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A Unique Mix Called Ceuta

May 19, 2008
According to the ministry for tourism Ceuta is a multicultural European city in northern Africa. It is an open city, easy and comfortable. It is accessible to the Costa del Sol, either for a day visit or a longer weekend stay, and it offers a unique mix of culture, gastronomy and tax-free shopping.

A 40-minute journey by fast ferry from Algeciras, Ceuta is, for administrative purposes, part of Andalucia (and more specifically Cadiz) but it has special status as an autonomous city in Spain. It is surrounded on both sides by water (with the Mediterranean and Atlantic connected by what is believed to be the only navigable moat in the world) and, together with Gibraltar on the other side of the Straits, dominates the entrance to the Mediterranean - hence its strategic military importance, both historically and currently.

With one of the highest traffic densities in the world, it covers an area of 19 square kilometres plus five square kilometres rescued from the sea but this includes vast, protected, uninhabited green areas, and the 75,000 residents live in apartment blocks around the port and City centre. Agriculture and industry are almost non-existent in Ceuta and maritime and fishing traditions dominate. The city also has a strong military past. General Franco's nationalist troops set forth for Spain from Ceuta, and many Spaniards of a certain age had to do their obligatory military service in Ceuta. With the mili now defunct, most of the military barracks are empty, and there are plans to turn the navy area into a university cornplex.

With such limited space, Ceuta has had to be creative in its urban planning. Sorne of the land redeveloped from the sea features three expansive saltwater lakes (or pools), the Parque Maritimo Mediteraneo, where residents and visitors can spend their days swimming and sunbathing (a five kilometre pipeline transports clean water from the middle of the Straits). Which brings us to the history of the city. Whenever the issue of Gibraltarian sovereignty is mentioned, those who oppose Spain's claims to the Rock like to taunt: so what about Ceuta (and Melilla)? It is indisputable that, geographically, Ceuta is in northern Africa and is as physically close to Morocco as Gibraltar is to Spain. But after that the comparisons become irrelevant.

Over 1,500 years Ceuta was variously dorninated by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Visigoths and Arabs, before the Portuguese took power in 1415. When Don Sebastian died without heirs in 1581, the Portuguese crown (including Ceuta) passed to the King of Spain, Felipe II. Portugal gained its independence in 1640, but Ceuta voted in a plebiscite to stay loyal to the then Felipe IV. Ceuta subsequently suffered two centuries of war with the Arabs but Spain signed a peace treaty with the Sultan of Fez in 1860, and the Spaniards were not required to demand sovereignty over Ceuta because it had been a part of Spain even before the kingdom of Morocco existed.

Indeed, the ceutis are the only Spanish inhabitants to have chosen voluntarily to be part of the kingdom of Spain - though they stress that Ceuta is much more than sorne anachronistic outpost of Spanish colonialism. It is, they say, an attractive, modern tourist destination in Spain where visitors can discover four different worlds as they have managed to create a community in which four cultures - Christian, Hebrew, Hindu and Arab - live together in relative harmony.
About the Author
With more than 20 years of experience in the travel industry Rudi van der Zalm is the founder of one of Europe's most popular websites for rural holiday accommodation in Spain . A wide selection of country houses, fincas, cortijos and lodgings can be found at http://www.rural-tour.com
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