Secrets of Ceuta: A Spanish enclave in Africa

March, 2011

Situated on the north coast of Africa, Ceuta is probably a city anonymous to many travellers and especially unknown as one’s of Africa’s Spanish enclaves. Unearth Ceuta’s secrets with me…

Wanting a little respite from Morocco’s badgering touts, we decide that Ceuta is the next stop after stunning Chefchaouen.

Before arriving in Morocco, I’d never heard of the 18.5-square-kilometre (7.1-square-mile) sliver named Ceuta.


Ceuta, AfricaFrom Chefchaouen, a collective taxi rammed with six of us travellers, make the two-hour journey to the Moroccan-Spanish border.

Known as the Ceuta Border Fence, this runs for just over 8 kilometres and follows along Ceuta’s territory.

What you can expect at the border

Not knowing very much about Ceuta before today or what to expect, arriving at this border fence can be a confrontational experience.

Topped with nasty barbed wire, the imposing 6-metre high wire fence was built back in the early 1990s. Designed to stop smuggling and illegal immigration, the fence has seen many breaches resulting in continual improvements.

border fence, Ceuta, Africa, Morocco, Spain
An empty Ceuta Border Fence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since its inception, the fence has been upgraded with regular watch posts, video cameras, spotlights, noise and movement sensors, and with hundreds of patrolling police officers and Guardia Civil officers. Patrol boats and Guard ships also control Ceuta’s coastline.

border fence, Ceuta, Africa, Morocco, Spain
Ceuta vista (Photo credit: Xemenendura)

Arriving at the fence with hundreds of other North Africans, the flood of people walking to and from the two countries within this caged path, under the sweltering African sun, is enormous.

Whether this short five-hundred metre strip of fence line is used to carry goods or for going to and from work, you cannot underestimate its daily human movement.

Walking along this path is quite an unusual experience and almost feels like a mass exodus from Morocco.

Laden with over 30kgs of luggage on my back and not feeling the urge to pull out my bulky camera, I’m unable to take my own photos whilst traversing the fence. Apologies in advance for the two internet photos, but I want to give you an idea of what to expect.

The photo on the right is taken by Xemenendura and shows how the fence lacerates the picturesque African landscape.

After crossing the border on foot into Ceuta and clearing immigration, catch the local bus that takes you along Av. Martinez Cartena and into the busy city centre.

A world far-removed from the border and Morocco.

Ceuta, Morocco, Spain, Africa
Promenading lengthy Av. Martinez Cartena

And, although still in Africa and on the Moroccan coast, once you arrive in Ceuta, you can be forgiven for thinking you landed in the middle of Europe somewhere.

Everything is so very different to Morocco.

Ceuta’s tumultuous story

Situated at the very north of Africa, you can almost smell Gibraltar from Ceuta beyond the mere 28-kilometre stretch, across the Straits of Gibraltar – it really is that close.

Gibraltar, Ceuta, Africa, Morocco, Spain
Scent of Gibraltar

Although Ceuta shares a land border with Morocco’s 6.4-kilometre M’diq-Fnideq Prefecture, this fortified city is one of nine Spanish territories in Africa, and lays on a narrow collar connecting Mount Hacho to the mainland.

The Spanish military use the fort on the summit of Mount Hacho.

Named Abyla by the Carthaginians back in the 5th century BC, many cultures saw Ceuta as a strategic military and trading vantage. And so, over the centuries Ceuta changed hands countless times under occupation of the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths, Portuguese, Arabs, and the Spanish.

Since the Spanish seized control in 1580, Ceuta has remained a sovereignty of Spain, although the Moors gained control for a short period during 1694 to 1720. All of which have left an imprinted legacy on fabulous architecture, various religions, and spoken languages, with characteristics also meshed into the varying cuisines.

Ceuta feels as if someone has come along and plucked up a small chunk of Spain and dropped it onto the tip of this vast continent, just as you would in a jigsaw puzzle. The puzzle interlocks nicely when you work out how everything fits.

A newer part of the city

What to see?

For such a small piece of African turf, there really is a considerable amount to see with a profusion of beautiful architecture to visit and of course, everything is within an easy-reach walk in Ceuta.

Surrounded by ten forts built during differing centuries, these sites alone will keep you busy enough.

Ceuta, Africa, Morocco, SpainCalle Camoens Street

Something noticeable about this lively high street and main pedestrian, is the many mothers promenading with prams up and down the cobblestones as if parading on a Paris catwalk.

In thigh-high leather boots complete with flowing white Pirates of the Caribbean shirts and draped vest, it’s quite a theatrical and amusing fashion show.

Always the people-watcher.

This street offers numerous high-end designer clothes stores and expensive jewellers. Restaurants, tapas bars, and cafés also vie for a spot on this busy thoroughfare. Stop for refreshments after your exhausting shopping day.

Royal Walls

Previous to the city’s capture by the Portuguese, Ceuta endured many decades of instability, including competing interests from varying royal factions, and many attacks on the city.

Originally built in 962 with parts of the wall added to in the 18th century, the magnificent and majestic Royal Walls are a testament to Ceuta’s turbulent history.

