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Ceuta (Autonomous City, Spain)

Last modified: 2018-02-23 by ivan sache
Keywords: ceuta |
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Flag of Ceuta, left, for official use, right, for unofficial use - Images by Antonio Gutiérrez (Spanish Vexillological Society), 22 August 2015

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Presentation of Ceuta

The Autonomous City of Ceuta (84,963 inhabitants in 2014; 1,850 ha; unofficial website) is located on the northern coast of Africa on the eastern side of the Strait of Gibraltar, surrounded on land by Morocco.
The Autonomy Status of Ceuta is prescribed by Constitutional Law No. 1, adopted on 13 March 1995 by the Spanish Parliament and published on 14 March 1995 in the Spanish official gazette, No. 62, pp. 8,055-8,061 (text). Article 1 states that Ceuta is "an integral part of the Spanish Nation and of its indissoluble unity". This is a clear answer to the claims of Morocco, which considers Ceuta and Melilla as "occupied territory". The city is ruled by an elected Assembly (25 members), a President and a Council of Government.
Ceuta forms a urban continuum with the surrounding Moroccan settlements. To prevent illegal immigration into European Union and smuggling, the border fence surrounding the city was strengthened in 2005 with the building of a third, brand new fence of 6 m in height, topped with razor wire.

Ceuta was first documented as Abila, a possible Phoenician or Punic settlement. The place was known to the Romans as Septem Frates, the Seven Hills. Remains of a garum (salted fish) workshop have been found in the Ceuta isthmus, dated back to Juba II, King of Mauretania (25 BC - 23). Made with fish captured using the Moorish almadraba device - still used today in Ceuta -, garum was exported in amphorae all over the Roman Empire, being the main source of income for Ceuta. In the 2nd century, the garum industry covered the whole isthmus, with the set up of specialized workshops (fish washing, garum processing, amphora store...). A Christian basilica was erected in the 4th century close to the garum workshops, to be subsequently used as a necropolis. As of today, this is the most important Christian sanctuary discovered in the Mauretania Tingitana province.
In 429, the Vandals led by King Gaiseric (428-477) crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and landed at a yet unidentified place - Ceuta or Tangiers; the garum workshops were totally suppressed. The Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (527-555) ordered his general Belisarius (c. 505 - c. 565) to seize Ceuta from the Visigoths, as a first step to the conquest of Iberia.

Count Julian, the Byzantine ruler of Ceuta, collaborated with the Arab conquerors who invaded Iberia in 711, supplying them with ships to transport troops. In 740, the revolted Berbers defeated an army sent from Damascus and seized Ceuta after a one-year siege; the town was destroyed and its inhabitants sold as slaves. The town was re-settled by Mâjakas, the leader of the Majkasa Berber tribe. The Banu Isam dynasty transformed Ceuta in a corsair's stronghold. Their power ended in 931 when they submitted to Abd-ar-Rahman III (929-961), Caliph of Córdoba and ruler of al-Andalus. Strongly fortified, Ceuta became the main port of transit between Maghreb and al-Andalus.
The collapse of the caliphate initiated a long period of trouble, characterized by a succession of short-lived rules. In 1061, Suqut-Al Barbawati proclaimed himself ruler of Ceuta and Tangiers, re-establishing trade. Conquered in 1084 by the Almoravid emir Yusuf Ibn Tasufin (1061-1106), Ceuta served as a base for raids against al-Andalus. The Almohad rule, established in 1147, made of Ceuta the main port of trade between the Moorish and Christian states; consulates were set up in the town by Pisa, Genoa, Marseilles and Aragón. Severely decreased after the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, won by the Christian kings in 1212, the Almohad hegemony was challenged everywhere; Ceuta was seized in 1232 by Ibn Hud, the revolted Governor of Murcia. An affluent trader, Al Yaneeti, ruled the town from 1233 to 1236. The Almohad restoration was short-lived, since Ceuta was placed in 1242 under the rule of the Hafsids of Tunis. Expelled in 1249 after the death of Abu Zakariya Yahya, the Hafsids were succeeded for the next century by the Banu al-Azafi; Abu l’Qasim accepted in 1273 to pay a yearly tribute to the Marinids after a fleet, including Aragonese vessels, had attacked the town. His son Abu Hatim set up in 1278 an alliance with the Marinids during the siege of Algeciras by the Castilian troops. After a brief Nasrid occupation (1305-1309), Ceuta was retroceded to the Banu al-Azafi by Sultan Abu Said. In 1327, the Marinids expelled the last Azafi ruler; they would rule the town until the Portuguese conquest.

