Ceuta: Spain’s Toehold On the Strait of Gibraltar

TALIM Ceuta tile closeup
A shopping expedition to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta does not provide the material for sophisticated socio-political analysis, so this little report will be mostly impressionistic.

Maybe it's because we live inside the walled medina of Tangier, but we found Ceuta's 7 square miles surprisingly expansive.  Partly that's because of the fantastic coastal road that loops around the peninsular end of the territory, with its Mediterranean views on one side and its view across the Strait of Gibraltar on the other.

TALIM Ceuta tiles

Then there's the ride along a hilly, forested coast to the west of the city, with a dead end at the village of Benzu, where the barrier fence starts, separating Ceuta from Morocco and creating a no man's land in the hope of keeping out waves of potential immigrants into the European Union.

We probably heard as much Arabic as Spanish as we joined the evening paseo on pedestrian streets, and certainly were among lots of fellow Moroccans at the supermarket the next day.  After all, Ceuta is the shopping destination par excellence of all those contraband traders, whose "mules" carry their wares back into Morocco for eventual sale in the souks of Tangier and beyond.

They may no longer have "souls of patent leather," as García Lorca wrote, but the Guardia Civil is still ubiquitous in Ceuta, barracks adorned with their motto"Todo por la patria" ("all for the fatherland"), still chillingly reminiscent of Franco's days.  There's also a museum of the Spanish Legion, perhaps less well known than its French counterpart, but with a similar elite status.

In fact, given the number of joggers along the coastal paths, it looks like the population of Ceuta is heavily tilted towards the various security services.  Again, it's an enclave, surrounded by Morocco, which deems it a foreign intrusion on African soil.  Those 7 square miles mean a lot of linear miles of coastline and border to patrol.

TALIM Ceuta in fog
As we woke up to a fog-shrouded city, the bells of St. Mary's Cathedral replaced our usual muezzins (though the cathedral's foundations are built on the ruins of a mosque).  And that's the Ceuta effect: in but not of North Africa, peopled by happy Arabic-speaking shoppers, fit Spanish security joggers, and appliance merchants whose ancestors used to man the battlements on the lookout for Moors – anachronistic, disconcerting, but a pleasant enough place to shop for all the whiskey and jamón you can spirit back across the Moroccan border.

In the best trabendo tradition.

Gerald Loftus

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.