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Autonomous city
Autonomous city of Melilla
Ciudad autónoma de Melilla (Spanish)
Port of Melilla
Port of Melilla
Flag of Melilla
Coat-of-arms of Melilla
Coat of arms
«Praeferre Patriam Liberis Parentem Decet» (Latin)
("It is seemly for a parent to put his fatherland before his children")
«Non Plus Ultra» (Latin)
("No more beyond")
Location of Melilla relative to the rest of Spain (white).
Location of Melilla relative to the rest of Spain (white).
Country Spain
Capital Melilla
 • Mayor-President Juan José Imbroda (PP)
 • Total 12.3 km2 (4.7 sq mi)
Area rank 19th
Population (2011)
 • Total 78,476[1]
 • Rank 19th
 • % of Spain 0.16%
Demonym Melillan
melillense (es)
ISO 3166-2 ES-ML
Official languages Spanish
Statute of Autonomy 14 March 1995
Parliament Cortes Generales
Congress 1 deputy (of 350)
Senate 2 senators (of 264)

Melilla (Spanish pronunciation: ; Berber: Mřič (Mritch); Arabic: مليلية‎, Maliliyyah) is a Spanish 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 ethnic Spanish Jews. Both Spanish and Riffian-Berber are the two most widely spoken languages, with Spanish as the only official language.

Melilla is claimed by Morocco and is considered by the Moroccan state to be "occupied territory".


  • Geography 1
  • History 2
  • Political status 3
    • Local administration 3.1
    • Subdivisions 3.2
    • Dispute with Morocco 3.3
  • Climate 4
  • Economy 5
  • City culture and society 6
  • Immigration 7
  • Transportation 8
  • Sport 9
  • Twin towns and sister cities 10
  • See also 11
  • References 12
  • External links 13


Map of Melilla

Melilla is located in the northwest of the African continent, next to the Alboran Sea and across the sea from the Spanish provinces of Granada and Almería. The city layout is arranged in a wide semicircle around the beach and the Port of Melilla, on the eastern side of the peninsula of Cape Tres Forcas, at the foot of Mount Gurugú and the mouth of the Río de Oro, 1-metre (3.28 ft) above sea level. The urban nucleus was originally a fortress, Melilla la Vieja, built on a peninsular mound about 30 m (98.42 ft) in height.

The Moroccan settlement of Beni Ansar lies immediately south of Melilla. The nearest Moroccan city is Nador, and the ports of Melilla and Nador are both within the same bay; nearby is the Bou Areg Lagoon[2]


Melilla was a Phoenician and later Punic establishment under the name of Rusadir (Rusaddir for the Romans and Ryssadeiron (Ancient Greek: Ῥυσσάδειρον) for the Greeks). Later it became a part of the Roman province of Mauretania Tingitana. Rusaddir is mentioned by Ptolemy (IV, 1) and Pliny (V, 18) who call it "oppidum et portus", also by Mela (I, 33), under the corrupted form Rusicada and by the Itinerarium Antonini.[3] In the early 20th century Rusaddir was supposed to have once been the seat of a bishop, but there is no record of any bishop of the supposed see,[3] which is not included in the Catholic Church's list of titular sees.[4] 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,[5] 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."[6]

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 authorised centre 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.

Illustration of the death of Spanish General Juan García y Margallo during the First Melillan campaign in 1893.

In 1893, the Rif Berbers launched the First Melillan campaign and 25,000 men had to be dispatched against them. The conflict was also known as the Margallo War, after the Governor of Melilla and Spanish General Juan García y Margallo, who was killed in the battle.

In 1908 two companies, under the protection of Bou Hmara, a chieftain then ruling the Rif region, started mining lead and iron some 20 kilometres (12.4 miles) from Melilla. A railway to the mines was begun. In October of that year the Bou Hmara's vassals revolted against him and raided the mines, which remained closed until June 1909. By July the workmen were again attacked and several of them killed. Severe fighting between the Spaniards and the tribesmen followed, in the Second Melillan campaign.

In 1910, the Rif having submitted, the Spaniards restarted the mines and undertook harbour works at Mar Chica, but hostilities broke out again in 1911. In 1921 the Berbers under the leadership of Abd el Krim inflicted a grave defeat on the Spanish (see Battle of Annual), and were not defeated until 1926, when the Spanish Protectorate finally managed to control the area again.

General Francisco Franco used the city as one of his staging grounds for his Nationalist rebellion in 1936, starting the Spanish Civil War. A statue of him – the last statue of Franco in Spain – is still prominently featured.

