Hercules were based inside the Mediterranean rim, however, the tenth labor took him beyond the outer limits of the known world to a territory no Greek had ever seen.

For his tenth labor, Hercules went all the way to the Spanish Peninsula, where he had to bring back the cattle of King Geryon, a three-headed monster. Destroying the Geryon to capture his cattle was half the challenge. The other half was getting there. To reach King Geryon's cattle, Hercules had to venture beyond the Mediterranean Sea into the Atlantic Ocean, but one massive obstacle stood in his way: the mountain range that joined the continent of Africa and Europe and which sealed off the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean.

Hercules decided not to go around the mountain; he instead, went through it. He split the mountain into two with one blow from his sword, passed through the narrow strait, found Geryon's cattle and brought it back. This part of myth was created to explain how the Atlantic and the Mediterranean were joined. The cliffs on each side are forever linked to Hercules and were known by the Ancient Greeks as the Pillars of Hercules. The Northern pillar falls in the continent of Europe and is known as the Rock of GibraltarNo one knew, then, what was beyond them. To the Ancient Greeks, it was not only the gateway to the unknown; it was a portal between reality and myth. Having gone and come back only increased the reputation of Hercules.

Many historians argue that Hercules did not create the strait but narrowed the original strait to prevent the sea monsters from coming inside the Mediterranean rim. Whatever the theory might be, The straits of Gibraltar is forever linked to Hercules and his incredible feats of courage and strength. It is also interesting to note that the vertical lines on he Dollar sign, which has its origins from the Spanish Dollar, represent the Pillar of Hercules.

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