Melilla (US: // mə-LEE-yə, UK: /-/ meh-, Spanish: [meˈliʎa]; Tarifit: Mlilt) is a Spanish autonomous city located on the northwest coast of Africa, sharing a border with Morocco. It has an area of 12.3 km2 (4.7 sq mi). Melilla is one of two permanently inhabited Spanish cities in mainland Africa, the other being nearby Ceuta. It was part of the Province of Málaga until 14 March 1995, when the city's Statute of Autonomy was passed.
Port of Melilla
Location of Melilla
|Coordinates: 35°18′N 2°57′W|
|• Mayor-President||Eduardo de Castro (Cs)|
|• Total||12.3 km2 (4.7 sq mi)|
|• Density||7,000/km2 (18,000/sq mi)|
|• % of Spain||0.16%|
|Time zone||UTC+1 (CET)|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC+2 (CEST)|
|ISO 3166 code|
|Statute of Autonomy||14 March 1995|
|Congress||1 deputy (of 350)|
|Senate||2 senators (of 264)|
Melilla, like Ceuta, was a free port before Spain joined the European Union in 1986. As of 2011, Melilla had a population of 78,476, made up of ethnic Iberian Catholics (primarily from Andalusia and Catalonia), ethnic Riffian Berbers, and a small number of Sephardic Jews and Sindhi Hindus. Spanish and Riffian-Berber are the two most widely spoken languages, the former being the official language.
The current Berber name of Melilla is Mřič or Mlilt, which means the "white one". Melilla was an ancient Berber village. It was a Phoenician and later Punic trade establishment under the name of Rusadir (Rusaddir for the Romans and Russadeiron (Ancient Greek: Ῥυσσάδειρον) for the Greeks). Later Rome absorbed it as part of the Roman province of Mauretania Tingitana. Rusaddir is mentioned by Ptolemy (IV, 1) and Pliny (V, 18) who called it "oppidum et portus" (a fortified town and port). It was also cited by Mela (I, 33) as Rusicada, and by the Itinerarium Antonini. Rusaddir was said to have once been the seat of a bishop, but there is no record of any bishop of the purported see, which is not included in the Catholic Church's list of titular sees. As centuries passed, it was ruled by Vandal, Byzantine and Hispano-Visigothic bands. The political history is similar to that of towns in the region of the Moroccan Rif and southern Spain. Local rule passed through a succession of Amazigh, Phoenician, Punic, Roman, Umayyad, Idrisid, Almoravid, Almohad, Marinid, and then Wattasid rulers. During the Middle Ages, it was known as 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, asked 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 in 1497 virtually without any violence, a few years after Castile had taken control of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada in 1492, which was the last remnant of Al-Andalus, the Muslim state in Iberia. Some Spaniards envisioned continuing the southward conquest of Muslim lands, deeper into Morocco, but such action was not seriously attempted. Spain's imperial energy was directed elsewhere, to the newly discovered continent across the Atlantic. The Muslims tried to take back control of Melilla in later centuries: they besieged it 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 Melilla fortress were fixed by treaties with Morocco in 1859, 1860, 1861, and 1894. In the late 19th century, as Spanish influence expanded in this area, the Crown authorized Melilla as the only centre of trade on the Rif coast between Tetuan and the Algerian frontier. The value of trade increased, with goat skins, eggs and beeswax being the principal exports, and cotton goods, tea, sugar and candles being the chief imports.
In 1893, the Rif Berbers launched the First Melillan campaign to take back this area; Spain sent 25,000 Spanish soldiers to defendagainst them. The conflict was also known as the Margallo War, after Spanish General Juan García y Margallo, who was killed in the battle, and was the Governor of Melilla.
In 1908 two companies under the protection of Bou Hmara, a chieftain then ruling the Rif region, started mining lead and iron some 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) from Melilla. They started to construct a railway between the port and the mines. 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 were killed. Severe fighting between the Spaniards and the tribesmen followed, in the Second Melillan campaign.
In 1910, with the Rif having submitted, the Spaniards restarted the mines and undertook harbor 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.
The city was used as one of his staging grounds for the July 1936 military coup d'état that started the Spanish Civil War. A statue of Francisco Franco, the putschist general assuming the control of the Army of Africa in 1936, is still prominently featured, the last statue of Franco in Spain.
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. 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 onward. This is the first time a non-Christian religious festival has been officially celebrated in Spain since the Reconquista.
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 meter (3 ft 3 in) above sea level. The urban nucleus was originally a fortress, Melilla la Vieja, built on a peninsular mound about 30 meters (98 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
Melilla has held local elections for its 25-seat legislature every 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 2019, the People's Party (PP) won the most seats (10 seats), but could not maintain the role of Mayor-President for Juan José Imbroda, who had held office since 2000. The regionalist and leftist party Coalition for Melilla (CPM, 8 seats), the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE, 4 seats) and Citizens–Party of the Citizenry (Cs, 1 seat) voted in favour of the candidate of Cs, Eduardo de Castro.
Melilla is subdivided into eight districts (distritos), which are further subdivided into neighbourhoods (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 the cities of Ceuta and Melilla, Perejil Island, and some other small territories. The Spanish position is that both Ceuta and Melilla are integral parts of the Spanish state (and, therefore, are not considered colonies), and have been since the 15th century; both cities also have the same semi-autonomous status as the mainland region in Spain. Melilla has been under Spanish rule for longer than cities in northern Spain such as Pamplona or Tudela, and was conquered roughly in the same period as the last Muslim cities of Southern Spain such as Granada, Málaga, Ronda or Almería: Spain claims that the enclaves were established before the creation of the Kingdom of Morocco. 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 and the dispute remains bilaterally debated between Spain and Morocco.
