History of Ceuta
Royal Wall of Ceuta.
A beach in Ceuta, near Spain-Morocco border. Morocco in the background.
Ceuta's strategic location has made it the crucial waypoint of the trade and military ventures of many cultures — beginning with the Carthaginians in the 5th century BC, who called the city Abyla. It was not until the Romans took control in about A.D. 42 that the port city (then named Septem) assumed an almost exclusive military purpose. Approximately 400 years later, the Vandals ousted the Romans from control. Later it would fall to the Visigoths of Hispania and the Byzantines.
In 710, as Muslim armies approached the city, its governor Julian, count of Ceuta, (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 Tangier in 951.
Chaos ensued with the fall of the Umayyad caliphate in 1031, but eventually
Ceuta, together with the rest of Muslim Spain, was 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 1387, Ceuta was conquered for the last time by the
Kingdom of Fez, with Aragonese help.
House of the Dragons, in Ceuta
In 1415, during the Battle of Ceuta, the city was captured by the Portuguese during the reign of John I of Portugal. The King of Spain seized the Portuguese throne in 1580 and held it for 60 years. During this time Ceuta gained many residents of Spanish origin. Thus Ceuta became 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 the 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.
When Spain recognized the independence of Spanish Morocco in 1956, Ceuta and the other plazas de soberanía remained under Spanish rule as they were considered integral parts of the Spanish state. Culturally, modern Ceuta is considered part of the Spanish region of Andalusia. Indeed, it was attached to the province of Cádiz until 1925 — the Spanish coast being only 20 km away. It is a cosmopolitan city, with a large ethnic Berber Muslim minority as well as Sephardic Jewish and Hindu minorities.
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.