On 6 November 2007, King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia visited the city, which caused a massive demonstration of support. The visit also sparked protests from the Moroccan government.[7] It was the first time a Spanish monarch had visited Melilla in 80 years.

Melilla (and Ceuta) have declared the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha or Feast of the Sacrifice, as an official public holiday from 2010 onwards. It is the first time a non-Christian religious festival is officially celebrated in Spain since the Reconquista.[8][9]

Political status

Juan José Imbroda, current Mayor-President of Melilla.

Local administration

Melilla has held local elections for its 25-seat legislature each four years since 1979. Since its Statute of Autonomy in 1995, the legislature has been called the Assembly and its leader the Mayor-President. In the most recent election in 2011, the People's Party (PP) won 15 seats, maintaining the role of Mayor-President for Juan José Imbroda, who has held the office since 2000. A regional splinter of the PP, the PPL, won 2 seats and governs in coalition. Opposition consists of the regionalist and leftist Coalition for Melilla (CPM, 6 seats) and the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE, 2 seats).[10]


Melilla is subdivided into eight districts (distritos), which are further subdivided into neighborhoods (barrios):

    • Barrio de Medina Sidonia.
    • Barrio del General Larrea.
    • Barrio de Ataque Seco.
    • Barrio Héroes de España.
    • Barrio del General Gómez Jordana.
    • Barrio Príncipe de Asturias.
    • Barrio del Carmen.
    • Barrio Polígono Residencial La Paz.
    • Barrio Hebreo-Tiro Nacional.
    • Barrio de Cristóbal Colón.
    • Barrio de Cabrerizas.
    • Barrio de Batería Jota.
    • Barrio de Hernán Cortes y Las Palmeras.
    • Barrio de Reina Regente.
    • Barrio de Concepción Arenal.
    • Barrio Isaac Peral (Tesorillo).
    • Barrio del General Real.
    • Polígono Industrial SEPES.
    • Polígono Industrial Las Margaritas.
    • Parque Empresarial La Frontera.
    • Barrio de la Libertad.
    • Barrio del Hipódromo.
    • Barrio de Alfonso XIII.
    • Barrio Industrial.
    • Barrio Virgen de la Victoria.
    • Barrio de la Constitución.
    • Barrio de los Pinares.
    • Barrio de la Cañada de Hidum

Dispute with Morocco

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, centuries before Morocco's independence from France in 1956. 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.[11]


Climate data for Melilla 47m (1981-2010)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 25.6
Average high °C (°F) 16.7
Daily mean °C (°F) 13.3
Average low °C (°F) 9.9
Record low °C (°F) 0.4
Precipitation mm (inches) 58
Avg. precipitation days 6 6 5 5 3 1 0 1 2 4 6 6 44
Source: Agencia Estatal de Meteorología[12]


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.[13] 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 travelling 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.[13]

City culture and society

Old Town.

Melilla's Capilla de Santiago or James's Chapel, by the city walls, is the only genuine Gothic architecture in Africa.

In the first quarter of the 20th century, Melilla became a thriving port benefitting from the recently established Protectorate of Spanish Morocco in the contiguous Rif. The new architectural style of Modernisme was expressed by a new bourgeois class. This style, frequently referred to as the Catalan version of Art Nouveau, was extremely popular in the early part of the 20th century in Spain.

The workshops inspired by the Catalan architect, Enrique Nieto, continued in the modernist style, even after Modernisme went out of fashion elsewhere. Accordingly, Melilla has the second most important concentration of Modernist works in Spain after Barcelona. Nieto was in charge of designing the main Synagogue, the Central Mosque and various Catholic Churches.[14]

Melilla has been praised as an example of multiculturalism, being a small city in which one can find up to three major religions represented. However, the Christian majority of the past, constituting around 65% of the population at one point, has been shrinking, while the number of Muslims has steadily increased to its present 45% of the population due to immigration from Muslim countries.

Public Library in Plaza España.

Jews, who had lived in Melilla for centuries, have been leaving the city in recent years (from 20% of the population before World War II to less than 5% today). Most of the Jewish population has left to Israel and Venezuela. There is a small, autonomous, and commercially important Hindu community present in Melilla, as well.

