Built on a Phoenician colony, the city was held by Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, and Arabs (711). Taken by Portugal in 1415 (the first permanent European conquest in Africa), it then passed (1580) to Spain. It has remained Spanish despite several attacks, notably a prolonged siege (1694-1720) by the Sultan Moulay Ismail. In the 1990s Ceuta became a way station for many sub-Saharan Africans fleeing civil wars or other strife in their homelands and attempting to emigrate to Europe. In 2002, Morocco, which objects to Spain's possession of Ceuta, Melilla, and several smaller Moroccan outposts, briefly occupied nearby Perejil, or Leila, an uninhabited islet both nations claim. After Spanish forces bloodlessly ousted the Moroccans, both countries agreed to leave Perejil unoccupied.
Spanish enclave (pop., 2001: 137,916), North Africa. A military station and seaport, it constitutes with Melilla an autonomous community of Spain with an area of 8 sq mi (20 sq km). The city is on a narrow isthmus that connects Jebel Musa (one of the Pillars of Hercules) to the mainland. Located in northern Morocco at the eastern end of the Strait of Gibraltar, it was successively colonized by Carthaginians, Greeks, and Romans. Long a flourishing trading town, it was taken by the Portuguese in 1415, and it passed to Spain in 1580. In 1995 the Spanish government approved statutes of autonomy for Ceuta.
Learn more about Ceuta with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Ceuta is an autonomous city of Spain located on the Mediterranean, on the North African side of the Strait of Gibraltar, which separates it from the Spanish mainland. The area of Ceuta is approximately 28 km².
Ceuta is dominated by a hill called Monte Hacho, on which there is a fort occupied by the Spanish Army. Monte Hacho is one of the possible locations for the southern Pillars of Hercules of Greek Legend, the other possibility being Jebel Musa.
In 710, as Muslim armies approached the city, its Byzantine governor Julian (also described as "king of the Ghomara") changed sides and urged them to invade the Iberian Peninsula. Under the leadership of Berber general Tariq ibn Ziyad, Ceuta was used as a prime staging ground for an assault on Visigothic Hispania soon after.
After Julian's death the Arabs took direct control of the city; this was resented by the surrounding indigenous Berber tribes, who destroyed it in a Kharijite rebellion led by Maysara al-Haqir in 740. It lay in waste until refounded in the 9th century by Majakas, chief of the Majkasa Berber tribe, who started the short-lived dynasty of the Banu Isam. Under his great-grandson they briefly paid allegiance to the Idrisids; the dynasty finally ended when he abdicated in favour of the Umayyad Caliph of Cordoba Abd ar-Rahman III in 931, so the city returned to the Hispanic Andalusian rule like Melilla in 927 and Tanger in 951. Chaos ensued with the fall of the Umayyad caliphate in 1031, but eventually Ceuta, together with the rest of Muslim Spain were taken over by the Almoravids in 1084. The Almoravids were succeeded by the Almohads who conquered Ceuta in 1147 ruling it, apart from Ibn Hud's rebellion of 1232, until the Hafsids of Tunisia took it in 1242. The Hafsids' influence in the west rapidly waned, and the city expelled them in 1249; after this, it went through a period of political instability during which the city was disputed between the Kingdom of Fez and the Kingdom of Granada.
In 1415, Ceuta was occupied by the Portuguese during the reign of John I of Portugal.
After Portugal lost its independence to Spain in 1580, the majority of the population of Ceuta became of Spanish origin. This went to the extent of Ceuta being 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.
The formal allegiance of Ceuta to Spain was recognized by the Treaty of Lisbon by which, on January 1 1668, King Afonso VI of Portugal formally ceded Ceuta to Carlos II of Spain. However, the originally Portuguese flag and coat of arms of Ceuta remained unchanged and modern day Ceuta flag features the configuration of the Portuguese shield. The flag's background is also the same as that of the flag of Lisbon.
Culturally, modern Ceuta is considered part of the Spanish region of Andalusia. Indeed, it was until recently attached to the province of Cádiz - the Spanish coast being only 20 km away. It is a very cosmopolitan city, with a large ethnic Berber Muslim minority as well as a Sephardic Jewish minority.
On November 5, 2007, King Juan Carlos I visited the city, sparking great enthusiasm from the local population and protests from the Moroccan government . It was the first time a Spanish head of state had visited Ceuta in 80 years.
Ceuta is known officially in Spanish as Ciudad Autónoma de Ceuta (lit., Autonomous City of Ceuta), with a rank between a standard Spanish city and an autonomous community. Before the Statute of Autonomy, Ceuta was part of the Cádiz province .
Ceuta is part of the territory of the European Union. The city was a free port before Spain joined the European Union in 1986. Now it has a low-tax system within the European Monetary System. As of 2006, its population was 75,861.
Ceuta does not have an airport. There is, however, a regular helicopter service linking it to Málaga Airport. Access to and from Ceuta is by ferry or land.
Since 1995 Ceuta is, along with Melilla, one of the two autonomous cities in Spain.
The government of Morocco has repeatedly called for Spain to transfer the sovereignty of Ceuta and Melilla, along with uninhabited islets such as Isla Perejil, drawing comparisons with Spain's territorial claim to Gibraltar. In both cases, the national governments and local populations of the disputed territories reject these claims by a large majority. The Spanish position states that both Ceuta and Melilla are integral parts of the Spanish state since the 15th century, whereas Gibraltar, being a British Overseas Territory, is not nor ever has been part of the United Kingdom.
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 and smuggling centers. Today the economy of the city depends heavily on its port (now in expansion) and its industrial and retail centres.
Along with Melilla, Ceuta is the main link to and from the plazas de soberanía, especially the Islas Chafarinas. Over 2.5 million passengers used this port annually during the 1980s en route to Morocco or to mainland Spain. As of the mid-1990s, Spain adopted a policy of downplaying use of the port, to deemphasize the economic significance of the city. Ceuta is a major Mediterranean port. As recently as the 1960s it was the primary port for all of Spain.