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Melilla (Autonomous City, Spain)

Last modified: 2016-05-27 by ivan sache
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Flag of Melilla, two versions - Images by Antonio Gutiérrez (Spanish Vexillological Society), 21 August 2015


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Presentation of Melilla

The Autonomous City of Melilla (84,450 inhabitants in 2014; 1,230 ha; unofficial website) is located on the northern coast of Africa, surrounded on land by Morocco.
Melilla forms a urban continuum with the surrounding Moroccan settlements. To prevent illegal immigration into European Union and smuggling, the border fence surrounding the city was strengthened in 2005 with the building of a third, brand new fence of 6 m in height, topped with razor wire.

The Autonomy Status of Melilla is prescribed by Constitutional Law No. 2, adopted on 13 March 1995 by the Spanish Parliament and published on 14 March 1995 in the Spanish official gazette, No. 62, pp. 8,061-8,067 (text). Article 1 states that Melilla is "an integral part of the Spanish Nation and of its indissoluble unity". This is a clear answer to the claims of Morocco, which considers Melilla and Ceuta as "occupied territory". The city is ruled by an elected Assembly (25 members), a President and a Council of Government.

Melilla was originally established on a 30-m high promontory dominating the Mediterranean Sea. Known as Rusadir, the place was already settled by the Phoenicians, as evidenced by a necropolis located on the San Lorenzo hill, suppressed during the urbanization of the town. Rusadir was granted the title of colony by the Roman Emperor Claudius. Sacked in the 5th century by the Vandals, the town was rebuilt by the Visigoths and the Byzantines. Raided in the 7th century by the Arabs, Rusadir was renamed Melilla. Burned down in the 9th century by the Vikings, Melilla was seized in 926 by Abd-ar-Rahman III, Emir of Córdoba and ruler of al-Andalus. The town declined in the 14th-15th centuries because of the permanent conflicts that opposed the Sultans of Tlemcen and Fes, being abandoned by several of its inhabitants.

Melilla was conquered on 17 September 1497 by Pedro de Estopiñán, on behalf of Juan Alonso Pérez de Guzmán (1464-1507), 3rd Duke of Medina Sidonia. The Spaniards increased the fortifications of the town, repelling on 26 April 1564 an assault led by Mohamed Ben Al-lal. The fortifications were severely damages by an earthquake on 5 August 1660. Mouly Ismail, the second Alaouit ruler of Morocco, known as the Warrior King, attempted several times to reconquer Melilla; on 17 August 1715, he seized the St. Thomas, St. Lawrence and St. Francis forts, but had to lift the siege on 11 February 1716. From 1721 onwards, the assaulters used artillery; the Spanish garrison eventually occupied the hill from which the citadel was targeted, building there the Fort of the Great Victory. On 9 December 1774, Sultan Mohammed Ben Abdellah besieged once again Melilla; hit by 8,239 bombs and 3,129 grazing fires, the town resisted once again, the siege being lifted on 17 March 1775, St. Joseph's Day. A peace treaty was signed on 30 May 1780, eventually ratified on 25 December 1780 by the Sultan.
Melilla refused to recognize the sovereignty of Joseph Bonaparte, establishing a War Government to support the legitimate king. The town was threatened after the occupation of Málaga by the French troops. During the First Carlist Wars, the Carlist prisoners in Melilla revolted and formed in 1838 a Royal Government for Charles V; they eventually rallied the queen without fighting. On 6 January 1848, the Spaniards seized the Chafarinas Islands, soon renamed Congress Island, Isabel II Island and the King's Island, and placed them under the rule of a Governor depending on Melilla. By a treaty signed on 24 August 1859 and ratified in 1860, the Sultan of Morocco transferred the sovereignty on Melilla to Spain; the treaty could become effective only on 14 June 1862

The first Melilla campaign was part of the Rif War (1893-1894); the event is also known as the Margallo War, named for the Spanish Governor of Melilla, Juan García y Margallo (1839-1896), who was killed during the fighting. THe second Melilla campaign (1909-1910) allowed Spain to increase the territory of the Melilla enclave.
The military uprising of Melilla (17 and 18 July 1936) was the first step to the total control of the then Spanish Morocco by the Nationalist forces.

Ivan Sache, 21 August 2015


Flag of Melilla

The flag (photo, photo, photo, photo) and arms of Melilla are prescribed in Article 3 of the Autonomy Status, as follows:

1. The flag of Melilla is the traditional flag, celestial blue with the coat of arms of the city in the center.
2. The coat of arms of Melilla is the traditional coat of arms of the city.

The flag with a very light blue background (photo, photo, photo, photo), indubitably reported in the 1990s, does not seem to be widely used, today.

