Melilla Tourism: Sights and Attractions

The small enclave of Melilla – also known as Russadir – was continuously inhabited for more than 200 years. Both the Romans and Phoenicians established Melilla as a coastal base on the Mediterranean.

The town fell into obscurity until it was taken first by the Sultan of Cordoba and then indefinitely by the Spanish in 1496. General Franco used to enclave to declare hostilities leading up to the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

Melilla’s fascinating medieval history lingers in the old town, Melilla la Vieja, with a series of excellently preserved fortresses. On the other hand, the new town boasts an Art Nouveau architecture that places it second behind Barcelona in the list of Spain’s modernist cities.

Melilla La Vieja

Melilla la Vieja

Until the beginning of the twentieth-century, virtually all of Melilla was contained within the walled old town or Melilla la Vieja.

Perched above the Mediterranean, the enclave has always been very vulnerable and gives a prime example of typical 16th century Spanish fortress stronghold. The main entrance to the fortress is Puerta de la Marina, a Gothic gate flanked by a statue of Franco. You come into the quarter’s main square a further to the north of the wall Aljibes de las Penuelas, a pair of 15th century water cisterns.

Follow the fortifications around and you will come to the church of Iglesia de la Concepcion, crowded with baroque decorations and a statue for the revered Nuestra Senora de Victoria (Our Lady of Victory), the city’s patroness.

Nearby, the Museo de Arqueologia e Historia de Melilla houses a collection of archaeological finds, including Phoenician and Roman ceramics. The museum’s terrace affords superb views over the city.

Near the church of Concepcion is the entrance to Las Cuevas del Conventico, which has a short 15 minute audiovisual film and guided tour (both in Spanish only), detailing the history of Melilla and people who had influenced the town during this period.

Also worth visiting is the Museo Militar, a museum dedicated to the Spanish military. You will find a miscellany of Spanish military memorabilia, including regimental flags, a collection of weapons and medals and the obligatory bust of Franco.

The New Town

Construction of the new town of Melilla, west of the old fortress, begun at the end of the 19th century. The design was laid out by Gaudi-disciple Enrique Nieto over four decades, with an Art Nouveau style more flowery than that of Gaudi. Today, many people consider Melilla to be Spain’s second modernist city after Barcelona.

To take on this modernist architecture, start at the Plaza de Espana and follow the grid of streets leading away from it. A prime example is the town hall, Palacio de la Assemblea, designed by Nieto in 1947. Other examples include the Zoruah synagogue, built in 1924, and the Polygon Mosque, dating back to 1945.

Melilla’s association with modern Spanish history is not forgotten with the imposing liberty statue of Statue Grande Libre on Avenida Juan Carlos I Rey. The statue depicts a solider and lion backed by an eagle (a fascist symbol) to mark the beginning of the Spanish Civil War on July 7, 1936.

New Town Melilla