Sieges of Ceuta (1694–1727)

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Sieges of Ceuta
Part of Spanish-Moroccan Wars conflicts and the War of the Spanish Succession
Baluarte de la Bandera, Ceuta (2).jpg
The stronghold of La Bandera
Date1694–1720 and 1721–1727
Result Spanish victory
Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg  Spain
( Estandarte Real de Felipe V.svg Bourbons 1704–1713)

Flag of Morocco 1666 1915.svg  Morocco
Supported by

Commanders and leaders
Joseph de Agulló y Pinos
Jean François de Bette
Alí ben Abdalá
3,000 (1694)
19,000 (1720)
up to 40,000

The Sieges of Ceuta (also known as the Thirty-year Siege) [1] were a series of blockades by Moroccan forces of the Spanish-held city of Ceuta on the North African coast. The first siege began on 23 October 1694 and finished in 1720 when reinforcements arrived. [2] During the 26 years of the siege, the city underwent changes leading to the loss of its Portuguese character. While most of the military operations took place around the city walls (Muralles Reales), there were also small-scale penetrations by Spanish forces at various points on the Moroccan coast, and seizure of shipping in the Strait of Gibraltar. The city was placed under a second siege in 1721 until 22 April 1727.

Morocco Country in North Africa

Morocco, officially the Kingdom of Morocco, is a sovereign state located in the Maghreb region of North Africa. It overlooks the Mediterranean Sea to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Morocco claims the areas of Ceuta, Melilla and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera, all of them under Spanish jurisdiction. The capital is Rabat and the largest city Casablanca. Morocco spans an area of 710,850 km2 (274,460 sq mi) and has a population of over 35 million.

Spain Kingdom in Southwest Europe

Spain, officially the Kingdom of Spain, is a European country located in Southwestern Europe with some pockets of Spanish territory across the Strait of Gibraltar and the Atlantic Ocean. Its continental European territory is situated on the Iberian Peninsula. Its territory also includes two archipelagoes: the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, and the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. The African enclaves of Ceuta, Melilla, and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera make Spain the only European country to have a physical border with an African country (Morocco). Several small islands in the Alboran Sea are also part of Spanish territory. The country's mainland is bordered to the south and east by the Mediterranean Sea except for a small land boundary with Gibraltar; to the north and northeast by France, Andorra, and the Bay of Biscay; and to the west and northwest by Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean.

Ceuta Autonomous city in Spain

Ceuta is an 18.5 km2 Spanish autonomous city on the north coast of Africa, separated by 14 km (9 mi) from Cadiz province on the Spanish mainland by the Strait of Gibraltar and sharing a 6.4 km (4 mi) land border with M'diq-Fnideq Prefecture in the Kingdom of Morocco. It lies along the boundary between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean and is one of nine populated Spanish territories in Africa and, along with Melilla, one of two populated territories on mainland Africa. It was part of Cádiz province until 14 March 1995 when both Ceuta and Melilla's Statutes of Autonomy were passed, the latter having been part of Málaga province.


Prior events

Muley Ismail had succeeded in creating a new state able to challenge European powers in North Africa, as well as the Ottoman Empire in present-day Algeria. His forces had captured La Mámora, Tangier, Larache and most recently (1691) Arcila. In 1694 he gave the governor Ali ben Abdala the task of conquering Ceuta.

State (polity) Organised community living under a system of government; either a sovereign state, constituent state, or federated state

A state is a polity that is typically established as a centralized organisation. There is no undisputed definition of a state. Max Weber's definition of a state as a polity that maintains a monopoly on the use of violence is widely used, as are many others.

Ottoman Empire Former empire in Southeast Europe, Western Asia and North Africa

The Ottoman Empire, historically known to its inhabitants and the Eastern world as the Roman Empire, and known in Western Europe as the Turkish Empire or simply Turkey, was a state and caliphate that controlled much of Southeast Europe, Western Asia and North Africa between the 14th and early 20th centuries. It was founded at the end of the 13th century in northwestern Anatolia in the town of Söğüt by the Oghuz Turkish tribal leader Osman I. Although initially the dynasty was of Turkic origin, it was Persianised in terms of language, culture, literature and habits. After 1354, the Ottomans crossed into Europe, and with the conquest of the Balkans, the Ottoman beylik was transformed into a transcontinental empire. The Ottomans ended the Byzantine Empire with the 1453 conquest of Constantinople by Mehmed the Conqueror.