Ceuta was conquered on 21 August 1415 by King João I of Portugal, Royal Princes Henrique, Duarte and Pedro, the Count of Barcelos and the famous Constable Nuno Álvares Pereira. In spite of the recommendation of his councillors, the king decided to maintain permanent sovereignty over the conquered town; he appointed Pedro de Meneses, the son of one of his fiercest opponents, Governor of Ceuta. Life in Ceuta was harsh, because of the skirmishes with the Moors and the total dependence on continental Portugal for subsistence; a local economy developed, based on land and sea raids. Population was about 2,500, mostly soldiers. Prince Henrique repelled Nasrid and Marinid attacks in 1418 and 1419. The expedition against Tangiers organized by Princes Henrique and Fernando in 1437 failed; kept as an hostage, Fernando died in jail, satisfied, according to the legend, "because Ceuta did not return to Islam during his life". Manuel I revamped in 1472 the fortifications of Ceuta, then one of the four Portuguese strongholds in Africa, following the conquest of Alcazar Seguer (1458), Arcial and Tangiers (1471).

Ceuta was part of the Iberian Union from 1580 to 1640. When the Portuguese Restoration War broke out, Ceuta sided with Spain while the other Portuguese strongholds in Africa recognized the Duke of Braganza as their king. The Treaty of Peace and Friendship signed in 1668 recognized the "Spanishness" of Ceuta. The nobles and church dignitaries of the Portuguese party were replaced by Castilians. The siege of the town by Moulay Ismail from 1694 to 1727 prompted the increase of the fortifications. Mohammed III re-established good relations with the Court of Spain, signing a peace treaty in 1767.
During the War of Independence, Ceuta served as a withdrawal zone; the Cortes planned to meet in the town, would the French troops have seized Cádiz.

Ivan Sache, 22 August 2015

Symbols of of Ceuta

The flag (photo, photo, photo) and arms of Ceuta are prescribed in Article 3 of the Autonomy Statutes, as follows:

1. The flag of the City of Ceuta is the traditional flag, with four white triangles and four black triangles formed by the diagonals and the medians of the flag, starting with a black triangle in the upper left corner.
2. The coat of arms of Ceuta is the traditional coat of arms of the Town.

Ivan Sache, 22 August 2015

Like in Portuguese cities, in the present there are two official versions for the flag of Ceuta, one with the city's coat of arms in the centre of the gyronny field and another without it. Both versions can be seen flying in several places of the city.

Josí J. Xambre Sobral, 23 August 2000

Origin of the symbols of Ceuta

The flag of Ceuta, gyronny white and black, is usually known as the flag of St. Vincent or the flag of Lisbon. One of the oldest flags in Europe, it features the colours of the Order of St. Dominic. Once used as a national flag in Portugal, it was subsequently converted into the flag of Lisbon.
The coat of arms of Ceuta is modelled on the coat of arms of Portugal, with some differences:
- the coat of arms of Ceuta features only two castles in the upper bordure, while the coat of arms features three of them.
- the coat of arms of Ceuta is surmounted by a Marquis' coronet instead of a Royal crown (Kingdom of Portugal) or a mural crown (Republic of Portugal*), recalling that the governors of the border towns were granted the title of Marquis.
Ceuta was the first place conquered out of continental Portugal. To stress the significance of the event, the town was granted symbols closely related to the national ones. Some scholars believe that the use of similar symbols highlights Ceuta as the capital of the new overseas empire.
Historians have claimed that Ceuta was granted another coat of arms, featuring a three-towered castle over waves, as represented on the celtil, the coin minted in Ceuta and used by Columbus during his first voyage to the Americas.
[Official website]

Gomes Eanes de Azurara's Chronicle of the Conquest of Ceuta relates, Chapter LXXXVI, that King João I ordered to hoist the flag of Lisbon** on the highest tower of the Marinid castle. The other flags, such as the standards of Princes Henrique and Duarte, were hoisted over the lower town.
[Blog de Ceuta]

Ivan Sache, 22 August 2015

*The Portuguese Republic never used a mural crown in its arms. Upon becoming a republic in 1910, Portugal adopted a modified coat of arms that lacks a crown and any kind of equivalent headgear.

**The black and white gironny pattern as the Lisbon flag seems to have appeared anew in 1919 and there is no evidence for its previous use as such.
The similarities with both the emblem of the Dominican Order and historical Portuguse flags (Order of Christ and flags shown on portolanos) is either fortuitous or trivial.
The Lisbon flag hoisted in Ceuta upon conquest is mentioned but not described in the 1436 chronicle and might have been a two-sided crimson damask with the city arms on the reverse and the Royal arms on the obverse. Therefore the adoption of the "1415 flag of Lisbon" by Ceuta as a black and white gyronny, while interestingly symbolic, is also most likely anachronic and not previous to 1919.
[Francisco Matos. 2001 A Bandeira Municipal de Lisboa: introdução á vexilologia autárquica olisiponense. Cadernos do Arquivo Municipal, 1/5, 109-127]

António Martins, 20 October 2017

Coat of arms of Ceuta


Coat of arms of Ceuta - Image by Antonio Gutiérrez (Spanish Vexillological Society), 22 August 2015

