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Plaza de soberanía

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Plaza de soberanía

The plazas de soberanía (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈplaθaz ðe soβeɾaˈni.a], literally "places of sovereignty") are the current 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.

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.


Following the Reconquista, forces of the Castilian (Spanish) and Portuguese kingdoms conquered and maintained numerous posts in North Africa for trade and as a defence against Barbary piracy.

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) and Ceuta (ceded by Portugal in 1668) remained as Spanish territory in Africa.

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

There are historically three plazas de soberanía:

Territory Coordinates Area (ha)
Islas Alhucemas 12|54|N|3|53|47|W| name= }} ||
---Peñón de Alhucemas 12|48|N|3|53|21|W| name= }} ||
---Isla de Tierra 12|55.83|N|3|54|8.10|W| name= }} ||
---Isla de Mar 13|3.65|N|3|54|2.69|W| name= }} ||
Islas Chafarinas 11|N|2|26|W name= }} ||
---Isla del Congreso 10|43.90|N|2|26|28.31|W| name= }} ||
---Isla Isabel II 10|55.77|N|2|25|46.90|W| name= }} ||
---Isla del Rey 10|51.72|N|2|25|24.96|W| name= }} ||
Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera 10|21.29|N|4|18|2.89|W| name= }} ||

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

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. As part of Spain, they are also part of the European Union, and their currency is the euro.


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

See also

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



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