Look Inside

1. An Ideal Location

We begin with a journey from the formation of the mountains to the time when the tide arrives in the bay creating this ideal ‘location’. Just look at the cover picture to see the perfect location, protected by mountains, fed by rivers and covered with rich soil, the ideal place to live, defend, develop and even prosper.

We find a crossroads of sea, rivers and paths, perfectly situated to control or serve travellers on the road from Malaga to Cádiz, and provide a safe harbour on the coastal route. Through time our journey will see the beach roughly where it is beside the sea since the tide came in twelve thousand years ago, leaving any previous shoreline settlements up to 3 kilometres out at sea.

The stage is set. The people arrive on the route between Africa and Europe and when they change from hunter-gatherers to settled pastoralists from around ten thousand years ago, Fuengirola provided the ideal location to do it. They may have lived in peace for thousands of years, when this idyllic coastal spot will have been safer before a great age of shipbuilding, when trade created Empires and bought the first of a procession of visitors.

2. Sylas

We search but never know who first occupied this bay and surrounding hills. Our journey in search of the inhabitants really begins with the first archaeological evidence of external occupation. Meet the Phoenicians, a Mediterranean trading Empire arriving in Spain from Lebanon and Syria around 900 BC. They built larger and more robust ships to conquer distant lands, carry cargo and protect trade routes.

A distinctive feature of the Phoenicians was their use of red and purple dyes that lasted permanently on pottery and stones, many of which have been found in the excavations of Fuengirola Castle’s surroundings and foundations. We can still see those stones and enough evidence to imagine the tower they built on the Castle location with a town of a thousand people, sophisticated and prosperous.

Our journey of written evidence begins with the first known writing of our town in around 500 B.C. by Hecataeus, the Greek father of modern geography. He travelled from Malaga to Cádiz and described the town of ‘Syalis, urbs Mastienorum’ in his list of settlements.

3 Suel

If our journey arrived in Roman Suel at the height of the Roman occupation, we may want to live there! The fog of history lifts a little more during this era because we know so much more about the Romans from the general records and in particular what they left behind in Suel. We see evidence of their occupation through time from the settlement of the Castle area and the trading posts for vines, olives and marble from the surrounding hills. Our journey sees trading ships using the bay and Suel becomes a destination for travellers and traders. In the present day, extensive Roman remains are still to be excavated at the Castle, Los Boliches and Torreblanca where further layers of our story are yet to be revealed.

The most visual Roman monument was found in 1980 in Los Boliches. The columns were produced from local marble and found with brushes and mill wheels dating to the third century. After their discovery, they were moved to the current site and erected to become ‘Pórtico de Templo Romano’, looking out across the sea they never sailed and keeping their secrets forever.

4. Vandals and Visigoths

We see the journey of the armies of Rome retreating after five hundred years. We witness tragedy for the ‘Romano Hispanics’ who would have included the traders and tax collectors of Suel; high born and wealthy, yet defenceless against the next invaders. The retreating Roman army will have delayed the Vandals from Southern Sweden, leaving the Coast defenceless for decades against the African pirates who took the first opportunity to plunder an undefended coast.

We see the Vandals expelled by the Visigoths who would rule Spain for over 200 years. It ended badly in a battle of succession among competing dukedoms like a real-life ‘Game of Thrones’ while the Basques were in open revolt and drew armies Northward. With the benefit of hindsight we see that the real danger lay across the Mediterranean where an army was assembling. Times may have seemed chaotic across the Peninsula, but it was ‘the calm before the storm’. The moment was approaching that would define our small town and the Peninsula for seven centuries and beyond.

5. Suhayl

Next we meet the visitors from North Africa whom the Greeks called Mauritania and hence they were collectively known as Moors. As the Arabs established their Empire west to modern China and India, they left the conquest of Iberia and beyond mostly to the Moors, who arrived and made some big changes. We will see how the Iberian Peninsula provided the perfect foothold to conquer the weak and fragmented Kingdoms of Europe. Witness the most momentous event in European history when the invasion of Europe took place in 711 and in an 8 year bloody campaign took the whole peninsula.