Melilla has a warm Mediterranean climate influenced by its proximity to the sea, rendering much cooler summers and more precipitation than inland areas deeper into Africa. The climate, in general, has a lot in common with the type found in southern coastal Spain on the European mainland, with relatively small temperature differences between seasons.
|Climate data for Melilla 47 m (1981–2010)|
|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
|Average precipitation mm (inches)||58
|Average precipitation days (≥ 1.0 mm)||6||6||5||5||3||1||0||1||2||4||6||6||44|
|Average relative humidity (%)||72||74||73||69||67||67||66||69||72||75||74||73||71|
|Mean monthly sunshine hours||184||170||192||220||258||279||289||268||210||194||176||168||2,607|
|Source: Agencia Estatal de Meteorología|
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 fruit 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 Almería and Málaga. Melilla Airport offers daily flights to Almería, Málaga and Madrid. Spanish operators Air Europa and Iberia operate in Melilla's airport.
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.
City culture and society
Melilla's Capilla de Santiago, or James's Chapel, by the city walls, is the only authentic Gothic structure 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.
Melilla has been praised as an example of multiculturalism, being a small city in which one can find four 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 native Muslim inhabitants has steadily increased to its present 45% of the population. The Jewish and Hindu communities have also been shrinking due to economic emigration to mainland Spain (notably Malaga and Madrid).
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 for Israel and Venezuela. There is a small, autonomous, and commercially important Hindu community present in Melilla, which numbers about 100 members today.
Melilla has been a popular destination for refugees and people leaving countries with poor economies in order to enter 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. Detection wires, 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, was already overcrowded with 1,300 people.
In recent years, the Spanish government has urged Moroccan security forces to stem the flow of migrants traveling towards Melilla. In 2015, Moroccan police dispersed migrant camps in the forests surrounding Melilla by torching makeshift homes and arresting migrants. Since the 2014 incident, Spain has installed additional security measures, including increased fencing, camera surveillance systems, and a more salient troop presence. Attempted border crossings by migrants has decreased at both Melilla and Ceuta since its peak in 2015-2016; arrivals are down twenty-five percent since 2018. However, attempts by migrants to swarm the security fences at Melilla have been widely broadcast by Spanish media sources, creating a sense of urgency in mainland Spain. This fear over African migrants is seen by many as the main factor leading to the rise of Vox, Spain's populist party. Vox officials have frequently pointed to the immigration situation at Melilla and Ceuta proof of a crisis at Spain's border.
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. The city is linked to Málaga, Almería and Motril by ferry.
Three roads connect Melilla and Morocco but require clearance through border checkpoints.
Melilla is a surfing destination. The city's football club, UD Melilla, plays 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. 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:
- Joaquín García-Morato y Castaño, 1st Count of Jarama (1904 in Melilla – 1939 in Griñón) was the leading Nationalist fighter ace of the Spanish Civil War.
- Luis Prendes (1913 in Melilla – 1998 in Madrid) was a Spanish film actor. He appeared in 75 films between 1936 and 1998.
- Anselmo Pardo Alcaide (1913 in Melilla – 1977) was a Spanish entomologist, a world authority on Melyridae Meloidae- Malachiinae.
- Mustafa Arruf (born 1958 in Melilla) is a Spanish sculptor.
- Mercedes Vecino (1916 in Melilla– 2004 in Alicante) was a Spanish film actress.
- Emilio el Moro (1924 in Melilla – 1987) was a Spanish guitarist, singer and comedian.
- Lucinda Urrusti (born 1929 in Melilla) is a Mexican artist, born to a Spanish family which came to Mexico in 1939 to escape the Spanish Civil War and has remained in Mexico since
- Fernando Arrabal Terán (born 1932 in Melilla) is a Spanish playwright, film director, novelist and poet, settled in France in 1955
- Juan José Imbroda Ortiz (born 1944 in Melilla) is a politician who was the mayor-president of the Spanish enclave of Melilla from 2000 to 2019.
- Ignacio Velázquez Rivera (born 1953 in Ceuta) is a Spanish politician who served as mayor of Melilla from 1991 and the first Mayor-President in 1995
- Paloma McLardy (born 1955 in Melilla), known as Palmolive, is a Spanish-born songwriter and drummer for influential punk groups
- Mustafa Aberchán (born 1959 in Melilla) is a Spanish politician from Melilla, leader of Coalition for Melilla and was the Mayor-President of the city 1999/2000.
- Arly Jover (born 1971 in Melilla) is a Spanish actress, now lives in Paris
- Farid Bang (born 1986 in Melilla) is a German rapper of Moroccan descent.
- Ramón Martínez Pérez (1929 in Melilla – 2017) also known as Ramoní, was a Spanish footballer.
- Enrique González (born 1933 in Melilla) is a Spanish fencer, he competed in the individual foil event at the 1960 Summer Olympics
- Al-Lal Mohamed Amar (born 1957 in Melilla) known as Álex, is a Spanish retired footballer who played as a defender.
- Chota (born 1975 in Melilla) is a Spanish retired footballer who played as a striker, mostly for UD Melilla
- Mohamed Hamed Al-lal (born 1979 in Melilla) known as Aloisio, is a Spanish retired footballer who played as a central defender.
- Munir Mohand Mohamedi (born 1989 in Melilla) is a Moroccan professional footballer who plays for CD Numancia as a goalkeeper.
- Ezequiel Calvente Criado (born 1991 in Melilla) is a Spanish footballer who plays for Hungarian club Békéscsaba 1912 Előre
- David Sánchez (born 1994 in Melilla) is a Spanish weightlifter, competed in the 2016 Summer Olympics
- Yusef Abdeselam Kaddur (born 1985 in Melilla). Grappling world champion
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