The symbols of Ceuta and their rules of use are further described in the By-Laws of Protocol and Ceremonial of Ceuta, adopted on 22 January 2007 and published on 1 February 2007 in the official gazette of Ceuta, No. 82, Special Issue No. 2, pp. 7-12 (text).
Article 4 repeats the aforementioned description of the flag, adding the usual provisions for use and display.
Article 3 gives a detailed description of the coat of arms, as follows:

1. The coat of arms of Ceuta is the traditional one, described as follows:
On a field or background argent, five escutcheons azure, or blue, arranged in a cross pattern, each charged with five bezants argent forming a saltire, a bordure gules, or red, charged with seven castles or, two in chief, two on the flanks, and three in base; the shield traditionally surmounted by a Marquis' coronet.
3. The coat of arms of Ceuta shall be used on:
a. The flags of Ceuta hoisted outside or inside the municipal buildings.

A detailed description of the coat of arms is given in the Manual of the Coat of Arms of the City (PDF).
Colour specifications are given as follows:

Tincture	   RGB		CMYK (%)

Or		255 204  80	0 21 92 0
Argent		204 204 204    24 18 17 0
Azure		  0   0 255    88 77  0 0			
Gules		255   0   0	0 95 94 0
On photos showing the flag in detail (photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo photo), most of them featuring the President-Mayor of Ceuta in official events, the flag bears a coat of arms reported as "erroneous" in the Manual, that is with the castles represented as simple towers. I have not found any photographical evidence of the flag with the coat of arms prescribed in the Manual. Event the most recent images (June 2015) show the "erroneous" coat of arms, while the graphical representations of the coat of arms, for instance on the City website, have been updated.

Ivan Sache, 22 August 2015

Banner / Royal standard of Ceuta

The banner (pendón) or Royal standard of Ceuta (photos) is prescribed in Article 5 of the aforementioned By-Laws, as follows:

1. The banner or Royal standard of Ceuta shall be placed in a prominent place in the Throne Hall of the Palace of the Assembly, inside a showcase with atmosphere controlled for its optimum preservation.
2. To prevent damage, a replica of the banner shall be used. It should be used only for the Corpus Christi Festival or under exceptional circumstances requiring its use, with previous permission by the Council of Government.

Paragraph 3 prescribes the ritual regarding the use of the banner during the Corpus Christi procession (video, 2014).

The banner is said to have been embroidered by Philippa of Lancaster, Queen consort of Portugal (1387-1415), a strong pusher of the conquest of Ceuta. She died, however, on 19 July 1415, and, therefore, could not have been part of the expedition as several sources claim. Anyway, the banner was kept in the town of Ceuta as a symbol of the conquest and of the Portuguese identity and union. In 1580, when the Governor of Gibraltar took possession of Ceuta in the name of King Philip II of Spain / Philip I of Portugal, the reverse of the banner was embroidered with the Spanish arms.
Originally kept in the old St. James convent, the banner was placed in 1569 under the custody of the Trinitarians. During the Liberal Triennium (1820-1823), the banner was transferred to the Town Hall, where it found its current location in 1835. The banner was restored in 1922 by the painter Mariano Bertuchi (1884-1955; biography).
EL Faro Digital]

The coat of arms of Ceuta featured on the banner is represented with three-towered castles; it might be the origin of the amended coat of arms depicted in the aforementioned Manuel.

Ivan Sache, 22 August 2015

Ceuta in the "Book of All Kingdoms" (14th century)


Flag of Ceuta in the Book of All Kingdoms - Image by Eugene Ipavec, 8 April 2009

The "Book of All Kingdoms" [f0fXX], of 1350, tells the voyages of an anonymous Castilian friar and is illustrated with 113 flag images, referred to (though seldom described) in the text.
The 63rd flag mentioned and illustrated in the "Book of All Kingdoms" is attributed, apparently, to Ceuta.
The 2005 Spanish illustrated transcription of the "Book" [f0f05] shows a red flag with two large white keys standing upwards, in the ogival default shape of this source.
The anonymous author of the "Book" describes the flag thusly: ... llegué a la fuerte cibdat de Cepta. E sabet que Cebta es en derecho de Algezira e de Gibraltar, logares del reino de España. E pasa entre esta Cepta e Gibraltar el golfo del mar que llaman el angostura del azocaque. El rey d'esta cibdat á por señales un pendón bermejo con dos llaves blancas a tales. Sallí de Cebta e fui....
The sentence is far from clear. It seems to refer to Ceuta, while the keys seems to indicate that the flag may, indeed, be that of Gibraltar.

António Martins, 27 November 2007


Siegel's rendition of the flag - Image by Eugene Ipavec, 8 April 2009

Based on the same source, Siegel's flag chart [sig 12] shows a red lanceolate flag with two golden keys.

Klaus-Michael Schneider, 12 September 2008

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