Royal Walls, Ceuta, Spain, Morocco, Africa
Strategic Royal Walls marked by 2 red stars

Although Ceuta had some fortification in the 5th century, after its capture by the Portuguese in 1415 the Royal Walls were built to include a drawbridge, bastions, and a navigable moat.

Royal Walls, Ceuta, Spain, Morocco, Africa
Royal maintenance (Ilford B&W 35mm film)

Now a Spanish Heritage site, you can easily spend a couple of days photographing and admiring this incredible medieval piece of engineering and craftsmanship.

Royal Walls, Ceuta, Africa, Morocco, Spain
Ceuta by night

Plaza de Armas within the Royal Walls

Once inside the walls, Plaza de Armas awaits and sees locals relaxing amongst its peaceful and pleasant space.

Plaza de Armas, Royal Walls, Ceuta, Spain, Morocco, Africa
Another view…
Plaza de Armas, Royal Walls, Ceuta, Spain, Morocco, Africa
Plaza de Armas Monumental Group of the Royal Walls
Plaza de Armas, Royal Walls, Ceuta, Spain, Morocco, Africa
Lunch break

Castillo and Fuerte del Desnarigado

A very long walk from the city centre if you take the wrong way, the fort and castle of Desnarigado are worth braving the sizzling heat. A museum also awaits within the castle.

Apart from the stunning Mediterranean azures along this little trek, as you ascend the hills the vistas are gorgeous.

Castillo del Desnarigado, Ceuta, Spain, Morocco, Africa
Castillo del Desnarigado on the southern front of Mount Hacho (headland’s right-side)

Military bunkers still adorn the coastal landscape although you can’t really get close to these buildings.

military bunkers, Ceuta, Spain, Morocco, Africa
Guarding the coastline

Fortaleza de Hacho

Further up the hill on your walk and at around 669 metres high, you stumble upon the imposing Fortaleza de Hacho now occupied by the Spanish army.

Although first built by the Byzantines, the Arabs, Portuguese, and Spanish have all added to this fortification.

Desnarigado, Ceuta, Spain, Morocco, Africa
Hilltop perspective

Of course, I just can’t help myself and always have to take photos.

Desnarigado, Ceuta, Spain, Morocco, Africa
Turrets of time

Although on this occasion, a military guard ‘ordered’ me to stop taking photos before I could get a good shot of the fort’s entrance.

Castillo del Desnarigado, Ceuta, Spain, Morocco, Africa
Fort entrance

Other sites of interest

Royal Walls, Ceuta, Spain, Morocco, Africa
Royal Walls still guarding Ceuta (Ilford B&W 35mm film)

If you have time and feel like visiting museums, then wander to the underground Museo de la Basilica Tardorromana or the Museo de la Legión for a taste of history.

If you’re not into museums, then cool down in the creative waterpark Parque Marítimo del Mediterráneo, designed by the artist and architect César Manrique.

Casa de los Dragones

Not open to the public, the eclectic 19th-century Casa de los Dragones on Plaza de los Reyes, includes Moorish arches and is a surreal piece of architecture, crested with four massive dark dragons.

Plaza de Africa

Manicured tropical gardens, alluring architecture, and cobblestone streets sees medieval Plaza de Africa as the heart of the city.

The Cathedral, Town Hall, Military Command, and the Church of Africa make up this appealing space.

A taste of Ceuta

Where the icy and rough Atlantic Ocean merges with the calm and sandy Mediterranean Sea lapping the shores of Ceuta, an abundance of delicious and varying seafood abounds.

If you are partial to mouth-watering and exquisitely-cooked squid or octopus as I am, then ensure to indulge whilst visiting Ceuta.

Although belonging to Portugal during the 15th-16th centuries for around two-hundred and fifty years, Spanish and Moroccan influences propel Ceuta’s cuisine to use a plethora of colours and spices, for a gastronomic experience. Of course, you can also taste many types of Tapas in the city.

Ceuta, Spain, Morocco, Africa
Timeless beauty

Why not consider eating your way around this city if you are staying for any length of time?


Not surprisingly, compared with Morocco, accommodation is more expensive in Ceuta.

Although the staff in the Hostal Central are friendly, the room is compact and bijou – a tad expensive and does not include breakfast.

Perhaps a three-star hostel is better?

Leaving Ceuta

The local non-CTM bus drives along the scenic N16 route from Ceuta to Tangier for a couple of hours. If you don’t like taking buses, a Grand Taxi is also easy, although bargaining the price can be difficult.

The sketchy plan is a night in Tangier before taking the 5-hour train to Casablanca for the onward flight to Buenos Aires, and the start of an exciting new adventure chapter on a different continent: South America.

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more global images. More posts on Africa.

Ceuta, Africa, Morocco, Spain
Searching for Gibraltar (Photo credit: Neil Lintern)


37 responses to “Secrets of Ceuta: A Spanish enclave in Africa”

  1. flahertylandscape Avatar

    The first time I visited Morocco–I took the cheapest ferry from Algeciras to Ceuta.