Algeria Country in North Africa

Algeria, officially the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria, is a sovereign state in the Maghreb region of North Africa. The capital and most populous city is Algiers, located in the far north of the country on the Mediterranean coast. With an area of 2,381,741 square kilometres (919,595 sq mi), Algeria is the tenth-largest country in the world, the world's largest Arab country, and the largest in Africa. Algeria is bordered to the northeast by Tunisia, to the east by Libya, to the west by Morocco, to the southwest by the Western Saharan territory, Mauritania, and Mali, to the southeast by Niger, and to the north by the Mediterranean Sea. The country is a semi-presidential republic consisting of 48 provinces and 1,541 communes (counties). It has the highest human development index of all the non-island African countries.

The first siege

Following the occupation of the open country around Ceuta, the sultan’s troops began to construct buildings and cultivate the land to sustain themselves. The governor of Ceuta thereupon asked the Madrid court for help. Troops were sent from Andalusian towns and from Portugal. The arrival of the Portuguese led to friction with the local population. Their intentions were doubted, as Ceuta had been in Portuguese hands up to a few decades previously, and the presence of these troops was seen as an attempt to exert pressure for a return of Portuguese sovereignty. The Portuguese troops were withdrawn without engaging in combat.

Andalusia Autonomous community of Spain

Andalusia is an autonomous community in southern Spain. It is the most populous, and the second largest autonomous community in the country. The Andalusian autonomous community is officially recognised as a "historical nationality". The territory is divided into eight provinces: Almería, Cádiz, Córdoba, Granada, Huelva, Jaén, Málaga and Seville. Its capital is the city of Seville.

Portugal Republic in Southwestern Europe

Portugal, officially the Portuguese Republic, is a country located mostly on the Iberian Peninsula in southwestern Europe. It is the westernmost sovereign state of mainland Europe, being bordered to the west and south by the Atlantic Ocean and to the north and east by Spain. Its territory also includes the Atlantic archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira, both autonomous regions with their own regional governments.

During the whole of this period there were bombardments, gains and losses of positions around the city walls. In July 1695 during a dense fog – common at Ceuta in summer – the Moroccan troops made a surprise attack on the Spanish during a change of guard. The besiegers captured the central square (Plaza de Armas) and those among the defenders who did not succeed in crossing the drawbridge were killed in battle or when they jumped into the moat in an attempt to escape. A later Spanish counterattack regained the Plaza de Armas. [3]

The capture of Gibraltar

In 1704, English and Dutch troops conquered Gibraltar. This was a severe blow for Ceuta, as Gibraltar had been on the main supply route from the peninsula. [4] Communications via Tarifa proved to be difficult owing to strong winds in the Strait of Gibraltar; while other nearby Spanish cities were inaccessible due to their involvement in the War of the Spanish Succession.

Gibraltar British Overseas Territory

Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory located at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula. It has an area of 6.7 km2 (2.6 sq mi) and is bordered to the north by Spain. The landscape is dominated by the Rock of Gibraltar at the foot of which is a densely populated town area, home to over 32,000 people, primarily Gibraltarians.

Peninsular Spain part of Spain in Iberia

Peninsular Spain refers to that part of Spanish territory located within the Iberian peninsula, thus excluding other parts of Spain: the Canary Islands, the Balearic Islands, Ceuta, Melilla, and a number of islets and crags off the coast of Morocco known collectively as plazas de soberanía. In Spain it is mostly known simply as "the Peninsula". It has land frontiers with France and Andorra to the north; Portugal to the west; and the British territory of Gibraltar to the south.

Tarifa Municipality in Andalusia, Spain

Tarifa is a Spanish municipality in the province of Cádiz, Andalusia. Located at the southernmost end of the Iberian Peninsula, it is primarily known as one of the world's most popular destinations for windsports. Tarifa lies on the Costa de la Luz and across the Strait of Gibraltar facing Morocco.

