Marbella is a municipality and city situated in the province of Málaga on the Costa del Sol, alongside the Mediterranean in the autonomous community of Andalusia. The Association of Municipalities of the region has its headquarters in Marbella, and it serves as the head of the judicial district that shares the same name.
Marbella is located on the Mediterranean Sea in a privileged landscape between Málaga and the Strait of Gibraltar, nestled in the foothills of Sierra Blanca. The municipality spans an area of 117 square kilometres and is the second most populated city in the province of Málaga and the eighth largest in Andalusia. Marbella’s exceptional climate and superb tourist infrastructure make it one of the most desirable destinations. Marbella is a popular tourist spot and a coveted location for people seeking to purchase homes in the area, either for a particular season or as a permanent residence.
In addition to its stunning natural beauty, Marbella is home to a notable archaeological heritage, various museums, and performance venues that host various cultural events, from reggae concerts to opera. The city’s cultural calendar is renowned for attracting some of the most celebrated contemporary performers worldwide.
The Background Of Marbella’s History
Marbella’s history dates back to the 7th century BC when the Phoenicians founded the initial settlement in the current location. Archaeological findings of Phoenician and Carthaginian colonies have been discovered throughout the municipality, including in the Rio Real and Cerro Torrón fields.
El Casco Antiguo, or Marbella’s Old Town, was the heart of a Roman community, as evidenced by the remnants of the Murallas del Castillo (walls of a Moorish castle), La Calle Escuelas (School Street), and other remains scattered throughout the area. To the west of the city lies a small, 1st-century Roman bridge over a stream situated on the grounds of the renowned Hotel Puente Romano. The Villa Romana along the Río Verde (Green River) and the Roman baths at the Río de Guadalmina (Guadalmina River) are other ruins that indicate the Romans’ presence. A 3rd-century Byzantine basilica at Vega del Mar, surrounded by a paleo-Christian graveyard, which was subsequently utilized as a Visigoth burial ground, further supports the notion that Romans once inhabited Marbella. During this time, the city was called Salduba, meaning “Salt City.”
During Islamic rule, the Caliphate of Córdoba fortified the coastline with a series of lighthouse towers after the Normans devastated the coast of Málaga in the 10th century. Marbella was safeguarded by a citadel, the Alcazaba, and a wall of narrow streets and small buildings with large patios, much like the Old Town today. The most renowned structures from this era are the citadel and mosque. On June 11th, 1485, Marbella was surrendered to the Crown of Castile, signifying the end of Islamic rule and the start of Christian dominance under the Catholic Monarchs. Around this period, Plaza de Los Naranjos (Orange Square) and several historic buildings surrounding the square were erected. Charles V constructed the Fuerte de San Luis de Marbella (Fort Saint Luis of Marbella) in 1554. Today, the ruins of the fort have been converted into a museum. In 1860, the 1st Marquess del Duero established an agricultural colony called San Pedro de Alcantara.
During the Spanish Civil War, Marbella and Casares were heavily impacted by violence, with many religious buildings being set ablaze. However, the Church of St. Mary of the Incarnation and San Pedro Alcantara were the only ones spared. Nationalist forces seized Marbella with the assistance of Fascist Italian troops in the early stages of the conflict. Later, during the Second World War, Marbella became home to a significant population of Nazis.
After the Second World War, Marbella was a small fishing village with a population of only 900. However, everything changed when Ricardo Soriano, the Marquis of Ivanrey, decided to relocate to Marbella. With his opulent lifestyle and influential friends from high society, they transformed Marbella into the renowned playground for the rich and famous that it is known as today. This began Marbella’s reputation for catering to affluent and well-known tourists.
In 1954, the Marbella Club was opened by Prince Alfonso of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, the nephew of Ricardo Soriano. This iconic establishment was an international resort that attracted movie stars such as Brigitte Bardot, wealthy business executives, and nobility. The Marbella Club was a favourite among European aristocratic families like the Bismarcks, Rothschilds, Thurn und Taxis, Metternichs, de Mora y Aragon, de Salamancas, and Thyssen-Bornemiszas, who frequented the hotel. The presence of the Marbella Club transformed the humble fishing village into a destination for the international jet set. Prince Alfonso’s connections with the royal courts of Europe made the Marbella Club popular with Europe’s social elites, who were drawn to the hotel’s casual yet discreet luxury.
In 1966, Prince Alfonso enlisted the help of a Beverly Hills architect to build Puerto Banus, a luxurious marina, with the assistance of the Banu family, who were personal friends of the dictator Francisco Franco. Puerto Banus opened its doors to high-end tourists in 1970 with a star-studded guest list that included Franco’s chosen successor, Juan Carlos (then Prince of Asturias), Prince Rainier of Monaco and his wife Grace Kelly, and Aga Khan IV. Renowned entertainers, including Julio Iglesias, also attended the event.
Marbella saw a surge in popularity as a top jet-set destination in the 1980s. In 1991, Jesús Gil, the then-president of Club Atlético de Madrid, was elected mayor of Marbella. At that time, the actor Sean Connery became the international ambassador for Marbella. Under Gil’s administration, Marbella experienced a significant economic boom, with property developers constructing at an unprecedented pace. Spanish celebrities continued to spend their summers in Marbella. Today, it remains one of Europe’s most sought-after luxury destinations and a preferred area for second-home residences.
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