CEUTA (Arabic Sebta), a Spanish military and convict station and seaport on the north coast of Morocco, in 35° 54′ N., 5° 18′ W. Pop. about 13,000. It is situated on a promontory connected with the mainland by a narrow isthmus. This promontory marks the south-eastern end of the straits of Gibraltar, which between Ceuta and Gibraltar have a width of 14 m. The promontory terminates in a bold headland, the Montagne des Singes, with seven distinct peaks. Of these the highest is the Monte del Hacko, the ancient Abyla, one of the “Pillars of Hercules,” which faces Gibraltar and rises 636 ft. above the sea. On the westernmost point—Almina, 476 ft. high—is a lighthouse with a light visible for 23 m. Ceuta consists of two quarters, the old town, covering the low ground of the isthmus, and the modern town, built on the hills forming the north and west faces of the peninsula. Between the old and new quarters and on the north side of the isthmus lies the port. The public buildings in the town, thoroughly Spanish in its character, are not striking: they include the cathedral (formerly a mosque), the governor’s palace, the town hall, barracks, and the convict prison in the old convent of San Francisco. Ceuta has been fortified seaward, the works being furnished with modern artillery intended to command the entrance to the Mediterranean. Landward are three lines of defence, the inner line stretching completely across the isthmus. These fortifications, which date from the time of the Portuguese occupation, have been partly modernized. The citadel, El Hacho, built on the neck of the isthmus, dates from the 15th century. The garrison consists of between 3000 and 4000 men, inclusive of a disciplinary corps of military convicts. Of the rest of the population about 2000 are civilian convicts; and there are colonies of Jews, negroes and Moors, the last including descendants of Moors transferred to Ceuta from Oran when Spain abandoned that city in 1796.
Ceuta occupies in part the site of a Carthaginian colony, which was succeeded by a Roman colony said to have been called Ad Septem Fratres and also Exilissa or Lissa Civitas. From the Romans the town passed to the Vandals and afterwards to Byzantium, the emperor Justinian restoring its fortifications in 535. In 618 the town, then known as Septon, fell into the hands of the Visigoths. It was the last stronghold in North Africa which held out against the Arabs. At that date (A.D. 711) the governor of the town was the Count Julian who, in revenge for the betrayal of his daughter by King Roderick of Toledo, invited the Arabs to cross the straits under Tarik and conquer Spain for Islam. By the Arabs the town was called Cibta or Sebta, hence the Spanish form Ceuta. From the date of its occupation by the Arabs the town had a stormy history, being repeatedly captured by rival Berber and Spanish-Moorish dynasties. It became nevertheless an important commercial and industrial city, being noted for its brass ware, its trade in ivory, gold and slaves. It is said to have been the first place in the West where a paper manufactory was established. In 1415 the town was captured by the Portuguese under John I., among those taking part in the attack being Prince Henry “the Navigator” and two of his brothers, who were knighted on the day following in the mosque (hastily dedicated as a Christian church). Ceuta passed to Spain in 1580 on the subjugation of Portugal by Philip II., and was definitely assigned to the Spanish crown by the treaty of Lisbon in 1688. The town has been several times unsuccessfully besieged by the Moors—one siege, under Mulai Ismail, lasting twenty-six years (1694–1720). In 1810, with the consent of Spain, it was occupied by British troops under General Sir J. F. Fraser. The town was restored to Spain by the British at the close of the Napoleonic Wars. As the result of the war between Spain and Morocco in 1860 the area of Spanish territory around the town was increased. The military governor of the town also commands the troops in the other Spanish stations on the coast of Morocco. For civil purposes Ceuta is attached to the province of Cadiz. It is a free port, but does little trade.
See de Prado, Recuerdos de Africa; historia de la plaza de Ceuta (Madrid, 1859–1860); Budgett Meakin, The Land of the Moors (London, 1901), chap. xix., where many works dealing with Spanish Morocco are cited.