The history of Nerja

The history of Nerja is absolutely fascinating to anybody interested the history of a town that has been involved in not only the Peninsular and Napoleonic wars, but also in the previous Berber era and the influence of the Moors. Lying 50 Km from Malaga, Nerja is a town on the Costa Del Sol in the province of Malaga in Spain, with most of its income coming from the tourist industry although it was not always that way.

The history of Nerja as it is known today begins, in fact, with one the major tourist attraction of this part of Spain that is not connected with sun and sangria. The Nerja Caves are a world famous series of caverns that were discovered by some school-children from the local village of Maro in 1959. The Nerja caves stretch around 5 Km into the surrounding mountains and are rich in Paleolithic paintings. This tourist attraction has become the third most visited in Europe and is an important Spanish artistic monument.

The discoveries within the caves themselves have brought much insight into the history of the area. We now know that the caves were inhabited from around 25,000 BC right up to the Bronze Age. As well as the wall paintings, stone and bone tools have been found, giving clues as to when humans would have lived in the caves, and bone remains give an indication of their diet of fish and meat. Many of the artefacts discovered in the caves are on display in a museum just outside the Cueva de Nerja as they are correctly known.

It is known that the Romans settled in Nerja and that they named the area Detunda. Ruins of this Roman settlement have been found near to the town of Maro. Arabs have also lived in Nerja, and so have the Moors who gave the town the name Narixa . This is, in fact, the origin of the present name, and means "abundant spring”.

In fact, it is believed that he named it, though there are records that state it was given its name years before his visit. There is a life size statue of the King on the Balcon de Europa, which is a popular place for tourists to take their vacation photographs. The promenade offers marvellous views and some astoundingly beautiful sunsets at times.

Ancient cannons can be found by the Balcon de Europa which were used to fend off pirate Berber raids. In the late 17th century a large fortification was built to deter anyone from landing at the harbour. In 1808 to 1814 the British were at war with Spain, and in 1810 the British fleet destroyed the defences of the town so that the French couldn’t take over the area.

Nearby is the old church El Salvador which was completed in 1697 during the ministry of Alonso de Molina Duran who was the parish priest. The history of Nerja, in particular of the old town itself, dates back to the 14th century and its white buildings and narrow cobbled streets are of typical Moorish style.

Nerja had a good agricultural trade in the 19th century and the silk trade flourished for a while. It also traded in sugar cane, and you can still see the five-storey Las Aguilas aqueduct that which was build in the 1800s to carry the raw cane to the local sugar cane factory in Maro. Before sugar became a commodity, it was rare in Europe, and areas such as Nerja were very important in the production of what at the time was a much prized product.

The fishing industry was also part of Nerja’s historical economic growth and during the early part of the 20th century the tourist industry started to increase in the Costa del Sol, although not so much in Nerja where agriculture was still the main source of income for the community. Avocado groves were created around this time and still make an important contribution to the economy of the area today.

A building boom in the 1980s saw second homes being built in the area and tourism slowly began to increase as the caves began to be more commercially promoted. Now, as stated earlier, the Nerja Caves are renowned around the world, but for anybody interested in the history of this part of Spain, the fascinating history of Nerja has a great deal to offer.