Plazas de soberanía

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
The plazas de soberanía including Ceuta, Melilla and Isla de Alborán.

The plazas de soberanía (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈplaθaz ðe soβeɾaˈni.a], literally "places of sovereignty") are the Spanish sovereign territories in continental North Africa bordering Morocco. The name refers to the fact that these territories have been a part of Spain since the formation of the modern Spanish State (1492-1556), to distinguish them from territories obtained during the 19th and 20th century. A part of Spain in all respects, they are also a part of the European Union and the Schengen Area.[citation needed]

Historically, a distinction was made between the so-called major sovereign territories, comprising the cities of Ceuta and Melilla, and the minor sovereign territories, referring to a number of smaller enclaves and islands along the coast. In the present, the term refers mainly to the latter.


19th-century Spanish map showing the plazas de soberanía
Aerial view of the Peñón de Alhucemas c. 1925

During the Reconquista and mainly following the conquest of Granada in 1492, forces of the Castilian and Portuguese kingdoms conquered and maintained numerous posts in North Africa for trade and as a defence against Barbary piracy.

In 1415 the Portuguese conquered Ceuta. In 1481 the Papal bull Æterni regis had granted all land south of the Canary Islands to Portugal. Only this archipelago and the possessions of Santa Cruz de la Mar Pequeña (1476–1524), Melilla (conquered by Pedro de Estopiñán in 1497), Villa Cisneros (founded in 1502 in current Western Sahara), Mazalquivir (1505), Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera (1508), Oran (1509–1790), Algiers (1510–1529), Bugia (1510–1554), Tripoli (1511–1551), Tunis (1535–1569). Finally, following the independence of Portugal from Spain, Ceuta was ceded by Portugal to Spain in 1668.

In 1848, Spanish troops conquered the Islas Chafarinas. In the late 19th century, after the so-called Scramble for Africa, European nations had taken over colonial control of most of the African continent. The Treaty of Fez (signed on March 30, 1912) made most of Morocco a protectorate of France, while Spain assumed the role of protecting power over the northern part, Spanish Morocco.

When Spain relinquished its protectorate and recognized Morocco's independence in 1956, it did not give up these minor territories. Spain had held them well before the establishment of its protectorate.

On July 11, 2002, Morocco stationed six navy cadets on Perejil Island to tackle illegal immigration, which was at the time a source of complaint by Spain. The Spanish Armed Forces responded by launching a military operation code-named Operation Romeo-Sierra. The attack was carried out by Spanish commandos of Grupo de Operaciones Especiales. The Spanish Navy and Spanish Air Force provided support; the six Moroccan navy cadets did not offer any resistance and were captured and evicted from the island. It has since been evacuated by both countries.[1]

Physical geography[edit]

Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera, seen from the Moroccan coast.

There are historically three plazas de soberanía:

Territory Coordinates Area (ha)
Islas Alhucemas 35°12′54″N 3°53′47″W / 35.21500°N 3.89639°W / 35.21500; -3.89639
---Peñón de Alhucemas 35°12′48″N 3°53′21″W / 35.21333°N 3.88917°W / 35.21333; -3.88917
---Isla de Tierra 35°12′55.83″N 3°54′8.10″W / 35.2155083°N 3.9022500°W / 35.2155083; -3.9022500
---Isla de Mar 35°13′3.65″N 3°54′2.69″W / 35.2176806°N 3.9007472°W / 35.2176806; -3.9007472
Islas Chafarinas 35°11′N 2°26′W / 35.183°N 2.433°W / 35.183; -2.433
---Isla del Congreso 35°10′43.90″N 2°26′28.31″W / 35.1788611°N 2.4411972°W / 35.1788611; -2.4411972
---Isla Isabel II 35°10′55.77″N 2°25′46.90″W / 35.1821583°N 2.4296944°W / 35.1821583; -2.4296944
---Isla del Rey 35°10′51.72″N 2°25′24.96″W / 35.1810333°N 2.4236000°W / 35.1810333; -2.4236000
Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera 35°10′21.29″N 4°18′2.89″W / 35.1725806°N 4.3008028°W / 35.1725806; -4.3008028

Apart from those, Isla Perejil, a small uninhabited islet close to Ceuta that was the subject of a confrontation with Morocco in 2002, has been lately defined[by whom?] as an extra plaza de soberanía. It is not a plaza de soberanía in itself but, rather, no-man's land.[1] The Isla de Alborán, another small island in the western Mediterranean, about 50 kilometres from the Moroccan coast and 90 kilometres from Spain, is attached to the municipality of Almería on the European continent.

Political geography[edit]

The plazas de soberanía are small islands and peninsulas off the coast of Morocco (the only peninsula, Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera, was an island until a 1934 storm formed a sand bridge with the mainland). They are guarded by military garrisons and administered directly by the Spanish central government.

Just like Ceuta and Melilla, they are an integral part of Spain, therefore also part of the European Union, and their currency is the euro. However, they are not part of the Common Agricultural Policy, the Common Fisheries Policy, the EU Customs Union and the EU VAT Area. They are also not part of NATO.


Morocco claims sovereignty over the Spanish North African territories, plus the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla.

See also[edit]

[2] History and current political issues with Gibraltar and the Plazas de Soberania.


  1. ^ a b Ceberia, Monica et al (17 September 2012) The last remains of the empire El Pais in English, Retrieved 24 September 2012
  2. ^ Tremper, Shawn Del (1988). M.A. Thesis, "Territorial Disputes in the Strait of Gibraltar" (8.5" x 11"). Sacramento, California: Calif. State Univ., Sacramento. pp. 431 + bibliography.