Ciudad de Melilla: The Complete Guide

Melilla

Melilla is an autonomous Spanish city located on the northwest coast of Africa, bordering Morocco. Spanning an area of 12.3 km², it is one of the two permanently inhabited Spanish cities on the African mainland, the other being Ceuta. Until March 14, 1995, Melilla was part of the Province of Málaga, after which it received its Statute of Autonomy.

Historically, Melilla was a free port before Spain’s entry into the European Union in 1986. As of 2011, the city had a diverse population of 78,476, comprising ethnic Iberian Catholics, ethnic Riffian Berbers, along with smaller communities of Sephardic Jews and Sindhi Hindus. Spanish, the official language, and Riffian-Berber are the most commonly spoken languages here.

Like Ceuta, Melilla is also claimed by Morocco.

History of Ciudad de Melilla

Melilla is a Spanish autonomous city with a rich and complex history, reflecting its position on the north coast of Africa and its proximity to Morocco. Here’s a brief overview of its historical timeline:

Ancient and Medieval Periods

Melilla’s history dates back to ancient times when it was known as Rusadir, a Phoenician trading post. It later became part of the Roman Empire and was known for its strategic maritime position. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the area came under the control of various North African Berber kingdoms.

Spanish Control

In 1497, Melilla was conquered by the Spanish, under the command of Duke of Medina Sidonia. This was part of a broader Spanish and Portuguese strategy to control the shipping routes in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. Melilla served as a military outpost and a trading center under Spanish rule, and its fortifications were heavily fortified over the centuries to fend off attacks from neighboring Moroccan tribes.

19th and 20th Centuries

In the 19th century, Melilla became increasingly militarized, particularly as tensions rose between European colonial powers and Moroccan forces. The city was also a focal point during the Rif War in the early 20th century, a conflict between Spanish colonial forces and the Berber tribes of the Rif region.

In 1912, following the establishment of the French and Spanish protectorates in Morocco, Melilla became part of Spanish Morocco. The city remained under Spanish control even after Morocco gained independence in 1956.

Modern Era

On March 14, 1995, Melilla’s autonomy was officially recognized, and it was granted a statute of autonomy similar to that of other Spanish autonomous communities. This statute defines its institutions of government and gives it a degree of administrative independence.

Today, Melilla is known for its multicultural population, which includes Christians, Muslims, and a small Jewish community, reflecting centuries of diverse influences. The city is also noted for its unique blend of modern Spanish architecture and traditional Moroccan styles.

Melilla, like its sister city Ceuta, remains a subject of territorial dispute with Morocco, which claims sovereignty over the Spanish enclaves. Despite these tensions, Melilla continues to thrive as a vibrant, culturally rich city at the crossroads of two continents.

Visiting Ciudad de Melilla for the first time and wondering what are the top places to see in the city? In this complete guide, I share the best things to do in Ciudad de Melilla on the first visit. To help you plan your trip, I have also included an interactive map and practical tips for visiting!

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Best Time to Visit Ciudad de Melilla

Visiting Melilla in each season offers a different experience, as the city’s Mediterranean climate provides variations throughout the year that can influence your activities and overall enjoyment of the area.

Spring (March to May)

Spring is a delightful time to visit Melilla. The weather is mild and pleasant, with average temperatures ranging from 13°C to 22°C (55°F to 72°F). This season is ideal for exploring the city’s historical sites, such as the Melilla la Vieja (Old Melilla) fortress, without the crowds and heat of summer. The natural surroundings, including parks and the coastline, are particularly beautiful as flowers bloom and the city rejuvenates.

Summer (June to August)

Summer in Melilla is hot and dry, with temperatures often reaching up to 30°C (86°F). This is a popular time for beach activities, as the city boasts lovely beaches where visitors can relax or engage in water sports. The evenings are lively, with locals and tourists alike enjoying the nightlife and various summer festivals. However, be prepared for the peak tourist season, which can mean more crowds and higher prices.

Autumn (September to November)

Autumn sees a drop in temperature, making it another pleasant time for sightseeing. Temperatures range from 18°C to 25°C (64°F to 77°F). The reduced number of tourists makes it a great time to explore the city’s cultural offerings, such as museums and galleries, in a more relaxed atmosphere. It’s also an excellent season for enjoying the local cuisine at various restaurants without the summer rush.

Winter (December to February)

Winter in Melilla is mild compared to much of Europe, with temperatures rarely falling below 10°C (50°F). While it’s cooler and rainier than other seasons, it’s still a good time to visit if you prefer a quieter experience. The city lights up during the holiday season, and you can enjoy the festive markets and decorations. This season is also ideal for those interested in historical and cultural tours, as the cooler weather is conducive to spending more time indoors exploring museums and indoor attractions.

Each season in Melilla offers unique activities and experiences, making it a year-round destination depending on your interests and preferred climate for travel.

Average Temperatures in Ciudad de Melilla

  • January 18°C 5
  • February 18°C 4
  • March 20°C 5
  • April 23°C 4
  • May 24°C 3
  • June 28°C 1
  • July 32°C 0
  • August 31°C 1
  • September 28°C 4
  • October 26°C 3
  • November 22°C 5
  • December 20°C 3

How to get to Ciudad de Melilla

Getting to Melilla, given its unique location on the northern coast of Africa and its status as a Spanish enclave, can be achieved via a few different modes of transportation:

By Air

The most straightforward way to reach Melilla is by flying into Melilla Airport (MLN), which is located very close to the city. There are regular flights from several Spanish cities, including Madrid and Malaga, provided by airlines like Iberia and Air Europa. Once you arrive at the airport, the city center is just a short drive or taxi ride away.

By Sea

Another popular option is taking a ferry. Melilla is accessible by sea with ferry services from Almeria, Malaga, and Motril on the Spanish mainland. The ferry trip offers a scenic route to Melilla and is operated by companies like Trasmediterránea and Balearia. Ferries can accommodate both passengers and vehicles, making this a convenient option if you’re traveling with a car.

By Road

If you’re already in Morocco, you can drive to Melilla. The enclave has several border crossings with Morocco, the main one being at Beni Ansar. However, crossing the border can sometimes involve delays, so it’s good to be prepared for potential wait times, especially during peak travel seasons or holidays. Once you cross the border, it’s a very short drive into the heart of Melilla.

By Bus

From within Morocco, you can take a bus to the border at Beni Ansar and then walk or take a taxi into Melilla. Bus services in Morocco are quite extensive, though routes directly to the border are more limited and might require some planning.

Each of these methods offers its own advantages and can be chosen based on your starting location, budget, and preference for travel experience.

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