The Fuengirola Time Traveller Visits Sohail At The Height Of A Golden Age.
An agreeable walk through a rare wet and windy evening in Fuengirola I find my boat on the beach in front of the Yaramar. In the fading light it was easy to slide behind the stern, open the secret door and enter the luxurious spacious interior of my time travelling machine. My name is Dr. Quien and I am on a mission to trace the first complete history of Fuengirola, written by Patrick H. Meehan in 2021.
You can find out more about my mission through time in Fuengirola and previous journeys of 3D history here. https://fuengirolarevisited.com/dr-quiens-blog/
Today I want to see the newly built Castle and find out what life was like in the location of Fuengirola in 1080 A.D. at the height of the Almoravid era. Headphones on, lay back in the comfy chair, I never know how long it takes, so let’s choose something to listen to, press this button and…
A silent arrival on the same beach nearly a thousand years before. My boat takes on the appearance of the popular Arabic ‘Dhow’ of the time as it appears at dawn among the many craft along the beach. Time to check what the wardrobe has created for me, oh, well if it helps me to blend in!
A short walk in from the beach the sun comes up over the sea and casts light on the location of Fuengirola almost 1,000 years ago. And what a sight it is. Most of the land is formed into fields filled with either livestock or crops. The rivers are neatly channelled with sandbanks across the beach to hold water in. Then I look over at the Castle, as the morning sun lights up the familiar face that launched a thousand postcards.
Around it there are distinct roads lit up by what appear to be streetlamps being extinguished as the sun rises. A bright new morning, silent with no wind, is pierced by the Islamic call to prayer of the muezzin standing on a tower of a mosque, just to the right of the Castle.
With a long day in front of me, there is plenty of time to look around. Wondering what happened to the Finca del Secretario, I took a walk down there, but it was buried. A soil test confirms that the 6th century weather event, when it rained for years, just covered this place in a deluge of waste from the mountain. There is a newer riverhead settlement nearer to the current river site, which again is full of water with a sand dam at the beach. They are not growing grapes and cutting marble so the Rio Pajares is not as important as it was in Roman times, the priority everywhere is farming and fishing.
As I head South to the Castle I cross the neat wooden bridges that cross the 5 rivers of the flat plane. The neatly channelled banks link to outlets to feed irrigation systems and the early morning sun causes mist to rise from the irrigated land.
As I get closer the mist rises and the Castle shines with the sun directly on it. The closer I get the more I am amazed by how it seems identical to the one we see today. The front battlement is not as wide, there are more towers, and it looks so shiny and new, not an ancient ruin, but a fearsome defence for a century of peace.
As I reach the river, I see a huge harbour, a wide inlet from the sea over 300 metres wide and back further than the modern road. It was full of Arabic style Dhows for fishing, trading and of course for defence of the coast. At the side of the port I am greeted by a man who introduced himself as Abdul al-Suhayli. Abdul tells me he is a guide, licensed by the authorities to show visitors around this great town.
He has lived in Sohail all his life and after a career building the Castle, he is now licensed to guide tourists. We spoke about his fee, and I was not sure how much was in my pockets, so I gave him all the Dirhams I had and asked him if it was enough. He seemed overcome and asked ne for how many years I was staying, I said just the day and he rained down blessings upon me and praised me through eternal time. Perhaps I overpaid but it set the scene for my day in Sohail with a guide so knowledgeable and pleased to tell me as much as he knew..
He called the best of the boats, and we crossed the mouth of the river to port beside the Castle. As we crossed he asked me why I was here, I told him I had come a long way to see the new Castle and would like to know about the great town that it defends. My guide led me through the busy port, people standing to one side respectfully as Abdul exchanged blessings with the locals.
The town of Sohail was built of stone, wood, and large amounts of cloth for protection against sun and rain. Streets stretched South and West from the Castle and along the river bank. A large Mosque with a tower stands on the site of today’s car park and streets go to the port, the seafront and up the hill to the all imposing Castle.
Abdul suggested we start at the seafront and find somewhere to drink tea and talk.
In front of the sea on a lower hill of the Castle were a series of tents, Abdul gave some money to the owner, who immediately scurried to set out cushions, carpet and table. He continued to load the table with a range of delicacies, fruits and drinks while praising God for the abundance of this great location.
