Ceuta (thāōˈtä) [key], city (1994 pop. 71,926), c.7 sq mi (18 sq km), NW Africa, a possession of Spain, on the Strait of Gibraltar. An enclave in Morocco, Ceuta is administered as an integral part of Cádiz prov., Spain. It is located on a peninsula whose promontory forms one of the Pillars of Hercules. The city, which has a European appearance, is a free port, with a large harbor and ample wharves; it is also a refueling and fishing port. Food processing is an important activity, and tourism is growing. Ceuta is connected with Tétouan, Morocco, by road and rail.
Built on a Phoenician colony, the city was held by Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, and Arabs (711). Taken by Portugal in 1415 (the first permanent European conquest in Africa), it then passed (1580) to Spain. It has remained Spanish despite several attacks, notably a prolonged siege (1694–1720) by the Sultan Moulay Ismail. In the 1990s Ceuta became a way station for many sub-Saharan Africans fleeing civil wars or other strife in their homelands and attempting to emigrate to Europe. In 2002, Morocco, which objects to Spain's possession of Ceuta, Melilla, and several smaller Moroccan outposts, briefly occupied nearby Perejil, or Leila, an uninhabited islet both nations claim. After Spanish forces bloodlessly ousted the Moroccans, both countries agreed to leave Perejil unoccupied.