It was A.D. 25, the location that is now Fuengirola was enjoying the best of times, with lands farmed, mined and quarried while fish were caught, salted and exported. Rome provided everything, trade, laws, boats, roads, language and most of all, protection. After centuries of loyal service Suel is about to become the Roman Municipality of Suel. The deal is quite simple, the town pays taxes to Rome and gets a local council.
Today’s time traveling blog takes a trip back to the day when a new standard of political leadership came to this location, perhaps the birth of our local authority. The day Fuengirola became a municipality of Rome.
“Authors Note; if you are new to Dr Quien, and his time travelling mission to explore the past of Fuengirola, you may like to start at the beginning https://fuengirolarevisited.com/dr-quiens-blog/ “
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Back to the story..
My boat arrives on the beach in front of what is now the Hotel Yaramar in the year A.D. 25, early morning in the Summer. The Roman world is full of chroniclers and so, with my instant language brain implant, I can find some useful information on what may be an important day in the history of our town.
Instead of heading for the tower where the action is, I head for the hill where the Bull would stand 2000 years later. The Rio Pajares was so wide that to continue along the beach I needed a boatman and right on time, he appeared. A tall man, almost bald with an engaging manner that combined with a laconic sarcasm that was sort of, well, funny. As we crossed the river, he told me about the resident of the nearest buildings. The ‘Secretary’ is the richest and most important man in town, he lives in a grand villa just behind those tree’s and has a huge bathhouse. For the last few days dignitaries have been arriving from the big cities of Malaga, Sevilla and even Rome to bestow this great honour on Suel. The Secretary is extending his hospitality and the 50 guest suites in his villa are full with visitors bedecked in the grandest toga’s lined with jewels followed by officials, servants and guards.
He goes on to tell me that his business as a ferryman is suffering because today the Romans are opening the redeveloped road with new wooden bridges across each of the town’s rivers. This road will link the whole of the South Eastern corner of the Roman Empire (although half of it falls into the sea every decade or so, but today they are happy). He proceeds to tell me more local gossip, the one about using the bath house for Romans to breed with local women and create a new race, but it seemed a bit far-fetched.
My guide seemed to be an intelligent man with a strong local knowledge, he seemed strangely familiar which you will later discover. When he asked if I needed a guide on my visit, I instantly agreed.
We headed for the hill to get a view of the area from where the bull stands today. As roads and railways had not yet made the front face of the hill vertical we were able to climb to the top from the front. At the top, the sight was breathtaking. The beaches were a little further back than they are now, the mouth of the rivers wider and deep enough for water to flow. Most of the line from the top of the beach to about the level of the modern train line, was a swamp with tall reeds growing in it. My guide showed me where parts of the swamp had been drained and turned into farmland. He was against this, reasoning that the farmland would become stable and built on, thousands of people would live there and we would have lost a good swamp and disturb the wildlife. This he explained, was typical of the troubles that these Romans will bring to this land. In all of my conversations he repeatedly asked the question, “what have the Romans done for us?”
Looking down from this great height at the beaches, fishing boats with oars and small sails lined the top of the beach, many were starting out on their mornings fishing to get food for the celebrations tonight. He pointed to the south bank of the Rio Pajares and mentioned he had an appointment there tonight.
Looking across the land with the morning sun shining on it, I could see the castle site with one tower and a number of buildings nearby. White painted homes made of rock or wood lined the river banks. The river beside the castle has a port and the sea entrance 500 metres wide. It housed a flotilla of small ships that had bought dignitaries for the celebrations. The modern railway was positioned where it is, because it is at the top of the flat land, west of the track and the land rises on a rock bed and the east was a swamp. For this reason, the new Roman road ran along this line with ‘strip development’ of small wood and stone houses where people could live on solid ground rather than marshes. My guide told me that since the Romans arrived people have come from everywhere to live in Suel. As my eyes ran back along the road, I came to our current position, looked down and saw the most amazing villa below my feet. All that survives in the modern day are the bathhouses; a road is driven through the rest, and where now sits an empty field is a huge mansion with at least twenty buildings behind to service it, house, servants and troops.
The entire hill behind me and everywhere I could see, was filled with deep green vines. My guide pointed to the white scars in the hill, the material facts are here, they extract marble from those mountains and make wine from the grapes. They carry it down these rivers and the Secretary’s men collect the taxes on everything that moves. Bronze, grain and some tin from the interior mostly go through the castle. This is where the expensive goods are and doubtless why the secretary has this palace here.
As we stood gazing at the wonder of it all, we saw some boats leave the river in front of us to sail, or row the flat sea, to take the dignitaries to the Castle. Another large group followed the new road and over the new wooden bridges which led to the Castle.
My guide suggested that we leave them on the main road and follow the beach to the castle. He found a small boat and we crossed the Rio Pajares down river from the palace of the Secretary.
The morning sun was shining at us and my guide suggested that we call into the bar just past the Rio Pajares, funny enough it is about where @Hutchys bar is now. We were let in with a special knock at the door. The landlord, Sam, a foreigner from somewhere, let us in, his first clients of the day, he knew my guide and it all seemed very comfortable. It was a stone building, with cracked walls decorated with hanging white and patterned blankets. He said we looked thirsty, and suggested a drink. red or white says he, red says my guide, from the Sirah grape from our local hills, none of that imported stuff for us.
As we talked and the wine slipped back, he told me about life under Roman rule. It was a process of industrialisation, prior to their presence, it was subsistence farming, enough for people to eat and share some. The people were drumming, dancing and dreaming, then Rome arrived, things were written down, records kept, productivity increased, wealth extracted and long working days became the norm. Resistance is met with unspeakable brutality and very few privileges or opportunities exist for the non latin speaker. Sam bought us lunch, the wine was constantly refreshed and my guide continued to tell me stories of life in Roman Suel. At some time, I remembered that I had intended to be at the ceremony beside the Castle and reminded my guide that we were late.
He looked at me and said “do you honestly think it worth hearing more politicians make more speeches about how much more they are doing and how we, the people, are so lucky because we do the work and they take the money. Take today’s festivities if you will, we have become a ‘Municipum’ of Rome. It means that the residents of Suel are allowed to pay taxes to Rome, in exchange for protection. What I really want to know is, he repeated to me for the umpteenth time, ‘what have the Romans ever done for us?”
All of these long and intricate explanations had not mixed well and, after a siesta, my guide woke me up with a fresh cup of wine and the stories continued, most had an anti Roman theme. It continued through the afternoon and the same question was asked again and again, “what have the Romans ever done for us?” Toward the evening, 2 other men were let in the bar and sat either side of him at a long table covered in cloth. The Landlord responded to a certain knock at the door as the bar filled with local farmers and fishermen dressed in cloaks with headscare held by a yellow braid. When they all sat or stood on the other side of the table my guide called a meeting to order. Realising that if the Romans arrived we could all be gruesomely executed, I sat nervously realising the importance of this meeting. Realising I could get in trouble with the Time Lords, I used some recording equipment. You can see my recording here
Stay tuned for more adventures through history with Dr Quien
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