Melilla is a semicircle of 12 sq km carved out of the Moroccan coastline. The old town, Melilla la Vieja, is a highly complex, multilevel fortress that juts out into the sea. It contains numerous museums, as well as some small residential areas. The port and major beaches lie to the south, with the ferry terminal directly east.
The ‘new town’ is a broken grid of streets with an attractive commercial centre full of modernist buildings. The heart is the long triangular Parque Hernández, which ends at the circular Plaza de España. Most of the hotels, banks and restaurants are located to the north.
Construction of the new part of town, west of the fortress, began at the end of the 19th century. Laid out by Gaudí disciple Don Enrique Nieto, Melilla is considered by some to be Spain's 'second modernist city', after Barcelona. The highlight is Plaza de España, with the lovely facade of the Palacio de la Asamblea facing Parque Hernández.
At the turn of the 20th century, Melilla was the only centre of trade between Tetouan and the Algerian border. As the city grew, it expressed itself in the architectural style of Modernisme (not to be confused with the cultural movement of modernism), which was then in vogue. This trend continued locally even after it went out of fashion elsewhere. The result is a living museum of hundreds of modernist and art-deco buildings. Unlike Ceuta, many of these treasures have yet to be dusted off, but the overall architectural wealth is greater.
The best way to appreciate this heritage is to stroll through the area to the north of Parque Hernández; it’s known as ‘the golden triangle’.