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Brief History of Nerja

A Brief History of Nerja

Nerja is positioned just 50 kilometres from Malaga. It’s one of few attractive towns not just on the Costa del Sol but the entire province of Malaga in which it is located. The majority of its income comes from tourism and agriculture.

Away from that,Nerja is a small town but so rich with history. First inhabitants arrived here more than 25,000 years ago. More of what happened during this time can be seen from the remnants at the Nerja Caves. The Caves of Nerja are pretty famous, partly due to their Paleolithic paintings. They were first discovered in 1959 by school-children belonging to a local village named Maro.

It’s from these caves that the origins of Nerja were discovered. The wall paintings, bone tools, and stones found in the caves give almost clear clues on the period humans lived in the caves. And by taking a closer look at the bones, experts concluded that humans of the time mostly fed on meat and fish.

You can watch more of the artefacts extracted from the caves by visiting the Cueva de Nerja, a local museum.

It’s interesting to note that despite its small size and location, Nerja has witnessed two major wars: Napoleonic and Peninsular. The Romans once settled here and named the place Detunda. Proof of these is in the ruins of their settlement that were discovered at a place near Maro town.

Arabs and Moors once lived here too and they named the place Narixa. Narixa means ‘abundant spring’ and it’s actually the origin of the current name ‘Nerja’.  Even the white washed buildings and narrow winding streets have origins in the Moorish culture.

When Muslim inhabited the area (that is after the battle of Guadalete), textile production was the main economic activity and it largely contributed to the wealth and importance of Narixa, as it was known at the time.Later on, Catholic kings arrived in the area and after some time imposed a new order that all non-Christians should either convert or leave the area.

The majority of Muslims and Jewish communities left the kingdom and seeing the gap left, large groups of people from Northern Spain repopulated the area again. The moors still occupied the area and so the possibility of another Muslim revolution made the inhabitants to gather canons and other weapons and placed them in the Torre de los Guardas (currently Balcon de Europa).

After the last battle in 1567, the town began to stabilise but since the threat of rebellion existed, more defence towers (some still in existence today) were built.

A sugar factory( the first one in the area) was built later and in 1697, El Salvador church was completed. In 1720, another chapel, the  Ermita de las Angustias was completed as well.

In the 19th C, agricultural trade did exceptionally well in Nerja. Sugar cane was being traded in large quantities as evident in the storied Las Aguilas aqueduct. It was built back in the 1800s to help in carrying raw cane all the way to Maro where the local sugar cane factory was based. Silk trade also flourished at the time but only for a while.

Fishing also contributed to the economic growth of Nerja and at the beginning of the 20th Century, tourism started to take over not just in Nerja but in the whole of Costa del Sol. In the 1980s, there was a building boom that saw second homes being set up in the area and this too contributed to the increase in Tourism. Agriculture, however, remains the town’s main source of income.