The amateur radio call sign used for both cities is EA9.[15]


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

There is considerable pressure by African refugees to enter Melilla, a part of the European Union. The border is secured by the Melilla border fence, a six-metre-tall double fence with watch towers, yet refugees frequently manage to cross it illegally, avoiding the attempts by Spanish police to take them back to their home countries.[16] Detection wires, tear gas dispensers, radar, and day/night vision cameras are planned to increase security and prevent illegal immigration. In February 2014, over 200 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa scaled a security fence to get into the Melilla migrant reception centre. The reception centre, built for 480 migrants, is already overcrowded as it houses 1,300 people.[17]


ATR 72-600 Air Nostrum
Buque Naviera Armas

Melilla Airport is serviced by Air Nostrum, flying to the Spanish cities of Málaga, Madrid, Barcelona, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Palma de Mallorca, Granada, Badajoz, Sevilla and Almería. In April 2013, a local enterprise set up Melilla Airlines, flying from the city to Málaga.[18] The city is linked to Málaga, Almería and Motril by ferry.

There are three roads that connect Melilla and Morocco, but require clearance through border checkpoints.


Kitesurfing at Melilla beach.

Melilla is a surfing destination.[19] The city's football club, UD Melilla, play in the third tier of Spanish football, the Segunda División B. The club was founded in 1943 and since 1945 have played at the 12,000-seater Estadio Municipal Álvarez Claro. Until the other club was dissolved in 2012, UD Melilla played the Ceuta-Melilla derby against AD Ceuta. The clubs travelled to each other via the Spanish mainland to avoid entering Morocco.[20] The second-highest ranked club in the city are Casino del Real CF of the fourth-tier Tercera División. Football in the exclave is administered by the Melilla Football Federation.

Twin towns and sister cities

Melilla is twinned with:

See also


  1. ^ Decision Spain
  2. ^ World Port Source about Port Nador, retrieved 10 June 2012
  3. ^ a b (New York 1912)Catholic EncyclopediaSophrone Pétridès, "Rusaddir" in
  4. ^ Annuario Pontificio 2013 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2013, ISBN 978-88-209-9070-1), p. 960
  5. ^ Ayuntamientos de España,, retrieved 7 March 2012 
  6. ^ Rezette, p. 41
  7. ^ Mohamed VI "condena" y "denuncia" la visita "lamentable" de los Reyes de España a Ceuta y Melilla,, 6 November 2007, retrieved 7 March 2012 
  8. ^ Muslim Holiday in Ceuta and Melilla,, retrieved 7 March 2012 
  9. ^ Public Holidays and Bank Holidays for Spain,, retrieved 7 March 2012 
  10. ^ "Resultados Electorales en Melilla: Elecciones Municipales 2011 en EL PAÍS". Retrieved 28 May 2014. 
  11. ^ * François Papet-Périn, "La mer d'Alboran ou Le contentieux territorial hispano-marocain sur les deux bornes européennes de Ceuta et Melilla". Tome 1, 794 p., tome 2, 308 p., thèse de doctorat d'histoire contemporaine soutenue en 2012 à Paris 1-Sorbonne sous la direction de Pierre Vermeren. But in general, Spain has the support of the majority countries in the world, because Melilla has been Spanish since 1497 and Morocco has existed only since the 20th century.
  12. ^ "Guía resumida del clima en España (1981-2010)". 
  13. ^ a b English translation of Volkskrant article: Melilla North-Africa's European dream, 5 August 2010, visited 3 June 2012
  14. ^ [Nieto was in charge of designing the main Synagogue, the Central Mosque and various Catholic churches. "Melilla Modernista"]. Melilla Turismo. Retrieved 25 March 2013. 
  15. ^ Amateur Radio Prefixes,, retrieved 7 March 2012 
  16. ^ "BBC News - Hundreds breach Spain enclave border". Retrieved 28 May 2014. 
  17. ^ "African migrants storm into Spanish enclave of Melilla". BBC. 28 February 2014. Retrieved 3 March 2014. 
  18. ^ "Una nueva compañía aérea comunica Melilla con Málaga tras la marcha de Helitt – Transporte aéreo – Noticias, última hora, vídeos y fotos de Transporte aéreo en". 28 April 2013. Retrieved 28 May 2014. 
  19. ^ "Melilla - Weather Stations". Retrieved 28 May 2014. 
  20. ^ Hawkey, Ian (2009). Feet of the chameleon : the story of African football. London: Portico.  

  • (Spanish) Official website
  • Official Tourism
  • (Spanish) Melilla en Internet Journal
  • (Spanish) Monuments of Melilla Official
  • Spain's North African enclaves
  • A Childhood Lost in the Cracks of Europe's Border
  • Melilla photo gallery
  • (Spanish) of MelillaEaster
  • Melilla: Where Catalan "Modernisme" Meets North Africa

External links


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