Ceuta and Melilla

Ceuta and Melilla are Spain's two remaining outposts in Africa. Melilla was conquered by the Spanish in 1496, Ceuta by the Portuguese in 1415, one of the few parts of the Portuguese Empire that was to stay with Spain after the dynastic union of both countries (1580-1640) was dissolved.
When Morocco was partitioned among France and Spain in 1906/1911, the RIF region along Morocco's northern coast became part of Spain's sphere of interest. When Morocco regained independence in 1957, Spain ceded the Rif, but held on to Ceuta and Melilla. Both cities are claimed by Morocco.

Spain still holds on to Ceuta (19 square km, 68.796 inhabitants) and Melilla (13 square km, 59.576 inhabitants), cities which have both strong Catholic and Muslim communities (the latter predominantly immigrants). It is their Christian communities which distinguish them from the surrounding countryside. Both cities are separated by a small, fortified neutral zone from the Kingdom of Morocco. Yet they form transit stops for economic refugees from Africa who illegely try to immigrate into Spain, in tiny boats. Although the Straits of Gibraltar is very narrow, in 1999 400 to 500 of the refugees were reported to have drowned on their attempt to cross.

DOCUMENTS Ceuta Tragedy, photos by Piet van den Blanken

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 9th 2004

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