Backdropped by the mountains of the Sierra Blanca, the coastal city of Marbella has it all: sun, sea, sand, historic remains, delicious Andalucian fare, accommodation to suit all budgets and many sporting delights. As our guide, produced in association with the Tourism Department of the Marbella City Council, proves: Marbella is one of Spain’s most beloved cities, with good reason.
Thousands of years before Christ’s birth, human settlements existed in Marbella’s Sierra Blanca mountains, proven by the Palaeolithic and Neolithic remains found on its slopes. Recent discoveries show that since the 7th century BC, Eastern cities (Phoenician and Carthaginian) were established around the Río Real river.
The passage of ancient Rome through our district is seen in various remains, such as the Roman Villa of Río Verde, the Roman Baths of Guadalmina and various discoveries in the Old Quarter.
The first reference to Marbella is found in the writings of Muslim geographers and travellers from the Middle Ages. During the Islamic era, Marbella became a walled city. The Muslims built a castle and surrounded the city with a strong wall containing three access points or portals: del Mar, de Ronda and de Malaga. The remains of the castle still exist today.
After the Reconquest, and during the 16th century, Marbella’s town structure underwent significant change. The centre of the Muslim medina (the present day old quarter) was demolished to open up a town square (Plaza Mayor or Plaza Real now known as Los Naranjos) and a new street (Nueva) to link the plaza with the Puerta del Mar. In the 19th century, with the foundation of the first blast-furnaces in Spain at el Angel and La Concepción, in order to make use of the iron from the Sierra Blanca mines, Marbella joined the industrialisation of Malaga, which became the second largest industrial region in Spain. Today, Marbella has become a benchmark for world tourism without having lost any of its typically Andalucian flavour and its historical essence.
In 1970, the Puerto Banús, below – one of the most iconic harbours on the Spanish coastline – was built, its opening attended by the rich and famous. Hosting 915 berths, which house some of the most luxurious vessels in the world, Puerto Banús is joined by the Virgen del Carmen Marina (377 berths), Marina La Bajadilla (268 beths) and Cabopino Marina (169 berths), making Marbella one of the world’s top yachting and boating destinations.
Archaeological remains in the city today include the Roman villa in Río Verde, and is known for its remarkable mosaics, including one of Medusa. There is also La Basilica de Vega del Mar, a Paleo-Christian church that was excavated in 1930. Visitors will also have the chance to discover the Roman Baths and the Torre de las Bóvedas (watchtower) among others. The remains of an Arabic castle also deserves a special mention.
Roman, Arabic and Christian remains come together in the old quarter of the town. Its narrow streets are living proof of the survival of centuries of magnificently preserved history, surprising the visitor who explores its nooks and crannies so full of tradition and charm.
The Arabic wall, museums, squares, chapels and the popular Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación Church, are testament to a rich and attractive cultural array, complemented with restaurants, typical shops and an unmistakably Andalucian atmosphere. In the heart of the old quarter is La Plaza de los Naranjos (Orange Tree Square), which constitutes one of the first Christian designs after the Reconquest. The square was built in the tradition of Castilian towns, although in this case without colonnades. Here, visitors will find the Chief Magistrate’s House, the Town Hall and the Santiago Hermitage.
Culture and tradition
As well as archaeological sites, Marbella is home to several museums, the Spanish Contemporary Engravings Museum, the Ralli Museum, the Olive Oil Museum and the Archaeological Exhibition (Cortijo Miraflores Cultural Centre). It also offers a packed cultural calendar with the Feria San Bernabé, a fair that includes traditional Andalusian food, drink and entertainment, Virgen del Carmen festivities; San Pedro Alcántara Fair; and Semana Santa, the Spanish name for Holy Week or Easter, which includes a procession of 100-year-old floats or thrones depicting biblical scenes.
Backdropped by the mountains of the Sierra Blanca, the coastal city of Marbella has it all: sun, sea, sand, historic remains, delicious Andalucian fare, accommodation to suit all budgets and many sporting delights. As our guide, produced in association with the Tourism Department of the Marbella City Council, proves: Marbella is one of Spain’s most beloved cities, with good reason. Read the ABTA Magazine Guide to Marbella in full here.