Islam bought a way of life and the Moors brought methods of fishing, irrigation and agriculture to this ideal location. They called it Suhayl after a prominent star said to be seen from the tower at the castle.

If we could visit Suhayl on our journey, then the best time was the height of the Almoravid empire; a one hundred year period in which Suhayl would prosper and grow enough to build the Castle that we see today. We would meet the warrior monks living in a series of fortifications who studied and prayed while defending commercial routes and administering local lands and a prosperous town. From this period we can read a number of writings in Arabic about Suhayl including ‘Ibn al Khatib’ giving us a description to close our eyes and imagine.

“The population extends along the slope of the Castle, in its river, fish abounds and its lands produce abundant grain.”

6. Reconquista

We continue through the blackest period of local history. In addition to continually fighting each other, the Moors faced a seven hundred year crusade against the armies of Europe united by Rome to defend Christendom. We see how the Reconquista worked from the North down although the Southern Coast was always a weak underbelly that spent seven hundred years in need of strong defence. Castilians and pirates would steal people and property, destroy homes and farms and generally make life and travel on the Coast difficult.

For over 700 years, with notable breaks such as the great plague in the 13th century, the Reconquista slowly headed South and turned towns defending from the north to face south as frontier towns. On August 7, 1485, the Castle of Suhayl was defended by the Moors for the last time when it fell to the Castilian army. In 1492 after the Moors had ruled Spain for 781 years, the new state of Spain was established just 529 years ago.

7. A Castle by The Sea

This is the exciting point in our journey where the town in our tale mysteriously gets a new name (unlike its neighbours) and becomes a frontier. Moorish Mijas would not fall for another 2 years and the newly and uniquely named Fuengirola became the Castle from which it was attacked.

Most likely in gratitude to a war leader, King Ferdinand II gave Alvaro de Mesa control of the Castle and lands of Fuengirola. (this may be the most exciting bit in the journey) His appointment and subsequent corruption and failure of his family would affect the town and create its unusual size to this very day. For thirty years the De Mesa family took the lands, committed crimes and failed to develop the town productively. We will see how by 1515 the De Mesa family had ruined the name of Fuengirola and after some extraordinary plotting, all of its lands were handed over to be controlled by a nearby village in the hills. Only the Castle remained under the control of the Warden, and all of the lands outside of the walls of the Castle were under the authority of Mijas as it was designated a ‘Castle by the sea’.

Fuengirola is always affected by events in the outside world, so when Spain ‘found’ the Americas and the boatloads of treasures arrived in Sevilla, Spain became the richest nation on earth. Whilst this was of benefit to the great cities, more of it was spent on wars. However an overlooked benefit of this era was the humble potato, which arrived in Europe via Sevilla in 1532. The new European super food was grown around Fuengirola within decades and local merchants chartered ships to carry them from the beach at Fuengirola.

8. Coastal Defence

The richer Spain got, the more enemies it acquired and in the sixteenth and seventeenth century this Coast was difficult to defend against the French, British, Dutch, Moors, Ottoman Turks, Berbers, their allies and private pirates. The settlement of the area became conditional on its, which was prioritised by each raid. Fortifications were constructed to visually connect the whole of the exposed Spanish coast. For Fuengirola this meant that the Castle and watchtowers at Calibrius and Torreblanca were extensively improved and a new one built at Tarahal, today’s Plaza de Constitution. This ensured these areas protection beyond their worth and laid the ground for our modern town.

Our journey see’s how the protected bay becomes an exciting and vibrant centre of activity in a new age of Mediterranean trade. Coastal trading ships loaded with fish, wine, oil, potatoes, marble, sesame, dates and even livestock left these beaches and river heads. Under the protection of the castle and watchtowers a local economy emerges to shape a town the ideal location.