    When entering Morocco outside of Ceuta, the most important thing the Moroccan guards checked for was the length of a man’s hair–if it was too long…entry denied. The fix? Cut it then and there. Entry permitted.

    Some decades ago.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Wow, what a story! I’ve never heard that rule. How long ago was this?

      1. flahertylandscape Avatar


      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Wow, would have been such a different place back then…

      3. flahertylandscape Avatar

        Cultural roots go deeper and farther than five decades and national boundaries. 🙂

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        They always do… 😉

  2. Fuad Omar Avatar
    Fuad Omar

    I didn’t know about this place before! Thank you for the writeup and photos.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Fuad,
      Thanks for your feedback and neither did I know about Ceuta at the time. But, that’s what travelling is all about – exploring more than the country you’re in – always good to go further afield to learn more about the country’s surrounds.

  3. Cab service in agra Avatar

    Thank you for sharing this post really great and wonderful article. You are talking about Ceuta city which is really well-written with nice pictures.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      No problem and glad you enjoyed this post.

  4. Dip Nag Avatar

    Great article. Like it how you present it. Although I knew about Ceuta and a bit of its background, yet, the information you provide is a great read.
    I have just been to Morocco, and found the country to be beautiful. My travels and my travel pictures are documented in my travel blog as well. I would highly appreciate it if you take some time out and review my travelogue, write down your review comments and if you like the content, follow my work. I would love to do the same as well!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Dip, many thanks for your feedback. Ceuta and Morocco are both great travel destinations – I would definitely return.

      You may like to read more of my posts on Morocco whilst travelling there for one month. I’ll gladly check out your blog. Cheers, Nilla

      1. Dip Nag Avatar

        Hi Nila, thank you so much for the links to your other blogs. I will happily check them out. Keep on travelling! 🙂

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Great, thank you..I have many more to write yet. 🙂

      3. Dip Nag Avatar

        Look forward to reading them! 🙂

  5. gillmorris Avatar

    An intriguing place, love the architecture and the views of Gibraltar. 🙂 x

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Very intriguing Gill. Another destination for you? 😉 x

      1. gillmorris Avatar

        Yes I’ll add it to my ever-increasing list 🙂 x

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Cool, glad I can show you another destination. 🙂 x

  6. Dee Avatar

    Fascinating post- I’ve never even heard of Ceuta! I love the history of the place, and that blue Med water..

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thanks Dee!
      Ceuta is a destination worth visiting and in 2011, not touristy at all. 😉

  7. karenincalabria Avatar

    Interesting. I never heard of Ceuta. That mass-exodus caged feeling you describe does sound a bit daunting, though.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      I don’t think many people have Karen and the reason I wanted to give travellers a taste of what to expect, especially when crossing at the border.

  8. equinoxio21 Avatar

    Another interesting post. (And there still is Ilford B&W film?) 🙂

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you. Of course there is and I still use Ilford B&W. 😉

      1. equinoxio21 Avatar

        Compliments. Some things still survive. I still remember when I used Ilford. I thought it had gone under as many other things. 🙂

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Not at all, it has always been available.

        The issue is finding a lab that does a good job at developing and scanning your negs. I have my own darkroom in storage but when I’m on the road, it’s hit and miss finding a good lab. Sometimes negs are scratched during developing, other times, the scanning is sub-standard, not to mentioned the expensive cost to do both.
        Ciao 🙂

      3. equinoxio21 Avatar

        yes, I suspect it probably is better to do it yourself. But then you can’t always wait can you? (Your own darkroom. I am impressed. Though not surprised).
        A piú tarde.

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Yes. Exactly, I can’t wait, I’m too impatient when it comes to film.
        Well, it’s really my laundry, which I convert to a darkroom when I need to use my equipment – easy to do with blackout material.
        Ciao, ciao

  9. amybmoreno Avatar

    I really enjoyed this – I didn’t even know Ceuta existed!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      No, it’s a little African secret Amy and hope it inspires more travellers to visit.

  10. idjourneys Avatar

    Interesting place!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Very interesting and so different to other parts of Africa.

      1. idjourneys Avatar

        Yes, indeed!

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        You will have to venture there…many thanks for your comment.

  11. LuLu B - Calabrisella Mia Avatar

    Very interesting post, Nilla! A place I’ve never heard of before. The picture of the moat at night is so cool!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you Lulu and glad I could show you a new destination. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Own one of my Limited Edition photographs or prints. Click this #saatchiart icon for my page.

Saatchi Art

Follow my blog by email!
Never miss out on a fabulous photo deal or travel update.

Join 8,285 other subscribers

I'm currently in Kosovo

Global visitors since February 2017 - thank you!


Visitors since May 2016 - thank you!

Flag Counter

©2015-2023 Image Earth Travel

This website's content cannot be copied and/or published in any way, without written permission from
Image Earth Travel.

Feel free to use excerpts and links, provided that you give full and clear credit to Image Earth Travel,
with appropriate and specific direction/link to the original content.

Follow me on...

pinterest logo circle P in Red png
%d bloggers like this: