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SPAIN - Plazas de Soberania, Africa


Location - North Africa; Capital - Madrid; Population - Plazas de Soberania - estimated 250 to 400; Spain - 46 million; Currency - Euro MORE SPAIN (Ceuta)

The Plazas de Soberania (Sovereign Territories) is the name given to the Spanish territories on the Mediterranean north African coast in Morocco. These are divided into the plazas mayores, the major territories of Melilla and Ceuta, and the plazas menores, the minor territories. More about the plazas de soberania and the headaches they bring to Spain..

The plazas menores are made up of military fortresses or uninhabited islands. In recent times the terms 'plazas de soberania' and 'plazas menores' have become interchangeable. One more thing! Peñon is a term referring to the forts built during the Spanish empire.

I'm fascinated by these political anomalies and I made several attempts to track them all down (well, nearly all) - October 2011, December 2013 and October 2014.

 

euroI guess the Spanish military use the Euro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plazas de Soberanía

Plazas Mayores:

Ceuta - Spanish exclave opposite Algeciras and Gibraltar, with a population of 85,000 My Ceuta 1 and Ceuta 2 pages

Melilla - Spanish exclave opposite Malaga and Almeria, with a population of 80,000 My Melilla 1 and Melilla 2 pages

 

Plazas Menores:

Isla Perejil - Tiny unoccupied and hotly disputed island, west of - and classed as part of - Ceuta. Technically not a plaza de soberania but as good as..

Peñón de Velez de la Gomera - Spanish military fortress an hour's walk from Torres de Alcala, itself an hour's drive west of Al-Hoceima

Peñón de Alhucemas - Spanish fortress island in a bay opposite Plage Asfiha in Al-Hoceima

Isla de Mar and Isla de Tierra - Two uninhabited islands right next to Peñón de Alhucemas

Islas Chafarinas - Three islands off the coast of Ras el-Ma, an hour's drive east of Melilla: Isla del Rey, Isla del Congreso and Isla de Isabel II

Isla de Alboran - 50km off the Moroccan coast, north of Melilla, with a military garrison. Part of the Spanish province of Almeria (mainland Spain) 90km further north

Isla de las Nubes - Tiny unoccupied island 100 metres from Isla de Alboran

 

Population (all military): Velez de la Gomera: 60?; Isla de Isabel II (Chafarinas): 190; Peñón de Alhucemas: 60; Isla de Alboran: 60?

 

penon23Three islands are clearly visible from the Moroccan resort of Al-Hoceima. But they're not Moroccan, they're Spanish. On the left is Peñón de Alhucemas, in the middle Isla de Mar and on the right Isla de Tierra

 

mor513A short taxi ride to the Moroccan beach Plage Asfiha provides a good look at the islands. The main one is Peñon de Alhucemas

 

mor516At its longest point, Peñon de Alhucemas measures 220 metres

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

mor520The military fortress is crammed with buildings, including a church, houses and a helicopter landing pad - Peñon de Alhucemas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

mor526Soldiers exit the helicopter next to the church. And yes, Peñon de Alhucemas is off-limits to visitors

 

penon28Zooming in on Peñon de Alhucemas from Al-Hoceima

 

 

mor510A few hundred metres from the military fortress are the uninhabited islands of Isla de Tierra and Isla del Mar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

mor506Isla de Tierra is so close to the Moroccan coast - weird!
It's a legacy of Spain's influence in Morocco, which extended down to Western Sahara (formerly Spanish Sahara).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

penon26Isla de Tierra, as seen from the park above the bus station at Al-Hoceima

 

mor509'No entry. Grounds of the Spanish Ministry of Defence' - a sign in Spanish, French and Arabic on the uninhabited island of Isla de Tierra

 

 

penon27The other Spanish island in the bay is Isla de Mar. I watched soldiers from Alhucemas take a small motorboat to the island, mess around for a few minutes then head back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

penon25A Spanish military helicopter flies away from Peñon de Alhucemas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

melilla369These iron gates from Peñon de Alhucemas are an exhibit at the Military Museum in Melilla

 

penon22An early morning walk down to Al-Hoceima bus station, looking for transport to Torres de Alcala and onward to Peñón de Velez de la Gomera - Peñon de Alhucemas

mor676

I took a private taxi from Al-Hoceima to Torres de Alcala, a Moroccan fishing village an hour's drive west of Al-Hoceima. The area has a beautiful rugged coastline; the hilltop ruins in the foreground are ruined Spanish miltary watchtowers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

mor686I walked along a hillside path followed by a gravel road for about an hour until I reached Peñón de Velez de la Gomera. It took 35-40mins to get this photo opp, my first glimpse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

penon33The Spanish military fortress of Peñón de Velez de la Gomera, a magnificent structure linked to the Moroccan mainland by a narrow stretch of sand

 

penon43Ruined walls are all that remain of the ancient city of Bades, on the hillside opposite Peñón de Velez de la Gomera

 

penon31But Bades the tiny fishing village survives, opposite the peñon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

mor688The beach at Bades

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

penon32La Isleta, the stone block on the right, also forms part of Peñón de Velez de la Gomera

 

penon78It's linked to the fort by some base rock and a rickety looking bridge, Peñón de Velez de la Gomera

 

penon45Spain gained the fortress in the 16th century following a battle with Ottoman soldiers in 1564 - Peñón de Velez de la Gomera

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

penon46You can see a Moroccan watchtower in the bottom right. The two countries keep an eye on each other - Peñón de Velez de la Gomera

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

penon80A slightly bored Moroccan soldier looks across the waters to Peñón de Velez de la Gomera. He looked surprised as I walked down the rough hillside tracks, and asked me why I was there. After explaining I wanted to see the fort he let me carry on down to the beach

 

penon66The most bizarre international border I've come across! The thin blue rope just after the fishing boats marks the border between Morocco and Spain. Until 1934 it was an island but a storm washed up rocks and sand, creating the weirdest frontier - Peñón de Velez de la Gomera

 

penon69As I walked towards the rope soldiers from both Morocco and Spain began shouting at me - Peñón de Velez de la Gomera

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

penon49As the plazas de soberania are too small for airstrips (save for Melilla) the helicopter comes into its own - Peñón de Velez de la Gomera

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

penon52I got talking to some Legion soldiers in Melilla's Casino Militar, present for a photographic exhibition detailing the Spanish Legion in Iraq, Mali, Afghanistan etc. They told me they have six-month placements on Peñón de Velez de la Gomera while based in Melilla

 

penon53The Spanish flag flies from the top of Peñón de Velez de la Gomera

 

melilla282A model of Peñón de Velez de la Gomera can be found in the foyer of the Casino Militar in Melilla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

melilla283The east side - Peñón de Velez de la Gomera

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

melilla287The model comes complete with a map - Peñón de Velez de la Gomera

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

penon71A local (by that I mean Moroccan) fishing boat hangs around the base of Peñón de Velez de la Gomera

 

melilla347'La Custodia de Sol' (Custody of the Sun) is an ancient silver piece from Peñón de Velez de la Gomera, on display in the Convent in Melilla's old town

 

penon57A Spanish soldier on lookout duty - Peñón de Velez de la Gomera

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

penon55He took off his machine gun, placed it against the wall and did a bit of sweeping up - Peñón de Velez de la Gomera

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

penon65The helicopter pad stands above the housing area of Peñón de Velez de la Gomera

 

penon63I can see satellite dishes, communications antennae, clothes on a washing line and maybe an outside chill-out area on the corner. According to the Casino Militar map in Melilla, on the other side there's shops - Peñón de Velez de la Gomera

 

penon72At the base is a motorised dinghy and quite a bit of barbed wire - Peñón de Velez de la Gomera

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

penon74In 2012 seven Moroccan activists entered Spanish territory and placed Moroccan flags on the rock - Peñón de Velez de la Gomera

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

penon75All these fishing boats are in Morocco. On the left, in Spanish territory, is a volleyball net - Peñón de Velez de la Gomera

 

penon79From the Moroocan fishing village of Bades, with La Isleta as a backdrop - Peñón de Velez de la Gomera

 

penon35As I made my way back to Torres de Alcala the helicopter took off, presumably on its way to Melilla - Peñón de Velez de la Gomera

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

mor648The Chafarinas Islands are another slice of Spain in Africa, just off the coast of Morocco at Ras el-Ma

 

mor646A seawall protects Ras el-Ma from the Mediterranean. The resort is an hour's drive east of Nador, on the way to Algeria

 

mor642The headland facing the islands is a Moroccan military zone, supposedly off-limits to visitors - Ras el-Ma

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

mor652From the headland the three islands that constitute Islas Chafarinas are in full view. On the left is the largest, Isla del Congreso, followed by Isla de Isabel II, with Isla del Rey on the right - Ras el-Ma

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

melilla380There's a brief archaeological history of the Chafarinas Islands in Melilla's History Museum - Islas Chafarinas

 

penon13Isla del Congreso is a rugged island with no permanent population - Islas Chafarinas

 

penon20These were the solitary buildings I saw on Isla del Congreso - Islas Chafarinas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

penon4Isla de Isabel II is the only populated island - Islas Chafarinas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

penon15bIt has a 190-man military garrison - Isla de Isabel II, Islas Chafarinas

 

penon161718

As well as the garrison Isla de Isabel II has a lighthouse, watchtower, Church of the Immaculate Conception and the Neolithic site of Zafrin - Islas Chafarinas

 

penon9Isla del Rey is the most easterly of the three islands - Islas Chafarinas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

penon19A civil cemetery lies on Isla del Rey though I'm not sure whether it's still in use - Islas Chafarinas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

penon11A look at the Chafarinas Islands from the seawall at Ras el-Ma

 

 

penon21Biologists and archaeologists have a small chance of visiting the islands, though I read somewhere these permissions have been revoked. Military only! Islas Chafarinas

 

morocco710 And so to my final Spanish territory for now, a short walk from the coastal town of Belyounech, which hugs the northern border of Ceuta (the Ceuti village of Benzu is in the distance, top left)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

perejil3Once the dirt road ends, my taxi driver Abdel Kadir led the short walk over a ridge from Belyounech to the tiny, uninhabited Isla de Perejil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

perejil6Isla de Perejil was briefly occupied by Moroccan soldiers in 2002. Spanish forces booted them off the island seven days later

 

ceuta343The Spanish Legion Museum in Ceuta has a picture dedicated to Operation Romeo-Sierra, the name given to the liberation of Isla de Perejil in 2002

 

perejil11Posing in front of Isla de Perejil, known as 'Laila' in Arabic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

perejil10My first attempted visit ended in torrential rain with a taxi driver who led me to the opposite side of the Belyounech bay. Try try again!
Abdel Kadir goes fishing near Isla de Perejil so he knows what he's doing, driving from Fnideq grand taxi station (tel: 06781 63773)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

perejil7Only goats are a permanent feature on Isla de Perejil. Having said that I didn't see anything but trees

 

penon83Somewhere in this photo is (maybe) Isla de Perejil, from the Ceuta - Algeciras boat to mainland Spain

 

 

Website and content Copyright © 2008-2016 Mark Wilkinson. All rights reserved.

 

LINKS

www.melillaturismo.com

www.melilla.es - in Spanish

www.melillamonumental.org

www.spain.info - Spanish tourist board

 

I am not responsible for the content of external websites.

 

 
 
 
   
 
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