9. Prosperity

When Spain became wealthy they needed all the marble they could get and the Mijas mountains had it. Not much had been extracted since the Romans left and new quarrying techniques and tools made the task easier. We can see evidence of extraction in the white scars on the Mijas mountains. Fuengirola provided the sea port for the newly cut marble until the Malaga Road was improved in the late seventeenth century.

We see decades of peace as the threat of invasion diminished and the watchtower in the centre of the town found a new purpose when it became a shrine. A pattern of roads emerges from the current Plaza de Constitución and parallel to the main road begins the shape of the town we see today. Wells were drilled and drainage laid for the new stone houses; one small house at a time.

We find out how Los Boliches developed separately, and the reasons for the arrival of Italian fishermen. We look at the competing narratives of where the name came from. Perhaps a method of beach fishing that was prohibited in the 1960’s, or maybe the shape of the Italian boats that looked like bowls.

10. The Battle of Fuengirola

Possibly the most dramatic event in modern local history occurs when the Castle is the centerpiece of a battle in the Peninsular Wars which aimed to remove the brother of the French Emperor Napoleon from the Spanish throne. This war across the Peninsula caused 60 battles and 30 sieges in which France and her allies lost at least 91,000 and 237,000 wounded. One of these battles became a fabulous victory for the Polish troops fighting on the side of the French; an ignominious defeat for the British and provided a place in the history books and finest hour for the Castle of Fuengirola.

The battle of Fuengirola should really have been called the battle of Fuengirola Castle because events were safely witnessed from the small white fishing village in front of the watchtower. Perhaps, a few hundred residents mostly in ramshackle wooden and stone buildings and the surrounding farmhouses may have witnessed the last foreign assault on Fuengirola.

The real victory was for the Castle, a thousand years old in a perfect location where it stands to this day – a silent monument to battles past.

11. The New Peace

This is where things start to get better, the nineteenth century European colonisation of North Africa heralded the elimination of piracy on the Mediterranean Coasts. This marks the end of Fuengirola as a frontier town subject to attack without warning and requiring a full garrison to defend it.

The growth in population to a thousand people created a desire for local governance in Fuengirola to replace the rule of the farming village in the hills. The Provincial Delegation of Malaga could only grant municipal status of a small area based on ‘leagues’ which were an early form of Spanish measurement. And so in 1842 Fuengirola was granted municipal status for an area of “four leagues in square” which is the size it is today 10.2 square kilometres. Limited in size by grand historical narratives, like Monaco, Gibraltar or the Vatican.

The raised land and beaches with its rivers, beach, land and shoreline was ideal for a fishing community and cottages were built close to the beach that form the boundaries of the modern promenade today.

12. The Defining Century

We now arrive at the century of drama, tragedy and transformation, in which Fuengirola transforms from a small white fishing village with 5,690 inhabitants, to the town we have today. This was the century when every technical, social and economic advantage that changed the rest of the world would come to Fuengirola and shape our modern town.

In the 3 national elections of the 1930’s Fuengirola’s population of fishermen and agricultural labourers elected parties on the political left. Like everyone else in Spain, they would have heard reports that on 18th July 1936 the Spanish military, with African reinforcements, had landed at Estepona, just 65 kilometres away. After a wait of 7 months, the Castle is shelled by rebels of the Spanish Navy, the bridge beside the Castle is blown up and the Nationalist army arrives in Fuengirola on February 7th 1937.

Some view these events as the result of 150 years of high income from the Empire, followed by a 300-year decline, with the ineffective distribution of resources leading to a class conflict suppressed by brutality and heavy weaponry. To others, that it was simply a tragedy, ‘least said soonest mended’ and better forgotten. The dark decades ended when democracy was restored with the 1977 general election, by which time the shape and future of Fuengirola had been set.