When we are comfortable, my guide asks me what I would like to know, I reply, tell me about the last three centuries and what happened here? My guide explains how today I am lucky as there are so many versions of history and his version is the truth, (and then wonder where I heard that before!).
In 711 the army of Tariq ibn Ziyad arrived near Gibraltar followed by more armies to spend a century in minor civil wars for control of each area. One North African army after another would occupy this area for a year or decades and a new army of the same faith but different language would come and take the town or the whole area. This place is so bountiful that it will only be held by those who can defend it. The first period of peace was under the Caliphate of Cordoba under Abd al-Raḥmān III who ruled from 929.
He built the Madinat Al Zahara near Cordoba, which for less than a century was a city-palace amongst the most magnificent in the world. Under his rule of prosperity the Castle was heavily fortified and the area became more widely settled and farmed under the protection of the mighty Caliph. By 1009 the Madinat Al Zahara lay burned and looted following the usual failed succession. Again this location was fought over by pirates with new settlers and armies making it the best location in times of peace and the worst in times of war.
Then came the Almoravids, who ousted the ruling Caliphate from Cordoba in 1031 and strengthened the coast including the building of this Castle to bring peace and stability. The Almoravids were Islamic warrior monks originally from Berber tribes with an expanding Caliphate in North Africa. Using Sufi principles of prayer, study, and defence they defended commercial routes while organising administering lands. Abdul tells me that for the last fifty years, his entire life the Almoravids have brought peace, civilisation and prosperity to this town.
They have the military might to deter any invader and have built this Castle that could stand for another thousand years. It is impenetrable, to access the gate visitors had to circle the hill and be inspected from the battlements. It is all-seeing, impregnable and ideally suited to watch and defend the coastal strip, roads, mountains, and riverhead. You can see your enemies long before they land, then our brave warrior monks will feed them to the fish. Our town and our Caste are impenetrable, we can live our lives without fear, which in this location is the biggest blessing of all.
He continued for some hours to explain the town and its importance to the Caliphate and the Isalmic empire. By his own version of events, the known world centred around Sohail and to him it was the centre of the world. He often mentioned that one day hundreds of thousands of people will live here and millions will visit this great coast.
After a few hours and so many stories, I had drunk enough tea and asked him to take me around the town to see the sights of Sohail. The grand mosque was the second largest building, new, impressive and bright white with a large tower. There were water fountains and water channels on every road and beside every building. Every type of flower grew in neatly tended rows and every part of the town was perfectly clean.
Next to the mosque were a hospital and a school both run by the Almoravid warrior monks. He showed me the water wells 600 metres south of the castle, around which there are many dwellings and hostels. In another prophecy he tells me how this will be the best hostel position for a thousand years because of its natural water supply. He explains the importance of the hostels as the location is halfway between Marbal La and Mālaqah.
Then we climb the hill to the Castle, Abdul is well known and exchanges greetings and blessings to all whom he meets. Close up, the smooth concrete lining of the Castle is a lighter sand brown and every stone is in perfect place. Inside the Castle are a series of administrative areas for the public to visit, behind that are training and study areas with accommodation for the Monks. We pay taxes to the Caliphate and we are able to study, farm, fish and live in peaceful prosperity, this is as good as it gets.
Of course there is a war in the North of the Country with invaders sent by Rome. Again in a chilling prediction he tells me that it will take 400 years before the troops of Rome can take this Castle. He is right, this is indeed a golden age for this location. Abdul could live to be one hundred years of age while the Almoravid provide defence, peace, prosperity, education and even a hospital. At this point I had learned enough, so I asked Abdul to return me to the ferry so that I could walk along the beach back to my boat.
As I leave him, Abdul tells me he is worried, because the amount of money I gave him is enough to buy a hostel with a swimming pool. He tells me that if I want it back I can have it because he already lives in heaven and will be happy to give it to the monks because they will use it for the good of everyone. Walking back to the boat, I hope Abdul will live to be a hundred, then he will have enjoyed all of the longest peace in half a millenium. My boat floats back gently through time, its early evening, I slip out into the fading light and realise I am still wearing the ‘costume’ as I walk down the seafront. No reaction or second looks, people just walk by, perhaps another fashion to revive……