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Melilla Travel Guide

Melilla (Spain)
Coat of Arms of Melilla (Spain)

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Coordinates: 35.2825°, -2.9475°

Population: 85,159 inhabitants (2022)

Located in the middle of the Rif region in the eastern part of Tres Forcas Cape and on the northern border of Morocco is Melilla, a Spanish autonomous city of just 12 square kilometres and more than 85,000 inhabitants.

It is a city of great geostrategic importance due to its location within African territory and its active overseas trade.


The city of Melilla originated in the 7th century BC when the Phoenicians, who engaged in trade, chose to settle this region due to its privileged location close to the trade routes of the western Mediterranean. The Phoenicians called the city Rusadir. The Phoenicians reached their peak by the second century BC. With the Punic decadence, it was incorporated into the kingdom of Mauretania, from the Roman province Mauritania Tingitana.
Melilla (Spain)
As for the current name, Melilla comes from the Riffian, Amazigh or Tamazight/Tamlilt, translated into Spanish: la blanca (the white), probably alluding to the local rock. The Arabs removed the initial ta- and, after the Castilian occupation, it passed from the Arabic Mlicia to Melilla.

In the process of the Arab conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, a war broke out between the towns of Fez and Tlemcen. This caused the inhabitants to flee and abandon the area that is now Melilla.
The region remained desolate until the 10th century, when Abderraman III sent a fleet from Malaga in 927 to recover the territory. In this way, he created the taifa of Melilla, which was then integrated into the Caliphate of Cordoba.

Melilla was under the power of the Dukes of Medina Sidonia from 1497 to 1556, when its dependency passed to the Spanish Crown.

The emissaries of Mohamed ben Abdallah, Sultan of Morocco at that time, went to Ceuta on September 19, 1774 to finalize the treaty they’d had up to now and, at the same time, present their intention to evict the Christian settlers.

King Charles III declared war on October 23, and on December 9, the troops began the siege of Melilla, which consisted of an armed Moroccan blockade with the support of the British and Algerians. This blockade was maintained until March 19, 1775.
Melilla (Spain)
In 1860, the Treaty of Wad-Ras was signed, wherein Queen Elizabeth II of Spain and King Mohammed IV of Morocco agreed and defined the border limits of the city with Morocco. Subsequently, the Free port was created. From 1864, Spain authorized the free location in the city. Immigration to Melilla strengthened in 1893 after the Margallo War.

At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the city of Melilla went through numerous lawsuits that culminated in the Moroccan War.
In Melilla, a series of events began that would cause the military uprising against the Second Republic in 1936.

Some time later, the Spanish government recognized Moroccan sovereignty, and from that arose the subsequent claims for the territory of Melilla and Ceuta by Morocco. Since the 15th century, the nearby islands and the two squares had belonged to the Iberian state. The governments since then supported the fact that the city was Spanish, and even in 1985 Spanish nationality was granted to Moroccans who inhabited the city.
In 1995, Melilla obtained the status of an autonomous city. Since the beginning of the 21st century, Melilla has been a great economic pillar of the Rif region thanks to its free port and large commercial volume.

Top 5 things to visit in Melilla

Melilla is a city with a historical legacy of enormous importance. This can be observed throughout the city and its surroundings, where the enormous influence of cultures and idiosyncrasies that have shaped its urbanism over the centuries can be verified. Among the most interesting places are the following:

Old Melilla

Old Melilla (Melilla - Spain)
Built between the 16th and 17th centuries, Old Melilla is a formidable walled citadel of more than 2,000 meters in length built on top of a rock that juts into the Mediterranean.

It is the only Renaissance-style fortress in Africa and has the only Gothic-style chapel.

In addition to its Renaissance style, this citadel has clearly Hispano-Flemish elements in the Bourbon strongholds.
Throughout this enormous fortress are cisterns, chapels, mines, warehouses and caves that also had their own pharmacy and hospital.

Conventico caves

Conventico caves (Melilla - Spain)
Originally, these caves were natural and used by the Phoenicians, Romans and Arabs as defensive areas.

However, after the 18th century, the Spanish dug and modified them with the aim of using them as warehouses for water and food, as well as serving as a refuge for cash during the intense Siege of Melilla in 1774.

These caves consist of three areas.
At the entrance is an irregular gallery with windows located in the cliffs, an intermediate area that descends to the cove and, finally, the last level, the lowest of the three but the most monumental.

Melilla Lighthouse

Melilla Lighthouse (Spain)
Located at the easternmost end of Old Melilla is the city's lighthouse, built in 1918 and used to guide the deep-draft vessels that constantly arrived at the port of Melilla.

Its construction is characteristically cylindrical and has a height of 40 meters. This takes advantage of the highest level of the place of its construction. It is one of four Spanish lighthouses on the African coast, together with the one in Ceuta, the one in Peñón de Vélez and the one on the Chafarinas Islands.
It is among the most beautiful places in the city, especially at sunset, and is the headquarters of the Melilla Ciudad Monumental Foundation, which has also been declared an Asset of Cultural Interest.

Building of the Official Chamber of Commerce

This spectacular building, located on the populous Cervantes Street, is part of what was the Modernist Ensanche of Melilla and one of the best preserved buildings in the city.

It was inaugurated in 1915 as the headquarters of the city's Chamber of Commerce and immediately stood out for its excellent architectural design, becoming a true emblem of civil society, and its splendid commercial architecture, with beautiful finishes and great attention to detail. Its importance was so great that it was declared an Asset of Cultural Interest.

The Central Mosque

Mezquita central Melilla
This spectacular mosque, built between 1945 and 1947, is the largest in the city and is a clear example of an interesting mix of designs and cultures, as it was part of the Modernist Ensanche, the work of the famous architect Enrique Nieto y Nieto.

Its construction, made with concrete, local stone and solid brick walls, presents a design with a facade composed of arch-shaped doors on the ground floor that lead to the main floor.
It also has beautiful arched windows with balustraded balconies, along with a cornice with stepped battlements at its top, inspired by the Al-Nasir Mosque in Cairo.

Other details of great interest are the chamfered portal, the horseshoe-shaped arch on columns and its beautiful dome located on the minaret, as well as commercial premises, communal baths, a splendid prayer room and the headquarters of the Education Centre for Adults Carmen Conde Abellán.

The beauty and quality of its architectural design earned it the declaration of Asset of Cultural Interest.

What to do in Melilla

Few cities are as fascinating and house so many cultures in so little space as Melilla. This small city is a land of Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus. Each one lives, prays, celebrates and eats according to their own traditions.

A trip to Melilla must include a visit to the old town. This fortress was built on the rock that enters the Mediterranean. Another tourist jewel is El Conventico coves.

To learn about the history of this city, you can go to the Museum of Archaeology and History of Melilla. There, you will learn everything you need to know about its past. A must-see is the Melilla Lighthouse, where you can take hundreds of beautiful photos.

Did you know that Melilla is the Spanish city with the second-greatest number of modernist buildings? It has more than 500, placing it behind only Barcelona.
A highly recommended excursion is the one that takes place along the coast and that allows you to see the Peñón de Alhucemas and the Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera. In addition to learning about the history of these two Spanish sites, you will see some magnificent landscapes. You can also take the opportunity to visit two Moroccan historical places: Annual and Monte Arruit.

However, without a doubt, the tour that we like the most is the tour of Nador, Cabo de Tres Forcas, Punta Negri and Monte Gurugú. It allows you to get to know the best landscapes around Melilla and one of the most charming cities in Morocco, Nador.

Gastronomy in Melilla

Melilla's gastronomy is characterized by its relationship with the sea. Some of its main dishes have marine ingredients.

Among its gastronomic offer, the city of Melilla includes delicious tapas, made (as we have mentioned) mainly with seafood such as squid, fried fish, baby squid or shrimp balls. Other options include beef preparations in the form of skewers.

Melilla's cuisine has Mediterranean, European and African influences thanks to its geographical location. The religions that coexist in the lands of Melilla – Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism – also strongly influence its gastronomy.
As for the dishes of Mediterranean origin, the fish cauldron, prepared with monkfish, redfish and prawns, or cuttlefish with chickpeas, stand out.

When it comes to dishes originating in Arab, Berber and African cultures, we can mention stews such as baked rice, chickpeas and couscous.

From Hinduism, we highlight “samosas”, crunchy dumplings filled with potato paste, peas, onion, fresh and dried coriander, cumin and lemon juice.
Among the most popular dishes are Moorish lamb skewers seasoned with saffron, cumin, pepper, paprika, parsley and coriander. We must also highlight couscous prepared with lamb and vegetables and flavoured with various spices. “Hariras”, or vegetable, meat and spice soups, are commonly consumed dishes in Melilla. Also worth highlighting is “pastela”, a kind of empanada filled with chicken and sprinkled with icing sugar and cinnamon. Among the most typical sea options are whitebait, sardines and anchovies in brine, lobsters, langoustines, prawns, clams and mussels.

In terms of vegetables, the most used ingredients are tomatoes, beans, asparagus and artichokes. From some of these ingredients, the coloured omelette is usually prepared. This is a typical Jewish dish in which the yellow of the egg, the green of the peas, the orange of the carrot and the white of the mashed potatoes are mixed. As for fruits, they are highly consumed in Melilla, especially melon, watermelon and orange.

Ending with desserts and sweet preparations, in Melilla the most traditional are sweet couscous, fritters, stuffed pasties, “jeringos” or sweet semolina cake and the delicious orange cake.

Accommodation in Melilla

The weather in Melilla

The temperature in Melilla varies between 10°C and 30°C. It rarely falls below 7°C or rises above 30°C.

Summer is very hot and arid, but clear and short, which makes it tolerable for those who do not enjoy the presence of heat. The average daily temperature is around 27°C.

Winter lasts a little longer, approximately four months, and brings with it humidity and strong winds. The temperature is around 20°C, except for on the coldest days, when it can drop to 10°C.

Other information of interest

Melilla also has two great attractions: its wonderful beaches and its lively celebrations.

Beautiful coves and beaches

Beach in Melilla (Spain)
Thanks to the Mediterranean Sea and its warm climate, the beautiful beaches of Melilla can be enjoyed practically all year round.

Galápagos Cove is located next to the lighthouse, between the old fortified walls, and is one of the quietest beaches.

Nearby is Trápana Cove, which is small and ideal for tourists or vacationers who wish to spend a calm and serene day.
Also noteworthy are Hípica Beach, which preserves the old booths from the beginning of the century when it was a beach reserved exclusively for the military, and Hipódromo Beach, which is ideal for children because it is shallow.

Other popular beaches are San Lorenzo Beach and Cárabos Beach.

Festivities and celebrations

Melilla's festivals and celebrations form a very interesting mix, as they highlight the importance of all the communities and cultures present in the city.

Ramadan and Eid Al-Adha are celebrated. They are traditionally Muslim and are part of the official festivities, as well as the only non-Christian liturgical festivities celebrated in a Spanish city.

The celebrations of the saints are also very important. These include the Marian festivities, All Saints' Day and especially Christmas, New Year's Eve and Three Kings Night, as well as the lavish Holy Week. The latter is celebrated with important processions in the midst of a symbology exhibited as a declaration of principles since the reconquest.

Melilla´s Day is held every September 17. This celebrates the occupation and reconquest of the city at the hands of Don Pedro de Estopiñán, when Melilla came under the aegis of the Crown of Castile in 1497. This celebration takes place with great pomp and ritual.