Spanish Enclaves in North Africa


Melilla, by Miguel González Novo

North Africa is a land full of interesting history. The most fascinating places in the region can be found on the coast of Morocco. Here lie the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla, as well as the many Plazas de Soberanía (places of sovereignty).


Ceuta, by Víctor Fernández Salinas

Spain came to own Melilla during the late 15th century and Ceuta in the late 16th century. Melilla was a city conquered by the then extant Kingdom of Castile after that very kingdom had ousted the moors in Granada. Ceuta, on the other hand, was acquired by Spain when King Philip II assumed the throne of Portugal during the Iberian Union (1580-1640). After Portugal became an independent nation again, Ceuta remained in the control of Spain.

Ever since then the two North African cities have belonged to a European nation. With the passing of time the Spanish border was extended further into Morocco, forming the colony known as Spanish Morocco (1912-1956). The independence of Morocco caused the territorial dispute that exists to this day. Though Ceuta and Melilla, along with the Plazas de Soberanía, are geographically a part of the African continent and are surrounded by the Kingdom of Morocco, Spain has ruled them for over 400 years. Both nations claim ownership of the areas in question but only one can rule them.

These two cities have their own subcultures that combine Southwestern European and Moorish cultures.  The same three major religions found in Jerusalem are also equally represented in Melilla, each one having its own main places of worship. Both cities also share an importance in immigration which provides the city with trade and more cultural influence. In recent years, however, this has become a bit of a problem due to the increasing number of people attempting to enter Spain.

Perhaps the best online sources for learning about the cultures and customs of Ceuta and Melilla are Conoce Ceuta and Melilla Instituto de Culturas. Here, you can find not only the history behind these Autonomous Regions but also news and events that concern them.

John Michael Martínez Dillon – Washington, D.C.


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