Melilla is an autonomous city of Spain located on the Mediterranean, on the North African coast. It was regarded as a part of Málaga province prior to March 14, 1995, when the city's Statute of Autonomy was passed.
Melilla was a free port before Spain joined the European Union. As of 1994 it had a population of 63,670. Its population consists of Christians, Muslims (chiefly Berber), Jews and a small minority of Hindus. Both Spanish and Tamazight are spoken. Spanish is the official language.
Morocco claims Melilla, along with Ceuta and various small Spanish islands off the coast of Africa (Plazas de soberanía) that are sovereign posts. Morocco bases its claim on the fact that the area was part of the Idrisid and other succeeding Muslim dynasties from 791 until 1497, when the city was taken by Castile. The government of Morocco has also drawn comparisons with Spain's territorial claim to Gibraltar, which is a British Overseas Territory situated on the mainland of Spain. In both cases, the national governments and local populations of the contended territories reject these claims by a wide margin. Spanish sources claim that unlike the Protectorate territories included in former Spanish Morocco Melilla has been a constituent part of Spain since the very dawn of Spain as an independent country, the city being a part of Castile for longer than even other current Spanish regions such as Navarre. These sources also dispute any ties between the former Muslim dynasties ruling the city and the present day Kingdom of Morocco, noting that if those latter dynasties were to be considered most of present day Spain would be a part of Morocco too.
The history of Melilla is similar to that of Moroccan towns in the region of the Rif and southern Spanish towns, passing through Amazigh, Phoenician, Punic, Roman, Ummayyad, Idrisid, Hammudid, Almoravid, Almohad, Merinid and then Wattasid rules before being annexed by Spain five years after the latter kingdom completed the Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula in 1492.
Melilla is regularly connected to the Peninsula by plane and vessels and also economically connected to Morocco: most of its fruits and vegetables are imported across the border. Also, Moroccans in the city's influence area are attracted to it: 36,000 Moroccans cross the border daily to work, shop, or trade goods .
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 authorized 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.
In 1893 the Rif berbers besieged Melilla, and 25,000 men had to be dispatched against them. In 1908 two companies, under the protection of El Roghi, a chieftain then ruling the Rif region, started mining lead and iron some 20 kilometers from Melilla. A railway to the mines was begun. In October of that year the Roghi'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 1910, the Rif having submitted, saw the Spaniards restarting the mines and undertaking harbour works at Mar Chica. But hostilities broke out again in 1911 and the Abd el Krim forces inflicted a grave defeat on the Spanish (see Battle of Annual), and were not pacified until 1927, 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 rebellion in 1936, and a statue of him is still prominently featured.
On November 6, 2007, King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia visited the city, which caused a previously unknown jubilee in the city, expressed by a massive support demonstration while, on the other side, it also sparked protests from the Moroccan government. It was the first time a Spanish monarch had visited Melilla in 80 years.
At the turn of the century, Melilla was a thriving part of Spanish Morocco. A new bourgeois class expressed its prestige in the architectural style of Modernisme, the Catalan version of Art Nouveau, which was then in vogue in Spain. The workshops inspired by the Catalan architect, Enrique Nieto, continued in the modernist style, even after it went out of fashion elsewhere. So Melilla has the second most important concentration of Modernist works in Spain, after Barcelona.
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, being around 65% not so long time ago, has been shrinking while the number of Muslims has been steadily increasing to its present 45% of the population in either sides, and Jews have been leaving for years (from 20% of the population before World War II to less than 5% today). The culture in this little city is divided in two halves, one is European and the other Amazigh, while the first one is represented all over the rest of the country, the second one, being represented only in this little piece of Spain, is considered by some, specially in the mainland, as foreign.