Like most of the coast of southern Spain, Marbella has a long and varied history. It is thought that the first known settlement in the area was that of the Phoenicians in the 7th century BC. Before that, primitive native Iberians are believed to have inhabited the area as far back as the Neolithic and Palaeolithic periods. Later the town was populated by the Romans, and the remains of a Roman villa and a Byzantine basilica on the outskirts of Marbella now make for an interesting tourist attraction.
The Visigoths and Moors
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Visigoths ruled Iberia until 712AD and they used the earlier Byzantine basilica as a burial ground. After the Visigoths, the Moors held Spain under Islamic rule until the late 15th century. The Moors were great architects; they built a citadel, an Alcabaza and defensive walls around the town in the construction of which they used capitals from the Roman period. As well as their architectural feats the Moors were proficient agriculturalists – it has been said that Andalucia, or Al-Andalus as it was known, was a garden paradise under their rule and Marbella was no exception. Surrounding the fortified old town were fruit groves where silkworms cultivated the best silk (which was a great commodity for the town at the time).
The Catholic Kings
Moorish and Christian Spain were locked in battle for centuries. These years, known as the ‘Reconquista’, came to a conclusion under King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile who finally conquered the Moors and claimed the Iberian Peninsula. In 1485 Marbella fell to the Catholic Monarch with little bloodshed. After its conquest, they set about building the Plaza de los Naranjos and some surrounding buildings which are still present today. During the 16th century Marbella continued to grow through exporting Malaga wine and sugar cane.
20th Century to Present
In the middle of the 20th century Marbella was devastated during the Spanish Civil War; it was seized by the Nationalists and was a Francoist stronghold. The Civil War ended in 1939 – the year the Second World War began. By 1945 Marbella was a shadow of its former self with only around 900 inhabitants.
Come the 1950s, Marbella began to see a period of regeneration. The climate and marina attracted the attention of the jet-set, and Ricardo Soriano and Prince Alfonso of Hohenlohe-Langenburg purchased two large estates around Marbella on which they built the Marbella Club Hotel which opened in 1954 as a glamorous retreat for the rich and famous. This was to be the start of tourism in Marbella and led eventually to the building of other hotels, golf courses and an entire tourist infrastructure to cater for the increasing numbers of mainly European visitors. In the 1970s Puerto Banus was built, under the watchful eye of Jose Banus, to provide a port for luxury yachts. This was when tourism in the area really began to gain momentum and this pace hasn’t slowed to date.