Plazas de soberanía

The plazas de soberanía (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈplaθaz ðe soβeɾaˈni.a], literally "places of sovereignty") are the Spanish sovereign territories in North Africa. These are separate pieces of land scattered along the Mediterranean coast bordering Morocco. The name refers to the fact that these territories have been a part of Spain since the formation of the modern country (1492–1556), and are distinguished from African territories obtained by Spain during the 19th and 20th century.

Historically, a distinction was made between the so-called "major sovereign territories", comprising the cities of Ceuta and Melilla, and the "minor sovereign territories", referring to a number of smaller exclaves and islands along the coast. In the present, the term refers mainly to the latter.

Mapa del sur de España neutral
The plazas de soberanía, plus Ceuta, Melilla, and Alborán Island


Alhucemas penon 1925
Aerial view of the Peñón de Alhucemas c. 1925

During the Reconquista and mainly following the conquest of Granada in 1492, forces of the Castilian and Portuguese kingdoms conquered and maintained numerous posts in North Africa for trade and as a defence against Barbary piracy.

In 1415, the Portuguese conquered Ceuta. In 1481, the Papal bull Æterni regis had granted all land south of the Canary Islands to Portugal. Only this archipelago and the possessions of Santa Cruz de la Mar Pequeña (1476–1524), Melilla (conquered by Pedro de Estopiñán in 1497), Villa Cisneros (founded in 1502 in current Western Sahara), Mazalquivir (1505), Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera (1508), Oran (1509–1708; 1732-1792), Algiers (1510–1529), Bugia (1510–1554), Tripoli (1511–1551), and Tunis (1535–1569) remained as Spanish territory in Africa. Finally, following the independence of Portugal from Spain, Ceuta was ceded by Portugal to Spain in 1668.[1]

In 1848, Spanish troops conquered the Islas Chafarinas. In the late 19th century, after the so-called Scramble for Africa, European nations had taken over colonial control of most of the African continent. The Treaty of Fez (signed on 30 March 1912) made most of Morocco a protectorate of France, while Spain assumed the role of protecting power over the northern part, Spanish Morocco.[2]

When Spain relinquished its protectorate and recognized Morocco's independence in 1956, it did not give up these minor territories. Spain had held them well before the establishment of its protectorate.

On 11 July 2002, Morocco stationed six gendarmes on Perejil Island, which was at the time a source of complaint by Spain. The Spanish Armed Forces responded by launching a military operation code-named Operation Romeo-Sierra. The attack was carried out by Spanish commandos of Grupo de Operaciones Especiales. The Spanish Navy and Spanish Air Force provided support; the six Moroccan navy cadets did not offer any resistance and were captured and evicted from the island. It has since been evacuated by both countries.[3]

Physical geography

Velez de la Gomera
Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera, seen from the Moroccan coast

There are historically three plazas de soberanía:

Territory Coordinates Area (ha)
Islas Alhucemas 35°12′54″N 3°53′47″W / 35.21500°N 3.89639°W
 Peñón de Alhucemas 35°12′48″N 3°53′21″W / 35.21333°N 3.88917°W
 Isla de Tierra 35°12′55.83″N 3°54′8.10″W / 35.2155083°N 3.9022500°W
 Isla de Mar 35°13′3.65″N 3°54′2.69″W / 35.2176806°N 3.9007472°W
Islas Chafarinas 35°11′N 2°26′W / 35.183°N 2.433°W
 Isla del Congreso 35°10′43.90″N 2°26′28.31″W / 35.1788611°N 2.4411972°W
 Isla Isabel II 35°10′55.77″N 2°25′46.90″W / 35.1821583°N 2.4296944°W
 Isla del Rey 35°10′51.72″N 2°25′24.96″W / 35.1810333°N 2.4236000°W
Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera 35°10′21.29″N 4°18′2.89″W / 35.1725806°N 4.3008028°W

Other islands

Apart from the three distinct groups, there are two other islands usually considered within the plazas de soberanía.

The disputed Isla Perejil, a small uninhabited islet close to Ceuta, considered by Spain to be a part of Ceuta and not a territory in its own right.[4]

The Isla de Alborán, another small island in the western Mediterranean, about 50 kilometres (31.05 miles) from the African coast and 90 kilometres (55.92 miles) from Europe, is attached to the municipality of Almería on the Iberian Peninsula.

Political geography

The plazas de soberanía are small islands and peninsulas off the coast of Morocco (the only peninsula, Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera, was an island until a 1934 storm formed a sand bridge with the mainland). They are guarded by military garrisons and administered directly by the Spanish central government.

Like Ceuta and Melilla, they are a part of Spain, therefore also part of the European Union, and their currency is the euro.


Morocco claims sovereignty over the Spanish North African territories, plus the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla.

See also


  1. ^ da Silva, Rui A. M. "Treaties Galore". Olivença - Portugal Livre.
  2. ^ "Treaty Between France and Spain Regarding Morocco". The American Journal of International Law. 7 (2): 81–99. April 1913. doi:10.2307/2212275. JSTOR 2212275.
  3. ^ Ceberia Belaza, Monica; Ignacio Cembrero and Miguel González (17 September 2012). "The last remains of the empire". El Pais in English. Madrid. Retrieved 24 September 2012.
  4. ^ Tremlett, Giles (13 July 2002). "Moroccans seize Parsley Island and leave a bitter taste in Spanish mouths". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 19 May 2014. When officers from Spain's civil guard police force arrived on a small patrol boat from the nearby Spanish North African enclave of Ceuta three miles away and to which the islet nominally belongs...

