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The Spanish Cities of North Africa

Thursday, October 27, 2016 20:27
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Unbeknownst to me there are two cities in North Africa that belong to Spain. I discovered this a few days ago. It is European colonization that dates back to the fifteen hundreds. Ceuta and Melilla.

Ceuta is an 18.5-square-kilometre (7.1 sq mi) Spanish autonomous city located on the north coast of Africa, sharing a western border with Morocco. Separated from the Iberian peninsula by the Strait of Gibraltar, Ceuta lies along the boundary between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Ceuta, along with the Spanish exclave Melilla, is one of two permanently inhabited Spanish territories in mainland Africa. It was part of Cádiz province until 14 March 1995 when the city’s Statute of Autonomy was passed.

Ceuta, like Melilla, was a free port before Spain joined the European Union. As of 2011, it has a population of 82,376. Its population consists of Christians, Muslims (chiefly Arabic and Berber speakers), and small minorities of Sephardic Jews and ethnic Sindhi Hindus. Spanish is the official language.

Ceuta

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Ceuta’s location has made it an important commercial trade and military way-point for many cultures, beginning with the Carthaginians in the 5th century BC, who called the city Abyla; initially, this was also its name in Greek and Latin.  Together with Gibraltar on the European side, it formed one of the famous “Pillars of Hercules”. Later, it was renamed for a formation of seven surrounding smaller mountains, collectively referred to as Septem Fratres (‘[The] Seven Brothers’) by Pomponius Mela, which lent their name to a Roman fortification known as Castellum ad Septem Fratres.

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It changed hands again approximately 400 years later, when Vandal tribes ousted the Romans. After being controlled by the Visigoths, it then became an outpost of the Byzantine Empire. Ceuta was an important Christian center since the fourth century (as recent discovered ruins of a Roman basilica show), and consequently is the only place in the Maghreb where the Roman heritage has survived continuously until modern times.

In the 7th century the Umayyads tried to conquer the region but were unsuccessful. Byzantine governor, Julian (described as King of the Ghomara) who was a vassal of the Visigothic kings of Iberia changed his allegiance after the king Roderic raped his daughter, and exhorted the Muslims to invade the Iberian Peninsula. Under the leadership of the Berber general Tariq ibn Ziyad, the Muslims used Ceuta as a staging ground for an assault on Visigothic Iberian Peninsula. After Julian’s death, the Berbers took direct control of the city, which the indigenous Berber tribes resented. They destroyed Ceuta during the Kharijite rebellion led by Maysara al-Matghari in 740.

In 1415, during the Battle of Ceuta, the city was captured by the Portuguese during the reign of John I of Portugal. The Benemerine sultan besieged the city in 1418 but was defeated. Phillip II (King of Spain 1556–1598) ascended the Portuguese throne in 1580 and Spanish kings of Portugal governed Ceuta for 60 years (Iberian Union). During this time, Ceuta attracted many residents of Spanish origin. Ceuta became the only city of the Portuguese Empire that sided with Spain when Portugal regained its independence in 1640, and war broke out between the two countries.

On 1 January 1668 by the Treaty of Lisbon, King Afonso VI of Portugal recognized the formal allegiance of Ceuta to Spain and formally ceded Ceuta to King Carlos II of Spain. However, the original Portuguese flag and coat of arms of Ceuta remained unchanged, and the modern-day Ceuta flag features the configuration of the Portuguese shield. The flag has the same background as that of the flag of the city of Lisbon. The city was besieged by Moroccan forces under Moulay Ismail from 1694 to 1727.

In July 1936, General Francisco Franco took command of the Spanish Army of Africa and rebelled against the Spanish republican government; his military uprising led to the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939. Franco transported troops to mainland Spain in an airlift using transport aircraft supplied by Germany and Italy. Ceuta became one of the first casualties of the uprising: General Franco’s rebel nationalist forces repressed the citizens of Ceuta, while at the same time the city came under fire from the air and sea forces of the official republican government.

When Spain recognized the independence of Spanish Morocco in 1956, Ceuta and the other plazas de soberanía remained under Spanish rule. Spain considered them integral parts of the Spanish state, but Morocco has disputed this point.

