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A round castle in Port Ceuta Spanish Morocco Spain

Ceuta, Spanish Morocco, Spain

Just as Britain has Gibraltar, its long-standing and occasionally disputed outpost on the Mediterranean, Spain has its own enclave, Ceuta (pronounced SAY-oo-ta), just a few nautical miles south across the Strait of Gibraltar on the Moroccan coast.

Only covering 18 square kilometers (seven square miles) and positioned on a peninsula, Ceuta has long been a trading post in the region and still enjoys a relatively booming retail trade given its special status as a modified duty-free tax zone. It makes the most of its seaside location with a host of beaches, the best of which—if you prefer warmer water—is Playa de la Ribera.

Ceuta is thought to have been first established by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I in the 530s. The Islamic conquest absorbed the city and Muslim rule lasted for seven centuries, until 1415 when Ceuta fell to the Portuguese. By 1650, it became property of the Crown of Castile; and, depending upon your politics, it had the glory or infamy of being a key area for General Francisco Franco when he overthrew the elected Republican government of Spain in the 1930s.

The arid climate has helped preserve a fair amount of antiquity. Some of it has only recently been discovered: Demolition work in the 20th century exposed the Arab Baths (Baños Árabes), created in the style of Roman baths with barrel-vaulted ceilings and skylights, and thought to have been constructed sometime in the 13th century. While Ceuta retains a Europe-in-Africa atmosphere, with diverse ethnic and religious communities—Hindu, Jewish, Islamic and Christian—still intact, it may be best, however, not to expect an updated version of Casablanca. Ceuta is a vibrant city nevertheless, with outdoor activities and historic sites.

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