Melilla (US: /məˈljə/ mə-LEE-yə, UK: /mɛˈ-/ meh-,[2][3] Spanish: [meˈliʎa]; Tarifit: Mlilt[4]) 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.


Mlilt  (Tarifit)
Port of Melilla
«Praeferre Patriam Liberis Parentem Decet» (Latin)
("It is seemly for a parent to put his fatherland before his children")
«Non Plus Ultra» (Latin)
("Nothing more beyond")
Location of Melilla
Coordinates: 35°18′N 2°57′W
Country Spain
Autonomous cityMelilla
  Mayor-PresidentEduardo de Castro (Cs)
  Total12.3 km2 (4.7 sq mi)
Area rank19th
  Density7,000/km2 (18,000/sq mi)
  % of Spain
melillense (es)
Time zoneUTC+1 (CET)
  Summer (DST)UTC+2 (CEST)
ISO 3166 code
Official languagesSpanish
Statute of Autonomy14 March 1995
ParliamentCortes Generales
Congress1 deputy (of 350)
Senate2 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.

Melilla, like Ceuta, is officially claimed by Morocco.[5][6]


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.[7] Rusaddir was said to have once been the seat of a bishop, but there is no record of any bishop of the purported see,[7] which is not included in the Catholic Church's list of titular sees.[8] 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,[9] 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."[10]

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.[11] 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.[12][13]


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[14]

Political status

Local administration

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.[15][16]


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.[17][18]


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)
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
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[19]


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.[20] 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.[20]

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.[21]

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.[22]

The amateur radio call sign used for both cities is EA9.[23]


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.[24] 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.[25]

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.[26] 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.[27]


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.[28] 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.[29] 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.[30] 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:

Notable people


See also


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Melilla". Encyclopædia Britannica. 18 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 94.
  1. "Municipal Register of Spain 2018". National Statistics Institute. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  2. "Melilla" (US) and "Melilla". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 19 May 2019.
  3. "Melilla". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 19 May 2019.
  4. Yahia, Jahfar Hassan (2014). Curso de lengua tamazight, nivel elemental. Caminando en la didáctica de la lengua rifeña (in Spanish and Riffian). Melilla: GEEPP Ed.
  5. "Morocco Restates Claim to Ceuta and Melilla". Expatica. 1 February 2006. Retrieved 18 May 2018.
  6. "Gibraltar in Reverse". The Economist. 21 February 2002. Retrieved 18 May 2018.
  7. Sophrone Pétridès, "Rusaddir" in Catholic Encyclopedia (New York 1912)
  8. Annuario Pontificio 2013 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2013, ISBN 978-88-209-9070-1), p. 960
  9. Ayuntamientos de España,, retrieved 7 March 2012
  10. Rezette, p. 41
  11. Mohamed VI "condena" y "denuncia" la visita "lamentable" de los Reyes de España a Ceuta y Melilla,, 6 November 2007, retrieved 7 March 2012
  12. Muslim Holiday in Ceuta and Melilla,, archived from the original on 29 September 2011, retrieved 7 March 2012
  13. Public Holidays and Bank Holidays for Spain,, retrieved 7 March 2012
  14. World Port Source about Port Nador, retrieved 10 June 2012
  15. "Resultados Electorales en Melilla: Elecciones Municipales 2019 en EL PAÍS". El País. Retrieved 15 June 2019.
  16. Alba, Nicolás (15 June 2019). "El único diputado de Ciudadanos consigue la presidencia de Melilla tras 19 años de Gobierno del PP". El Mundo. Retrieved 15 June 2019.
    • 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.
  17. Govan, Fiona (10 August 2013). "The battle over Ceuta, Spain's African Gibraltar". Telegraph. Ceuta. Retrieved 12 July 2018.
  18. "Valores climatológicos normales (1981–2010). Melilla". Agencia Estatal de Meteorología. Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  19. English translation of Volkskrant article: Melilla North-Africa's European dream, 5 August 2010, visited 3 June 2012
  20. "Melilla Modernista". Melilla Turismo. Retrieved 25 March 2013. Nieto was in charge of designing the main Synagogue, the Central Mosque and various Catholic churches
  21. "Melilla: Where Catalan "Modernisme" Meets North Africa". Huffington Post. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
  22. Amateur Radio Prefixes,, retrieved 7 March 2012
  23. "BBC News - Hundreds breach Spain enclave border". Retrieved 28 May 2014.
  24. "African migrants storm into Spanish enclave of Melilla". BBC. 28 February 2014. Retrieved 3 March 2014.
  25. "Morocco destroys migrant camps near border with Spanish enclave". The Guardian. 11 February 2015. Retrieved 21 November 2019.
  26. "Border games: Has Spain found an answer to the populist challenge on migration?". European Council on Foreign Relations. 3 September 2019. Retrieved 21 November 2019.
  27. "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. Archived from the original on 16 December 2013. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
  28. "Melilla - Weather Stations". Retrieved 28 May 2014.
  29. Hawkey, Ian (2009). Feet of the chameleon : the story of African football. London: Portico. ISBN 978-1-906032-71-5.
  30. Beevor, Antony (1983). The Spanish Civil War. New York: Cassell. p. 461. ISBN 0-911745-11-4.
  31. Logoluso, Alfredo (2010). Fiat CR.32 Aces of the Spanish Civil War. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. p. 96. ISBN 978-1-84603-983-6.
  32. Shores, Christopher (1983). Air Aces. Greenwich, CT: Presidio Press. p. 192. ISBN 0-86124-104-5.
  33. López-Colón, José Ignacio; Baena, Manuel (2005). Anselmo Pardo Alcaide. Una vida dedicada a la entomología: (biografía y obra científica). Ciudad Autónoma de Melilla: Consejería de Cultura. p. 196.
  34. Goble, Alan (1 January 1999). The Complete Index to Literary Sources in Film. Walter de Gruyter. p. 34. ISBN 9783110951943.
  35. Ramos, Toñy; Cué E., Carlos (6 July 1999). "Coalición por Melilla, un partido de mayoría musulmana y moderado en sus reivindicaciones". El País (in Spanish). Melilla: Edicíones El País. Retrieved 11 August 2010.
  36. Ramos, Toñy (4 July 1999). "Un musulmán gobernará la ciudad autónoma de Melilla con apoyo socialista y del GIL". El País (in Spanish). Melilla: Edicíones El País. Retrieved 11 August 2010.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.