History of Marbella

Cabeza de medusa
Cabeza de Medusa, Villa Romana de Río Verde

Marbella has centuries of history and different cultures which have left their traces throughout the municipality and particularly on the historic centre. There are substantial numbers of Roman, Arabic and Christian remains in the Old Town which have been magnificently preserved.

The origin of the word Marbella is open to interpretations from historians and specialized philologists

The Catholic Monarchs granted Marbella its coat of arms with a Royal Warrant of 1493.

Prehistoric remains of the Paleolithic variety in the Coto de Correa in Las Chapas and Neolithic in the Pecho Redondo cave, Coto Correa in Las Chapas and Puerto Rico caves in the southern foothills of the Sierra Blanca, have all been discovered in Marbella.

Roman civilization

The Roman civilization left varying evidence of its past on our region. In the heart of the Old Town are traces of the Roman occupation: three capitals can be made out on the Castle walls; recent work in calle Escuelas has brought to light the remnants of a Roman monument, before the Castle was built; ceramic remains of sigillata or pipe clay, in Plaza de los Naranjos; and a grave in plaza de la Victoria. There are also many signs of the Roman occupation in our locality. Burial chambers have been uncovered in Las Chapas (Carril del Relojero); slag that came from mining activities in the area around erro Torrón and cerro del Trapiche a start-up device for a Roman bridge in «Puente Romano»ceramic fragments around the San Pedro Alcántara cemetery area; also next to the Torre del Duque or Duke’s Tower, in Puerto Banús. Marbella’s most significant archaeological sites, «Villa Romana de Río Verde» (Rio Verde Roman Villa) and «Termas Romanas de Guadalmina» (Roman Baths of Guadalmina) belong to this period.

The Muslims

The configuration of our town during the first two hundred years of occupation is still not clear. It was in the 10th century that the Castle was built. In a later era a large wall was erected to protect nearby settlements.

Marbella was the head of what was called the «Tierra de Marbella – ‘land of Marbella», which incorporated a number of villages such as Ojén, Istán, Benahavís, Alicates, Nagüeles, Cortes, Almáchar, Tramores, Daidín, Montemayor, Arboto, Fontanillas, Benamarín, Arbunjendín, Benimaydu, Velerín, Benidrís, Benibolás, Montenegral and Esteril.

The town surrendered to King Fernando the Catholic on 11 June 1485. The act of handing over the keys probably took place at the spot named «Cruz del Humilladero» in calle Málaga.

Christian Marbella

After the reconquest, it was repopulated by people from many different places. Marbella remained a town that depended directly on the monarchy who assigned a mayor as Governor.

The key figure to emerge was Alonso de Bazán linked without question to the great Bazanes, the head of whom was the Marquis of Santa Cruz, Álvaro de Bazán. He would in any case have been a distant family relation. However, it is this don Alonso who secured control of the castle with the post of governor on the council. With these powers, he amassed a large property and economic empire which, after his death, his descendants used to set up, by executive order, the charitable establishment called «Hospital de la Encarnación», but known as «Hospital Bazán».

Another early personality in our folklore was Lorenzo Domínguez de Rioja who started up the powerful Domínguez clan, notable in Marbella public life until the 19th century and whose principal legacy is Cortijo Miraflores. One of the most important descendants of this lineage was José López Domínguez, General Captain of the Armed Forces and President of the Government.

The 19th century

Marbella's main economic activity from the outset was agriculture, trade, fishing and the operation of large numbers of mines in the Sierra Blanca. Marbella, additionally, had five sugar mills. When Marbella was at war with the Muslims, who occupied the north of Africa, fishing activity was almost completely paralyzed as it was considered unsafe to venture out to sea.

In the 19th century a series of laws were passed which benefited mineral operation. The existence in the Sierra Blanca of a highly important site of magnetic iron, combined with favourable economic circumstances, meant that our province came to occupy second place nationally in terms of industrialization and gave rise to the creation of two establishments for the treatment of this mineral on the shores of the river Verde The first tall blast furnaces were built for civil use in Spain: «La Concepción» or Fábrica de Arriba (‘Factory Above’), and «El Ángel» or Fábrica de Abajo (‘Factory Below’), The first tall blast furnaces were built for civil use in Spain: «La Concepción» or Fábrica de Arriba (‘Factory Above’), and «El Ángel» or Fábrica de Abajo (‘Factory Below’), but just as these favourable circumstances helped, others occurred which had the opposite effect and, combined with spurious interests, served to harm that industry. New laws which were passed to support agriculture in our country led to the creation of various farming colonies; the most important among these were in San Pedro Alcántara and El Ángel. The San Pedro colony was the origin of this most important centre of population and El Ángel was the germ of the flagship tourism insignia: Andalucía la Nueva (Andalucía the New) and Puerto Banús.

The 20th century

As an agricultural town, Marbella languished, welcoming those who were first known as holidaymakers, not tourists, a relatively modern term.

It wasn't until the 50s when, led by Ricardo Soriano and later the Hohenlohes, Goizuetas, Banús, Guerreros, Cocas, that the current Marbella came about: symbol and indicator of quality tourism, which came to definitively change the physiognomy of Marbella, San Pedro Alcántara and the entire district as well as the economic activity and lifestyle of its inhabitants.

This reality came about in the second half of the 20th century, when the progressive tourist development which began in the sixties transformed this area into one of the most important components in the global tourist scene.