Ceuta and Melila

Two Spanish enclaves within Moroccan territory of respectively 20 km² (Ceuta) and 12 km² (Melilla).


Ceuta is an ancient port situated on a promontory near the Strait of Gilbraltar, conquered by Portugal in 1415 and passed under Spanish rule at the time of Phillippe II when the crowns of Spain and Portugal were united. It remained Spanish afterward and was retained by Spain as a fortified enclave when Morocco regained its independence from France in 1956, and is administered as a part of Cadiz Province. It developed as a military and administrative centre for the former Spanish Protectorate in Morocco and now functions as a bunkering and fishing port. In 1991 its population was 73,208, of which around 6,500 are military. More than half of the population are Christian while more than 30 % of the others are Muslim; there is also a Jew community and even a small group of Hindouists.


Melilla is a harbour city north of the Moroccan town of Nador on a small peninsula jutting out into the Mediterranean Sea. Conquered by the Spaniards in 1487, it was retained like Ceuta in 1956 when Morocco became independent and is administered as a part of Malaga Province. In 1991 the population of Melilla was 63,670, mostly Christian but with a strong Muslim minority.
Three rocky islands off the Moroccan coast – the Chefarinas islands, totalling 61 ha – are also administered with Melilla. A garrison of Spanish soldiers is maintained on each of these small otherwise uninhabited islands.

Special features:

  • Ceuta and Melilla, both free ports, are of little economic importance, while the three islands (with a population of about 300, mostly military personnel and fishermen) are of negligible significance. The basic reason for Spanish retention of these areas was their predominantly Spanish population. The registered Spanish population of both Ceuta and Melilla has fallen since the 1960s, owing to the lack of economic opportunities in the towns, although the proportion of Moroccan residents has greatly increased, particularly in Melilla.
  • Tourism makes a significant contribution to the territories’ economies; almost 1 million tourists visit Ceuta every year attracted by duty-free goods.
  • Upon the accession of Spain to the European Community in 1986, Ceuta and Melilla were considered as Spanish territory and joined the Community as part of Spain while retaining their status as free ports.
  • The late King Hassan II regularly voiced the claim of Morocco to these territories (like Spain does regarding Gibraltar).