3 BC – 5 AD
Phoenicians and Greeks lived in the area of Marbella before the Roman invasion. In the 3rd century BC Rome had occupied most of La Bética, today’s Andalucía. In the 2nd century BC Cordoba (approx. 200km away from Marbella) became the capital of La Bética. The local population was integrated into the Empire: two Roman Emperors, Trajan and Adriano, were born in Italica (Seville), and the philosopher Seneca was born in Cordoba. During the eight centuries of Roman occupation, Marbella became an important agricultural hub, exporting grapes, olives and Garum to Rome.
- Roman Villa of Salduba (Río Verde)
The mosaics of the rectangular atrium and 5 contiguous rooms of a 2nd century AD Roman villa were discovered in 1961. The villa has a particularly relevant mosaic with the head of Medusa. Other mosaics of the villa show dolphins, rudders, anchors, and images related to the gastronomic culture of the region: vegetables, animals and cooking tools.
The Roman Villa located on the coast near Río Verde (Green River), was probably part of Salduba (area between Puerto Banús and Marbella). Mela, Plinio and Ptolomeo mentioned the settlement of Salduba in their classic texts. Probably, the name of this area comes from the “Salinas” (salt producing plant) that had existed since the Phoenician. The salt was used to preserve meat and fish, and to prepare Garum, a sauce made of fish intestines left in brine to ferment. According to Plinio, the price of this delicacy in the Roman market was similar to that of perfume. It is probable that the “Salinas” gave Marbella its name: Mara-Polis, or City of Salt.
- Roman Baths – Cilniana
6 kilometres west of Salduba are the remains of the Roman settlement of Cilniana, (San Pedro). A magnificent building on the beach, built in the 3rd century AD and discovered in 1926. This mortar construction is an octagonal vaulted space, with a diameter of 9.75 m. In the centre there is an octagonal pool 1.20 m deep. The water heated in the baths was pumped from the mountains through clay and brick pipes that still exist. One has to admire the anonymous Roman civil engineers who built this spa which has survived all these centuries.
- Roman Wall and Forum
Another settlement was certainly located in the historic centre of Marbella. Most probably, the “Plaza de los Naranjos” (Orange Tree Square) was the Roman Forum, or market place. Although there are no visible monuments, some of the building material used by the Moors in their constructions include Ionic Capitals.
The large blocks of stone at the base of the city walls built by the Moors almost 1000 years later are clearly of Roman origin.
5th century AD – 711 AD
The Vandals (Visigoths) arrive in La Bética and rename it Vandalusia, land of Vandals, and establish a powerful monarchy. The Tourist Office guide will show you one of the few still existing Vandal monuments in Spain:
- The Basilica “Vega del Mar”
The small basilica is a unique construction of double apse one of only 2 in Spain. The basilica measures 20 x 11 metres, has three naves, and contains a rare baptistery-pool in the shape of a cross with two smaller rectangular pools nearby. The baptistery has the shape of an oriental cross, similar to those found in North Africa. Surrounding the basilica there are total 148 graves.
This Early-Christian (Paleocristiana) church with its graveyard was built between the 4th and 6th century AD, and as its Spanish name indicates, it was built in the swampy wetlands, next to the sea, only drained in the 1930s when Eucalyptus trees were planted. It was only then that this Early-Christian church, the first to be found in Spain, was rediscovered.
711 – 1485 AD
In 711, the Royal House of Damascus established themselves in Spain. Although they ruled almost all of the Iberian Peninsula, Andalusia, or as it was then known, Al –Andalus, was clearly their preferred place to live. Marbella, called MARBIL-LA by the Arabs, was a prosperous city, of Arab-Mediterranean architecture with narrow streets protected by the city walls and the “Alcazaba” (term for Arab Castells). The dominion of Al-Andalus (Moorish Spain) lasted 8 centuries during which the Arts and the Sciences flourished: building of palaces, mosques, schools, public baths; there were also developments in agriculture and irrigation techniques improved.
The city walls of the Moorish Marbil-la limited with contemporary Marbella’s Ramón y Cajal Avenue, Nabeul Avenue and Calle de Huerta Chica. During the Islamic period the city had an “Alcazaba” and gates: “del Mar”, “de Ronda” y “de Málaga.” The Alcazaba is still preserved, but the wall and the gates have disappeared. In the coast line of Marbella, you can see seven Almenara Towers, from the Nazarí epoch. The towers were constructed in the form of chimneys and were used to give smoke signals to alert about the frequent North-African pirate attacks.
Marbella prospered during Nazarí rule and its population was approximately 4000 inhabitants, most of whom worked in agriculture, producing figs, grapes and growing silk worms. The Arabs introduced the Orange into Spain, which they had imported from China. The flower of the orange tree, “Azahar,” perfumed Andalusian cities. * Curiosity: the trees of the “Plaza de los Naranjos” were planted in 1950.
On 8th June 1485, the day of the fall of the city of Ronda, Marbella surrendered to the Catholic Kings. On 11th June 1485, Day of Saint Bernabé, all of the Muslims left for Granada. Since then, Marbella has celebrated its “Feria” (city celebrations) around this date.
1485 – 1812 AD
The population of Marbella decreased dramatically from 4.000 inhabitants in 1485 to 275 in 1488. The Catholic Kings forced the population to either become Christian or leave the city. Mosques, schools and public baths were closed or destroyed.
After the “Reconquista” (re-conquest) and during the 16th century, the structure of the city changed. The centre of the Muslim city (today’s old town), the “Medina”, was destroyed to create a big square, a “Plaza Mayor” (today “Plaza de los Naranjos”). The square was surrounded by whitewash houses and three historic buildings: Town Hall, Magistrate’s or Mayor’s House, and the Hermitage of Santiago. In 1504, the first Christian mayor of Marbella ordered a fountain to be erected next to “Calle Nueva” and “Plaza de los Naranjos.” From this fountain you can see the “Casa del Corregidor” (Mayor’s of Magistrate’s House) that dates from 1552 with its original Gothic-Mudéjar façade, three arches and stone reliefs.