13. The Patron

The development of Fuengirola could not have taken place without some form of patronage from a friend in high places to ensure that a slow and hungry bureaucracy knew whom to favour; it’s just the way it was. Fuengirola had such a patron who would help shape the town and become its wealthiest and most influential resident. José Antonio Girón de Velasco was born in a small town between Leon and Burgos, the son of a lawyer, and a law student in the 1930’s at the University of Valladolid.

At the age of 29 in 1941, he became Minister of Labour for 16 years until 1957 and stayed in the Spanish Parliament until his last vote, against the Reform Bill of 1976 on the transition to democracy. He was possibly the town’s most influential modern resident who left his developments across the town and his villa at the foot of the Castle. He died at the age of 84 in 1995, his funeral took place at the Church of El Rosario attended by many of his famous old associates.

14. The Road

This is where our story goes on the road, built by the Phoenicians, Romans, Moors and Castilians who were all unable to maintain it due to coastal erosion and mountain slides. It would take two thousand years to get right.

In 1946 there were 72,000 private cars in Spain, in 1966 there were a million. Paris became a 30-hour drive away and Fuengirola became accessible to an emerging middle class who could take the car on holiday. The coastal road that connects Southern Spain to the rest of the world went right through the middle of Fuengirola until the late 1980’s, when the current 4 lane carriageway was opened. This soon became full and not long after it was opened, work started on the next bypass, the AP-7 which since 1999 has diverted traffic through the hills, at a price.

The car has clearly played a role in the development of modern Fuengirola, and in 2008 the Ayuntamiento recognised this with a monument of a 1960’s Seat 600, appropriately in front of the 70-year-old BP garage on the roundabout at Torrequebrada.

15. The Train

By some quirk Fuengirola has 4 of the 6 most southerly railway stations in mainland Europe.

The railway may be Fuengirola’s greatest asset. The modern town grew around it, the port grew up as close as possible to it and Fuengirola became the end of the line from the Airport.

On 27th May 1916, the railway between Fuengirola and Malaga was formally opened, having been planned 61 years earlier in 1855 and approved 38 years earlier in 1878. Since the grand opening, its first 60 years were problematic, it was rebuilt 3 times and became Fuengirola’s greatest asset and the most profitable line in Spain’.

The 1946, 1958 and 1975 re-openings were all done at times when Spain was not a rich country and only the most urgent prioritised infrastructure was built and the majority of Spain’s railways were closed. Given its history it could be concluded that the railway to Fuengirola exists through amazing good fortune.

16. The Port

Fuengirola has been gifted by nature with an excess of fish due to the shallow shelf that gives the perfect light and oxygen for a rich and productive fish breeding ground. The use of the riverheads and beaches had ended 200 years earlier and boats were beached from small spits of sand. From the arrival of the railway in 1916 the Río Fuengirola at the Castle was too far from the station to make a useful harbour and from that date would spend the rest of its life as a drain for mountain water.

By the 1920’s it was obvious that a real fishing port was needed in Fuengirola and would be self-funding because of the volume of fish it could supply. Plans were made, funds secured and work began in 1935 to build up and extend the spit of land that had grown close to the railway station. Work stopped in 1936 due to the Civil War and the chaos that ensued would delay the work for 20 years.

The first phase of the fishing port was completed in 1968 and extensions were made in the following years. In 1973 the plan was made to build a leisure port with shops, restaurants, bars, car parks and facilities worthy of the growing tourist resort.

In 2020 details of a new port in Fuengirola were announced. It is planned with 730 underground parking spaces beneath a central square that will be at the same level as the Paseo. When the new port is completed it will be the crown jewel of Fuengirola’s most profitable industry, a gateway to the world, that will once again bring people straight from the sea.

17. Tourism

Today, the reason that so many of us know Fuengirola is because of the modern phenomena of tourism that shapes the town that we see today. The modern tourist industry arrived during the 1950’s and 1960’s when improved roads, cars, trains, planes and communications made it possible for an expanding middle class to become international ‘tourists’.