On 7 August of that year Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt sent Juan Basset (a Spanish military commander supporting the Habsburg candidate Archduke Charles of Austria as successor to the Spanish throne) to Ceuta with part of the Anglo-Dutch fleet, calling on the city to surrender in the name of the Archduke with the promise that the siege would then be over. The Marquis of Gironella, governor of the city, and the population refused to surrender to the English and reinforced the Almina peninsula to prevent any bombardment by the fleet. No English attack took place, as the fleet was diverted to confront a Franco-Spanish fleet (Battle of Málaga) which was aiming to retake Gibraltar.

Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt Governor of Gibraltar

Prince George Louis of Hessen-Darmstadt was a Field Marshal in the Austrian army. He is known for his career in Habsburg Spain, as Viceroy of Catalonia (1698–1701), head of the Austrian army in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1705) and governor of Gibraltar in 1704. He was killed during the Siege of Barcelona the following year. He was known in Spanish as Jorge de Darmstadt and in Catalan as Jordi Darmstadt.

Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor Holy Roman Emperor, King of Hungary and Bohemia

Charles VI succeeded his elder brother, Joseph I, as Holy Roman Emperor, King of Bohemia, King of Hungary and Croatia, Serbia and Archduke of Austria in 1711. He unsuccessfully claimed the throne of Spain following the death of his relative, Charles II. In 1708, he married Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, by whom he had his two children: Maria Theresa, the last Habsburg sovereign, and Maria Anna, Governess of the Austrian Netherlands.

Peninsula of Almina peninsula in Ceuta, Spain

The Península de Almina is a peninsula making up much of the eastern part of the Spanish city of Ceuta in Africa. It is dominated by the peak of Monte Hacho. The peninsula contains Ceuta's easternmost point, Punta Almina, and is connected to the rest of Ceuta by an isthmus barely 100 metres in width.

Once Gibraltar was in English hands, it became a source of supply for the Moroccan besiegers.

The arrival of the Marquis of Lede

The Marquis of Lede directing the attack on the besiegers. Levantamiento del sitio de Ceuta (1720).jpg
The Marquis of Lede directing the attack on the besiegers.

During the following years the siege continued with little significant change until the arrival in 1720 of 16,000 soldiers under the command of the Marquis of Lede. These troops were returning from the War of the Quadruple Alliance, which had not achieved the results the Spanish had hoped for. After the loss of all Spanish territory in Italy, Ceuta became a position of strategic importance in the Spanish defensive cordon in the Mediterranean. The Marquis launched a successful expedition against the besiegers, who retreated to Tetuán. However, upon an outbreak of plague a few months later in 1721, the Marquis decided to leave the city, seeing no prospect of capturing Tetuán or Tangier.

The second siege

After the Marquis left, the Moroccans immediately recaptured the city. [3] Another siege and several more battles occurred from 1721 until the death of Muley Ismail in 1727. A war for the throne broke out among the sultan’s sons. On April 22, a reconnaissance expedition from Ceuta confirmed that the Moroccans had left. [3]


During the sieges, many buildings had been destroyed and had to be rebuilt. The Almina quarter, almost uninhabited until the start of the siege, began to be populated. Another of the most notable consequences was the gradual loss of Portuguese features: the Portuguese language and currency were replaced by Spanish language and currency. [3] This process was assisted by the departure of several families fleeing from the long siege, and by the mainly Andalucian origin of the soldiers sent to defend the city and of others who were attracted to the city by the presence of the large body of troops.

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  1. Benady, Tito (1999). "The Convent At Gibraltar". Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research. 77 (311): 196–209. JSTOR   44230279.
  2. Rézette, Robert (1976). The Spanish Enclaves in Morocco. Nouvelles éditions latines. p. 41. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Montes Ramos, José (1999). El sitio de Ceuta, 1694-1727: el ejército de Carlos II y Felipe V. Agualarga. p. 31,35,42–43.
  4. Gómez Barceló, José Luis. Repercusiones de la caída de Gibraltar en Ceuta (Almoraima: revista de estudios campogibraltareños ed.). Mancomunidad de Municipios del Campo de Gibraltar. pp. 93–108.