Ivan Sache, 21 August 2015


Coat of arms of Melilla

[Flag]

Coat of arms of Melilla - Image by Antonio Gutiérrez (Spanish Vexillological Society), 21 August 2015

The coat of arms of the House of Medina Sidonia was originally granted to Melilla by a Royal Decree signed on 11 March 1913 by King Alfonso XIII and published on 12 March 1913 in the Madrid gazette, No. 71, p. 650 (text).
The Decree recalls that the Dukes of Medina Sidonia organized the expedition that resulted in the conquest of the town and were subsequently titled Captains General of Melilla.

The symbols and their rules of use are further described in the By-Laws of Protocol and Ceremonial of the Autonomous City of Melilla, prescribed by Decree No. 111, adopted on 22 March 2007 and published on 27 March 2007 in the official gazette of Melilla, No. 4,385, pp. 1,166-1,171 (text).
Article 2 repeats the aforementioned description of the flag, adding the usual provisions for use and display.
Article 3 gives a detailed description of the coat of arms, as follows:

The official coat of arms of the City is the coat of arms of the House of Medina Sidonia. It bears a ducal coronet ensigned with Guzmán the Good portrayed as throwing a dagger from the castle of Tarifa. It is supported by the pillars of the straits of Hercules, inscribed with the motto "Non Plus Ultra". It includes, on a field azure, two caldrons checky or and gules with seven snake's heads vert, palewise, and a bordure featuring the Royal Arms of Castile and León, made of nine pieces gules a castle or and nine pieces argent a lion gules. A scroll in the upper part, flanking the castle of Tarifa, inscribed with the [Latin] motto "Prefere Patriam Liberis Parentem Decet" [A free homeland is of greater importance than the death of a kinsman]. Beneath the shield a dragon vert.

The Duchy of Medina Sidonia was first established by King Henry II of Castile for Enrique de Castilla y Sousa (1380-1404), who died without heirs. It was re-established by King John II of Castile for Juan Alonso Pérez de Guzmán y Suárez de Figueroa (1445-1468). Juan Alonso Pérez de Guzmán (1464-1507), the conqueror of Melilla, was the 3rd Duke of Medina Sidonia. He was the direct descendant (4th generation) of Guzmán the Good.

Guzmán the Good (1256-1309) ranks among the heroes of medieval Spain, although details on his life are sparse. The anonymous Retratos de Españoles ilustres con un epítome de sus vidas (Portraits of famous Spaniards, including a summary of their lives; text), published in 1791 by the Royal Print, Madrid.
Alonso Pérez de Guzmán was born in 1256 in León, as the son of Pedro de Guzmán, Adelantado Mayor of Andalusia. Guzmán defended Andalusia threatened by Abu Yusuf Yaqub, the Marinid Sultan of Morocco (1259-1286); together with Diego López de Haro (c. 1250-1310), he negotiated the peace between the Sultan and Alfonso X the Wise, King of Castile (1252-1284). Upset by the lack of reward by the king, Guzmán went to Africa with several knights, who served the Sultan in his wars against the Christian kings. When Infante Sancho revolted against his father Alfonso, who kept control only on Seville, Murcia and Badajoz, Guzmán attempted to support the old king, funding a Moorish army commanded by Abu Yusuf Yaqub. Guzmán could not suppress the revolt but he contributed to a balance between the two parties.
In 1291, Guzmán and his knights came back to Spain to serve King Sancho IV (1284-1295), who had succeeded his father in spite of having been cursed and disinherited. Since then, "the State could not find a better defender and the King a better vassal". Pushed by Infant John, Sancho's brother, the Moors attempted once again to invade Andalusia. Guzmán defended the fortified town of Tarifa, seized from the Moors a few years ago. The assaulters kept his unique son as an hostage, threatening to execute him if the town did not surrender. Guzmán answered that "the life of a son is not worth taunting my virtue; would you lack a knife to carry out your threat, use mine" and threw his dagger from the walls; the scene is represented on the arms of Melilla and on several statues. The assaulters executed Guzmán's son but had to lift the siege a few days later, "having only shown to the world an example of execrable ferocity", while Guzmán had highlighted "admirable patriotism". Sancho IV rewarded the hero with innumerable privileges; Guzmán was nicknamed el Bueno (The Good) as a reward for his humanity and social virtues.
Short before his death, the king commissioned Guzmán to take care of his young son, Infante Ferdinand, soon crowned as King Ferdinand IV (1285-1312). Guzmán was killed in 1309 by the Moors in Gibraltar, short after the conquest of the rock.

The dragon placed beneath the shield on the arms of Melilla refers to a legend reported by Pedro de Medina in Las Crónicas de los Muy Excelentes Duques de Medina Sidonia. Accordingly, Guzmán the Good killed a dragon that threatened the local population during his stay at the court of the Merinid Sultan of Fes.
[Noticias de Ajedrez, 16 February 2010]

On 20 January 2014, the satiric newspaper La Voz Popular announced that the Spanish Ministry of the Interior had placed a dragon "of more than 10 m in length and spitting fire by the mouth" on the Melilla fence to repel illegal immigrants.
[La Voz Popular, 20 January 2014]

Ivan Sache, 22 August 2015