Further reading

AD Ceuta

Asociación Deportiva Ceuta was a Spanish football team based in the autonomous city of Ceuta. Founded in 1996, its last ever season was 2011–12 in Segunda División B, holding home matches at Estadio Alfonso Murube, with a capacity of 6,500.

AgD Ceuta

Agrupación Deportiva Ceuta was a Spanish football team based in the autonomous city of Ceuta. Founded in 1970 and dissolved in 1991, it held home matches at Estadio Alfonso Murube, with a capacity of 6,500.

Alhucemas Islands

The Alhucemas Islands (Spanish: Islas Alhucemas) is a group of islands and one of the Spanish plazas de soberanía just off the Moroccan coast in the Alboran Sea.

Bay of Ceuta

The Bay of Ceuta is a bay on the African coast of the Straits of Gibraltar. It accounts for the majority of the north coast of the Spanish city of Ceuta. It stretches from Punta Blanca in the west to Isla de Santa Catalina, off the coast of the Península de Almina in the east, a distance of eight kilometres (five miles). Ceuta's harbour lies on the bay.

Chafarinas Islands

The Chafarinas Islands (Spanish: Islas Chafarinas IPA: [ˈizlas tʃafaˈɾinas], Berber: Igumamen Iceffaren or Takfarinas, Arabic: جزر الشفارين or الجزر الجعفرية), also spelled Zafarin, Djaferin or Zafarani, are a group of three small islets located in the Alboran Sea off the coast of Morocco with an aggregate area of 0.525 square kilometres (0.203 sq mi), 45 km (28.0 mi) to the east of Nador and 3.3 km (2.1 mi) off the Moroccan town of Ras Kebdana.

The Chafarinas Islands are one of the Spanish territories in North Africa off the Moroccan coast known as plazas de soberanía.

Coat of arms of Melilla

Similar to the coat of arms of Ceuta, the coat of arms of Melilla combine elements from different earlier coats of arms, in this instance those of Castile and León. It is the central device of the flag of Melilla. The supporters are the Pillars of Hercules, an ancient name given to the Straits of Gibraltar from the coat of arms of Spain, and read Non Plus Ultra (Latin) ("No more beyond"). The top part of the coat of arms reads Præferre Patriam Liberis Parentem Decet (Latin) ("It is seemly for a parent to put his fatherland before his children").

Flag of Ceuta

The flag of Ceuta is a black and white gyronny with a central escutcheon displaying the municipal coat of arms. (The civil flag omits the escutcheon.)

The gyronny is identical to that of the flag of Lisbon, to commemorate the conquest of the city by the Portuguese in 1415. The city was a part of the Portuguese Empire until 1640, after which it decided to remain with Spain. Thus the coat of arms of the city is almost the same as that of the Kingdom of Portugal, showing the seven castles and the five escutcheons with silver roundels.

Flag of Melilla

The flag of Melilla, a Spanish enclave in North Africa, consists of a pale blue background with the city's coat of arms in the centre.

Isla de Santa Catalina

Santa Catalina is a small island off the north coast of the Península de Almina in Ceuta, Spain.

Playa Benítez

Playa Benítez is a beach of Ceuta, a Spanish city bordering northern Morocco. The beach is about 900 metres (3,000 ft) in length with an average width of about 200 metres (660 ft). It forms part of the Punta Blanca. The beach is popular with sports enthusiasts.

Playa Calamocarro

Playa Calamocarro is a beach of Ceuta, a Spanish city bordering northern Morocco.

The beach is about 650 metres in length with an average width of about 15 metres. The area forms part of a protected ZEPA zone.

Playa El Tarajal

Playa El Tarajal is a beach of Ceuta, bordering northern Morocco. The beach is about 250 metres in length with an average width of about 15 metres.The beach is at the southern tip of Ceuta where the N13 coastal road leaves for Morocco.

Playa Miramar

Playar Miramar is a beach of Ceuta, a Spanish city bordering northern Morocco. The beach is about 275 metres in length with an average width of about 18 metres.

Playa San Amaro

Playa San Amaro is a beach of Ceuta, a Spanish city bordering northern Morocco. The sandy beach is about 280 metres in length with an average width of about 6 metres and will be well occupied in the tourist season.

Playa del Chorillo

Playa del Chorillo is a beach of Ceuta, a Spanish city bordering northern Morocco. Like the Playa de la Ribera, it lies to the south of the isthmus. It has a length of about 1200 metres and average width of 30 metres, with black sand.

Playa del Sarchal

Playa del Sarchal is a beach of Ceuta, a Spanish city bordering northern Morocco. The beach has a cliff and is about 350 metres in length with an average width of about 10 metres.

SD Ceuta

Sociedad Deportiva Ceuta was a Spanish football team based in the autonomous city of Ceuta. Founded in 1932 and dissolved in 1956, it held home matches at Estadio Alfonso Murube, with a capacity of 6,500.

Telephone numbers in Spain

The Spanish telephone numbering plan is the allocation of telephone numbers in Spain. It is regulated by Comisión del Mercado de las Telecomunicaciones (CMT).

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