The Town Hall from 1568 has an wide balcony and a beautiful Mudéjar style entrance with inscriptions and symbols. Inside you will find an interesting Mudéjar-style suit of armour and early Renaissance tempera paintings of the coat of arms of “Felipe II” in the court of justice.
On the east, there is the Encarnación Church, constructed in the 18th century on top of a 16th century temple. The interior is divided into sections by round arches. The façade is a Baroque-style construction with red stone. The church tower has pyramidal roof made with ceramic tiles. There are some Barroque paintings and silversmith works inside.
Walking down the “Calle del Viento” (street of the wind), is the old “Hospital of Bazán,” the former residency of Don Álvaro de Bazán, which today hosts the “Museo del Grabado Español Contemporáneo” (Contemporary Spanish Printmaking Museum). The rescue of Christian prisoners, amongst them Miguel de Cervantes, was negotiated from this building. Towards the south-west of the museum is the “Delegación de Cultura” (Department of Culture) that has a permanent exhibition of archaeological findings of the area.
Most of the Arab city walls built in 9th century disappeared by order of King Carlos III in 1786. The first poplar trees of the “Parque de la Alameda” (Boulevard park) were planted in 1761. On the southwest of the Alameda, there is today’s Hotel El Fuerte, which was built on top of the remains of the old “Fuerte de San Luis” (fortress) constructed by King Carlos V in 1754 to defend against North-African pirate attacks, such as the famous “Barbarroja” (Redbeard). The Almenara Towers were also used to alert people to the danger of pirate attacks. “El Fuerte de San Luis” was linked to the city via a tunnel. In 1752, the fortress had 7 cannons and the north gate had an elevated bridge protected by a moat.
During the Independence Wars after the Napoleonic Invasion of the Iberian Peninsula, this fortress was very important. The French troops attacked and occupied Marbella for 2 years. The city was regularly attacked by the “guerrillas” that hid in the “Serranía de Ronda” (mountain chain behind Marbella). In August 1812, the French troops were surrounded. Coronel Marasin then took the decision to detonate the “ Fuerte de San Luis” which was full of ammunition and abandon Marbella. That is the reason why there is only half of the fortification left.
In the mid 19th century, Marbella became a mining hub. The British “Iron Ore Company” extracted iron from the “Peñoncillo” (mountain). In 1890, 75% of the steel produced in Spain was mined in Marbella. More than 1000 people worked in the mine. 5000 tons of iron were sent to UK every year. The worldwide ’29 crisis forced the close of the mine.
At the end of the 19th century, Don Manuel Gutiérrez de la Concha, known as Marqués del Duero, created the biggest hacienda in Spain (10,000 hectáreas) in the area occupied today by San Pedro Alcántara. “La Colonia” of San Pedro was created to host the labourers of the hacienda, and privileges such as education and medical assistance were provided to the people of the colony. The first tractor ever used in Spain was used in the hacienda “El Angel,” today Nueva Andalucía, famous in London and Hamburg for its exquisite oranges.
In 1930, Marbella had 9000 inhabitants. In 1935, the Hotel Miramar opened to the public. The room price was 3 times that of the Hotel Comercial, until then the only hotel in Marbella. The Miramar offered water and electricity in the rooms, and printed brochures in French and English to attract tourists that travelled from Gibraltar and Tanger.
The Spanish Civil War in 1936 and the Second World War in 1939 forced this pioneer hotel to close its premises.
1943 – 1980
After the civil war, in 1943 Ricardo Soriano, Marqués de Ivanrey, opened the doors of the first hotel with restaurant “La Venta y Albergue del Rodeo” located between San Pedro and Puerto Banús that helped the area to recover from the desperate economic situation. The bungalow-hotel of North-American style was designed with a restaurant and reception in the centre and bungalows in the surroundings.
“El Rodeo” was visited by artists and famous people, such as his cousin the Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe who in 1946 bought the property “Santa Margarita”. The prince decided to convert his private house into a private club and created the Marbella Club Hotel inaugurated 8th March 1954. Before the opening, the hotel had already hosted film stars such as Kim Novak and James Stewart, so that after the opening guests would be able to sleep in the same beds occupied by the stars; a very intelligent marketing strategy. Other visitors of the Marbella Club Hotel were Bismark, Thyssen and Rothschild, and Hollywood film stars such as Rock Hudson and Ava Gardner.
Another friend of Ricardo Soriano, the constructor Norberto Goizueta, urbanized “Guadalmina Baja” and constructed the hotel and the first golf course on the coast. The hotels “Guadalmina” and “El Fuerte” were both built in the late 50s and were small, like the Marbella Club with about 50 rooms.
The big hotels such as Los Monteros, El Hilton (today Don Carlos) and Don Pepe were built around 1965. The hotel Incosol opened in 1973 offering medical care and a spa. A regular customer of the Incosol was the King Fahd, who fell in love with Marbella and built his own palace “Mar Mar.” In front of King Fahd’s palace is the Hotel Puente Romano that opened to the public with 178 rooms and a disco in 1978.
The entrepreneur and constructor José Banús bought the property “El Angel” and built the first leisure harbour in Andalucía. He also urbanised today’s Nueva Andalucía, built the Casino, the Hotel Andalucía Plaza and the “Plaza de Toros” (bullfighting arena) of Puerto Banús. Puerto Banús is a tourist destination that attracts a large number of Europeans and is visited by more than 1.000.000 people per year.