The Estrecho de Gibraltar which is also known as the Strait of Gibraltar is a channel connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. The channel lies between the northwesternmost part of Africa and the southernmost part of Europe. The width between Point Cires in Morocco and Point Marroqui in Spain is only 8 miles apart. On the western end of the channel between Cape Trafalgar, Spain and Cape Spartel, Morocco on the south is 27 miles. On the eastern end between the Rock of Gibraltar to the north and Mount Hacho to the south is 14 miles. The two high points on the eastern end are referred to as the Pillars of Hercules.
Significance of the Strait
The Strait of Gibraltar is 1,200 feet deep and it is formed by the high plateau of Spain and the Atlas Mountains in Northern Africa. The Pillars of Hercules marked the westernmost point in the Classical World. The Strait was used by early voyagers accessing the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean and vice versa. The Strait of Gibraltar was, therefore, a vital shipping route. It was also used as a link between Southern Europe and Northern Africa. The strait represents a strategic maritime choke-point. Over the centuries various powers have fought to gain control of the Strait through the forceful acquisition of the Rock of Gibraltar. Oman, Britain, Portugal, and Spain are among the powers that have sought to control the strategic maritime passage.
Countries Bordering the Strait
The Strait of Gibraltar is largely between Morocco to the south and Spain to the north, but the struggle to control the Pillars of Hercules led to the United Kingdom controlling the enclave of Gibraltar on the Spanish side to the north and Spain controlling the enclave of Ceuta on the Moroccan side. Spain has in the past tried to reclaim control of Gibraltar which is controlled by the UK through military means without success. Morocco on the other hand still aspires to control the Spanish enclave of Ceuta. The strategic choke points of Gibraltar and Ceuta were gained by Britain and Spain when both were strong navy powers.
The Spanish Enclave of Ceuta
Ceuta was initially seized by the Portuguese in 1415 in what was deemed as the birth of the Portuguese empire. Portugal territorial possessions were transferred in their entirety to the Spanish following the Portuguese invasion of Morocco in 1580 that resulted in great losses for the former and the consequent colonization of Portugal by Spain. Portugal regained its independence in the year 1640. Spain, however, maintained possession of the strategic enclave.
Territory of Gibraltar
The strategic enclave of Gibraltar fell in 1704 during the English-Dutch campaign that happened during the War of Spanish Succession. Later, Spain seceded the sovereignty of the enclave to Britain in 1713 through the Treaty of Utrecht. To this date, the Spanish government considers Gibraltar as part of Spanish Territory that has been colonized.
Resolving Claims to the Enclaves
Apart from military approaches that have been used by Spain to regain Gibraltar in the past, the nation has also sought to stake its claim through the United Nations. Intensive Spanish pressure has led the United Nations to place the peninsula in the category of Non-Self Governing territories which are normally considered colonized. Britain, however, maintains the residents of Gibraltar want to retain the self-governance and British citizenship. In 1990, a proposal was formulated for joint sovereignty by both Britain and Spain. The proposal was however rejected by the people of Gibraltar in 2002. The dispute between Morocco and Spain over the possession of Ceuta among other enclaves and islands also remains unsolved.