Marbella’s historical background

Prehistoric artefacts have been found dating as far back as the Paleolithic era (circa 25,000BC) in the area of the Coto de Correa in Las Chapas, and from the Neolithic (circa 9,000BC) at the caves of Pecho Redondo in the foothills of the Sierra Blanca mountains.

Marbella’s antiquity can be traced back to the Roman settlement of Barbesula, in the 1st century BC. Artefacts from this period have been found in the mouth of the río Verde river near San Pedro de Alcántara.

Also near San Pedro de Alcántara, nowadays also a municipality, are the remains of the Roman colony of Cilniana – which appears to have been destroyed by earthquake in the 4th century AD – one of the most interesting of all the many archeological sites found along the coast of the Málaga province. Various historians have connected it to the Roman city of Salduba, mentioned by the 1st century Roman geographer of Spain, Pomponio Mela. Near the beach here are the vestiges of Roman baths now known as Las Bóvedas, ‘the vaults’, from their distinctive architecture.

Another important archeological site near San Pedro de Alcántara is the PalaeoChristian basilica at Vega del Mar, built in the 3rd century and later used as a necropolis, burial ground, by the Visigoths.

During the period of Moorish rule (711-1492), Marbella was a settlement in what is now the town centre, and gained an outstanding position in local history. During the 11th century reign of the Taifa statelets, its rulers, the Idris dynasty of Fez, Morocco, fought a lengthy territorial battle with the Hammud dynasty of Algeciras. This lasted until the invasion by the Benemerine armies (1274) who, after taking both Marbella and Málaga, unified the region.

During the Nazari period it came under the Nasrid rulers of Granada, and remained so until Marbella was taken by the armies of the Reyes Católicos (the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabel), in 1485 (Granada fell in 1492). The casco viejo (old town) of Marbella still features parts of the defensive walls and towers from this period.

A new initiative, perhaps even a renaissance, that would change both the face of Marbella, San Pedro de Alcántara and the entire Marbella coast, as well as transforming the economy and the lifestyle of its people, came in the second half of the 20th century. This was the radical and progressive development of tourism begun in the 1970s, which would transform Marbella and its environs into one of the most outstanding tourism destinations the world over.

Thousands of years before Christ there were already human settlements in the Sierra Blanca mountains above Marbella, clearly identified by the artefacts and remains from the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods uncovered in the Sierra Blanca foothills.

Recent discoveries have shown that as long ago as the 7th century AD settlers from Carthage and Venice had established towns and settlements in the area around the Río Real (royal) river west of the town centre.

The Roman presence in Marbella left many examples of its culture, such as the Roman Village at Río Verde, the Roman baths at Guadalmina and various remains unearthed in the casco antiguo, old town.

The earliest references to ‘Marbella’ were first found in texts written by medieval geographers and adventurers.During the Islamic era, Marbella became a walled city. The Muslim rulers constructed a castle surrounded by imposing walls with three gates or passages in and out of the city: the puertas (gates) del Mar, de Ronda and de Málaga. The castle is partly conserved, but the walls and the gates have disappeared.

After the Reconquest in the 15th century and through much of the 16th century, Marbella underwent major changes. The Muslim central Medina (casbah, or old quarter, nowadays the casco antiguo) was partly demolished to make way for a plaza (the Plaza Mayor, or Real, nowadays Plaza de los Naranjos, after its orange trees) and a new road, Calle Nueva, to connect the plaza to the Puerta del Mar.

During the 19th century, with the establishment of two the first metal furnaces in Spain, in El Ángel and in La Concepción, to process the metals mined in the Sierra Blanca mountains, Marbella became the most industrialised area of the Málaga province, making it the second largest industrial province of the entire Iberian Peninsula.

Forty-five years ago Marbella was an agricultural town, with a mining industry and 10,000 inhabitants. Today there are more than 100,000 inhabitants on the census, entirely separate from the seasonal and temporary population. Marbella has become one of the most important tourist destinations in the world, and with its facilities, as well as 26km of clean beaches and beautiful mountain scenery (the Sierra Blanca), it boasts a wealth of high-quality hotels, a fishing port and three international marinas (among them the famous Puerto Bánus), ultra-luxury residential developments, a thriving restaurant culture, an expanding retail economy that stretches throughout its streets and squares, and it has transformed its ancient walled city, nowadays the casco antiguo, into a grand centrepiece for the whole of Marbella and environs.

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