Have you ever wondered what Melilla’s coat of arms tells us? Why is it crowned by a warrior with a dagger? And what do its inscriptions mean?
In 1913 King Alfonso XIII granted Melilla the use of the Official Coat of Arms of the Ducal House of Medina Sidonia, the Pérez de Guzmáns, as this paid for the expedition to take Melilla… Until then our city had no coat of arms, and although we can see several in Melilla la Vieja, they correspond to the Royal Coats of Arms of the different Monarchs who reigned during the constructions.
But… Who were the Pérez de Guzmáns?
They were the Dukes of Medina Sidonia, among other titles. They were one of the richest families of the Andalusian Nobility and had rendered great services to the Catholic Monarchs at the time of the Reconquest. They were descended from the defender of Tarifa, Guzmán el Bueno, founder of the house of Medina Sidonia which, as we have already mentioned, was responsible for the capture of Melilla and for this reason we are directly linked to them.
So far so good? I continue…
Guzmán el Bueno was entrusted with the town of Tarifa, which he had to defend and put his own son before handing it over. For this reason, the warrior we see on the top of a castle refers to him, who is shown throwing a dagger as a sign of defence. As for the inscription on the ribbon “Praeferre Patriam Liberis Parentem Decet”, it means “It is better to put the fatherland before the family”.
On the other hand, on both sides of the coat of arms we find two columns that refer to the Pillars of Hercules. But what does this have to do with anything?
These columns referred to an ancient warning in Greek mythology that Hercules had placed two pillars in the Strait of Gibraltar, which was believed to be the boundary of the world. On the band around them is the inscription “Non plus Ultra”, meaning “No more beyond”. This motto lost its power with Christopher Columbus once he crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1492. From this moment in 1516 Charles I of Spain changed the motto to PLUS ULTRA “BEYOND” becoming the official motto of the Spanish empire which gives us a clue of his courageous character and expansive attitude.
Also on the coat of arms are castles and lions in honour of the Royal House of Castile, the ducal crown itself and a dragon in homage to some of the heroic deeds of Guzmán el Bueno himself. There are also serpent heads representing prudence and cunning.
And this is when some of my visitors ask me, but…. What do these stories have to do with Melilla? Well, the answer is nothing, as let’s remember that the coat of arms is a gift from the House of Medina Sidonia, therefore, they are facts respective to this Ducal House and not to the city of Melilla itself.
Next time you go for a walk, take a look and you can find them in many places…one of my favourites are the representations on the gate of the Parque Hernandez in front of the Plaza de España. What about yours?
Discover all this and much more on the guided tours I have prepared for you.