The biggest obstacle that was overcome was the water supply, with insufficient water for the small population. When the new high rise buildings and hotels arrived some were built on land with their own wells. Solving the water supply problem was a megaproject that commenced in 1971 with the building of the Concepcion Dam between Marbella and Istán. The new and more reliable water supply would remove the last major barrier to building more hotels and apartment blocks.

There are many good reasons for Northern Europeans to want to live here, in addition to the weather, the lower cost of property, services, food, alcohol and even currency rates. Life in Spain was (and is) affordable and practical. Villas overlooking the sea were in demand and an apartment became accessible to people from both Spain and Europe. We will see how Fuengirola has a cultural mix of Irish, British and Finnish bars, but the majority here are Spanish; it is not an international tourist resort, it is a Spanish town that welcomes visitors.

18. Building A Town

We will see how and why Fuengirola grew at over 6 times the national average during the 20th century, filling Spain’s need for homes and jobs, creating a tourist industry and providing relief to overcrowded cities. With just 10 square kilometres of land it is easy to see why low rise low-density buildings would limit the population. The 1960 ‘Law of Horizontal Property’ could have been made for Fuengirola; up was the only way to build, and the site where mountains, rivers and sea meet the road, port and train line, was the most obvious place to do it.

Tourism and foreign residents are a small part of the story of building in Fuengirola. The rapid development of the town brought its own populations to a range of employment opportunities in the booming coastal economy. Spanish families from the cities bought holiday and retirement homes and people with jobs in Malaga could commute on the train.

The town that we see today, with the exception of part of the town centre and Los Boliches and a few remaining farmhouses and fishermen’s cottages, is a creation of a 60 year building boom. Fuengirola today is a clean, well-managed, secure and safe town, with clockwork unseen efficiency where everyone does their job to make it work; we will look at how they got there.

19. The Feria

For 6 days every October, Fuengirola presents a spectacle that delights visitors with the most amazing demonstration of Spanish, Andalucian, Malaguena, Sevillana and Fuengirola culture. It shows everything that is good in Spanish culture with the music, horses and people enacting a golden age of prosperity that never happened, a preferred history in which you can participate.

We will look at the origins of dating back to 1867 when Fuengirola was mostly an agricultural town that had grown from 1 to 5 thousand residents in the previous 20 years. It may have had a longer history as a ‘livestock and produce market’ with an after-party. The Fuengirola Feria was born through a combination of factors, including population growth, transportation, the availability of power, light and new music.

And then we will be enchanted by the modern Feria, meet the people behind it and find out why it works so well. It is opened with a firework display, the music and dancing continue for 14 hours a day for 6 days, the costumes, horses and carriages are compelling and in its moment of enjoyment, the Fuengirola Feria could be ‘the greatest show on earth’.

20. Beach Life

Nature gifted Fuengirola with one of the longest and most accessible beaches in Spain, upon which the modern fortune of Fuengirola is built. Local people will have enjoyed less crowded beaches throughout the ages. The beach of Fuengirola began to fill with visitors from the arrival of the railway in 1916, and grew with the improvements of the roads. The beach is the destination and the source of the town’s wealth and fame.

Behind everyone’s enjoyment is someone’s hard work; we take a look at the day in the life of the beach to see who does ‘what’ to make your day on the beach the wonderful experience it is. The day is a symphony of waiters, cleaners, beach bed operators, security and lifeguards all working to make your day on the beach a pleasure. The sight of sun and sea through sunglasses, the sound of beach vendors calling ‘lookey lookey, nice sunglasses”. or ‘drinks’, ‘agua, cerveza, Fanta lemon’; the beach life really is the place to go.

From 9 p.m. the beach fishing enthusiasts are free to engage in what may be the oldest sport in Fuengirola.

There is more and a spectacular conclusion in which the obvious futures for Fuengirola are speculated upon and predicted.