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The official currency of Ceuta is the euro. It is part of a special low tax zone in Spain. Ceuta is one of two Spanish port cities on the northern shore of Africa, along with Melilla. They are historically military strongholds, free ports, oil ports, and also fishing ports. Today the economy of the city depends heavily on its port (now in expansion) and its industrial and retail centres. Ceuta Heliport is now used to connect the city to mainland Spain by air.

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Melilla

Melilla is a Spanish autonomous city located on the north coast of Africa, sharing a border with Morocco with an area of 12.3 square kilometres (4.7 sq mi). Melilla, along with Ceuta, is one of two permanently inhabited Spanish cities in mainland Africa. It was part of Málaga province until 14 March 1995 when the city’s Statute of Autonomy was passed.

Melilla, like Ceuta, was a free port before Spain joined the European Union. As of 2011, it had a population of 78,476 made up of ethnic Spaniards, ethnic Riffian Berbers, and a small number of Sephardic Jews and Sindhi Hindus. Both Spanish and Riffian-Berber are the two most widely spoken languages, with Spanish as the only official language.

Melilla is officially claimed by Morocco, which considers it “occupied territory”.

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The current Berber name of Melilla is Mřič or Mlilt which means the “white one”. Melilla was an ancient Berber village and a Phoenician and later Punic trade establishment under the name of Rusadir.  Rusaddir was supposed to have once been the seat of a bishop, but there is no record of any bishop of the supposed see, which is not included in the Catholic Church’s list of titular sees. As centuries passed, it went through Vandal, Byzantine and Hispano-Visigothic hands. The political history is similar to that of towns in the region of the Moroccan Rif and southern Spain. Local rule passed through Amazigh, Phoenician, Punic, Roman, Umayyad, Idrisid, Almoravid, Almohad, Marinid, and then Wattasid rulers. During the Middle Ages it was the Berber city of Mlila. It was part of the Kingdom of Fez when the Catholic Monarchs, Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon requested Juan Alfonso Pérez de Guzmán, 3rd Duke of Medina Sidonia, to take the city.

In the Conquest of Melilla, the duke sent Pedro Estopiñán, who conquered the city virtually without a fight in 1497, a few years after Castile had taken control of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada, the last remnant of Al-Andalus, in 1492. Melilla was immediately threatened with reconquest and was besieged during 1694–1696 and 1774–1775. One Spanish officer reflected, “an hour in Melilla, from the point of view of merit, was worth more than thirty years of service to Spain.”

The current limits of the Spanish territory around the fortress were fixed by treaties with Morocco in 1859, 1860, 1861, and 1894. In the late 19th century, as Spanish influence expanded, Melilla became the only authorized center of trade on the Rif coast between Tetuan and the Algerian frontier. The value of trade increased, goat skins, eggs and beeswax being the principal exports, and cotton goods, tea, sugar, and candles being the chief imports.

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The government of Morocco has requested from Spain the sovereignty of Ceuta and Melilla, of Perejil Island, and of some other small territories. The Spanish position is that both Ceuta and Melilla are integral parts of the Spanish state, and have been since the 15th century. Morocco denies these claims and maintains that the Spanish presence on or near its coast is a remnant of the colonial past which should be ended. The United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories does not include these Spanish territories.

The principal industry is fishing. Cross-border commerce (legal or smuggled) and Spanish and European grants and wages are the other income sources.

Melilla is regularly connected to the Iberian peninsula by air and sea traffic and is also economically connected to Morocco: most of its fruits and vegetables are imported across the border. Moroccans in the city’s hinterland are attracted to it: 36,000 Moroccans cross the border daily to work, shop, or trade goods. The port of Melilla offers several daily connections to Almeria and Málaga. Melilla Airport offers daily flights to Almería, Málaga and Madrid. Spanish operator Air Europa uses nearby Nador International Airport for their connections to mainland Spain.

Many people traveling between Europe and Morocco use the ferry links to Melilla, both for passengers and for freight. Because of this, the port and related companies form an important economic driver for the city.

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The Melilla border fence aims to stop illegal immigration into Spain.

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Spanish territories of North Africa

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